“Wow” doesn’t really do this hike’s view justice, but at the same time it’s definitely the first and last word that comes to my mind. You know that viral clip of the guy who saw a double rainbow while out hiking. That is the kind of enthusiasm that is behind this “wow.” And the 9.2-mile roundtrip hike to this rocky, steep shelf viewpoint is just the beginning of the awe-inspiring landscapes that await hikers who adventure into The Winds.
The Wind River Mountains are a rugged range of glacier-carved granite peaks and high alpine lakes located in southwest Wyoming. Following the crest of the range, the Continental Divide separates this high country and spotlights a few of the mountains’ towering summits, including Gannett Peak, at 13,802 feet and the highest point in the state. Most famous for its deep and remote wilderness, the Winds are only accessible by a few roads primarily from Pinedale to the west, Lander to the east, and Dubois to the north. Your two feet are one of the best ways to really explore the range’s vast network of mountains.
During my visit to the area and the night before our hike, we camped along the shores of Fremont Lake, a 5-minute drive from Pinedale. Featuring a handful of restaurants, such as Wind River Brewing, which had an interesting connection back to my home in Oregon, and several fishing and hunting stores, Pinedale felt part tourist town and part cowboy town. We even saw a moose napping in the grass off of the main drag!
After an illuminated sunset of golds and pink the night before over the pristine moraine lake and a restful night sleep, we followed Skyline Drive as it weaved and wound up to the popular and busy Pole Creek Trailhead. The starting point for several different hikes, the parking lot was filled with cars and stray backpackers lounging in the shade of pine trees with their big packs slouched on the ground. While Photographers Point is a moderate hike, gaining about 1,110 feet, the trail continues beyond for many, many more miles into the wild Winds. For many, like my husband and I on this day, the 4.6-mile turnaround viewpoint is as far as they venture, but clearly backpacking here is king.
Also hiking with my pups (bear bells a ringing!), the first few miles traversed the forest, with occasional breaks in the foliage creating miniature meadows. After about three miles in, the trail started to open up, permitting the first glimpses of the mountain peaks on the horizon.
Steadily climbing, the trail became rocky with massive granite blocks scattered along the trail and hillside as if giants kicked them out of their way a long time past and there they stayed. Additionally, the deeper we traveler, dark swampy ponds also pocketed the landscape filling in any low spots.
Finally rounding a last bed, the penultimate views came into focus. Overlooking a deep canyon carved by Fremont Creek and a stunning panorama of granite knobs and mountains, the landscape folded upon itself in a tight lamination. Flakey, gray peaks layered the horizon making it difficult to distinguish where one mountain began and the other ended, while a few prominent caps touched the nearly cloudless sky.
Visible summits from the viewpoint included several of the more than 40 named peaks over 13,000 feet in the Wind River Mountains including Bow Mountain, American Legion Peak, Mt. Woodrow Wilson, Fremont Peak, and Jackson Peak, to name a few.
With a reflection pond nearby, the calm water mimicked the azul sky and washed-out gray peaks, balancing the soft and hard of this unique wilderness and providing a respite for pause and “wow.”
Note to self: Always bring a better camera.