Viewing Titcomb Basin for the first time is unlike any other experience in the Wind River Range. A windswept, granite-packed uplift tucked into the western slope of the Continental Divide that marches through Wyoming. With its procession of jagged-edge granite peaks overlooking gorgeous high-alpine basin lakes and meadows, it is a backpacker’s fever dream.
The “Winds,” as the locals and regulars call the gloriously scenic Wind River Range, provide hundreds of miles of world-class hiking trails that lead to jaw-dropping views. But it’s the Titcomb Basin that actually inspires you to go further, serving as the gateway to a multitude of spectacular climbing and hiking opportunities.
The Best Trails
The trails here are often rocky, but well maintained. You’ll traverse forested areas, flower-pocked meadows, around lakes and across exposed slab granite tundra. The net elevation is minimal, but the trails are rarely flat. Built like Roman roads, they go up and over, and down and up—all the way. Over the course of 28 to 29 miles from trailhead to basin and return, you’ll gain and lose around 3,400 feet.
The earlier in summer you go, the muddier the trails. Outfit your feet accordingly (hikers in the Winds are often overheard cursing deep-lugged boots). An approach shoe with gaiters is a good choice. But it depends on whether you like minimal or maximal support footwear.
Green River Lakes
Located at an elevation of 8,000 feet, 52 miles north of Pinedale over about 21 miles of rough, sometimes rutted gravel and dirt road, this is one of the lowest elevation trailheads in the Winds. Many backpackers head from here to Three Forks Parks, with subsequent nights at Summit Lake, Island Lake (and day hike to Titcomb Basin instead of camping there), Three Fork Parks and back to Green River Lakes.
This trailhead is a major and highly popular portal and exit point into the Winds. It’s located 15 miles northeast of Pinedale with a fully paved access road. You’ll need a shuttle to or from Green River Lakes TH to avoid an out-and-back trip. A possible itinerary includes nights at Titcomb Lakes, Indian Basin (via Indian Pass), Elbow Lake, and final night at Trail Creek Park before ending at Green River Lakes.
Titcomb Basin Challenges and Things to Consider
Located in the Bridger Wilderness, Titcomb Basin is a slab granite cirque that cradles four lakes and is rimmed by a series of 12k-13k-ft peaks that create a huge natural amphitheater of sorts. The highest summit surrounding the basin is the broad snow-capped monolith Gannett Peak. It’s the highest mountain in the Winds as well as the highest in Wyoming at 13,809 feet.
Titcomb’s primary challenges are many, but not insurmountable. The primary ones: weather and timing, people and pack animals, mosquitos, and of course, wind—all of which are more than made up for by the spectacular beauty of the place.
June and July offer terrific daytime temperatures, but it can still drop down to 20 degrees at night—even in early August (which may explain why the lakes are often still frozen through mid-August). Complications of earlier summer adventures are stream flows that run high and swift during snowmelt runoff. Expect numerous stream crossings that are not only challenging but also dangerous in June and July.
Afternoon thunderstorms frequently roll in daily from June through July. This calls for extra caution when hiking out in the open above the timberline on wide-open granite slab areas, alpine meadows, near lone trees, or on ridges or summits.
Plan accordingly by packing a few extra pieces of warm clothing, an ear-hugging hat or headband, and prepare for snow even in summer.
All things considered, September is the best time to backpack in the Winds when the snowpack is minimal to none, bug counts are lower and storms less frequent. But keep in mind that the potential for snow increases as September days wear into October. Regardless of when you go, most months, you’ll want a sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and an insulated sleep pad.
Mosquitos (and gnats and deer flies)
From July to mid-August bugs are everywhere and brutal. DEET, even if you prefer more natural options, is a must if you want to live to tell the tale. By September, biting insects are way more manageable with the more natural essential oil options. Either way, bring a head net.
Water is abundant along the trail. But expect incredibly silty water from glacial runoff most of the year just above upper Green River Lake and Elbow Creek below Beaver Park.
Always carry a water purification system and use it. The lakes look pristine, but giardia and campylobacter are prevalent. Between the critters and the people, pretty much every drop of water up there in the basin is a risk. Giardia requires a filter with a pore size less than one-half micron. Campylobacter requires boiling for 5 minutes or filtering.
You can take your dog, but it will reduce the number of wild critters you’ll see. If there’s snow on the trails (as there very well may be), post-holing will wear your pup out fast. Do your dog a favor and leave him at home in the hands of someone who can care for him.
A minimum 3‑night trip is recommended to reach Titcomb Basin and return. All campsites are undesignated. Look for existing-use sites, 100 ft. from the river, and 200 ft. from a trail or lakeshore. Rangers will ticket you if you violate those rules—and yes, they’re out there.
A fire-scoured forest between Green River Lakes Trailhead until about Trail Creek Park makes en route camping difficult at best. Lodgepole pine bark beetle wiped out most of the low elevation forests. Further complicating matters: backcountry regulations for the river valley (100-ft. rule) limit your options to areas above the riverbank.
Island Lake is one of the best places to camp. But it’s popular. Prime camping sites, fishing and photography opportunities and sandy beaches mean you’ll encounter a lot of camping competition. Seneca Lake is also a difficult place to find camping due to the sheer cliffs that encircle it, though 2‑person parties won’t have trouble finding a footprint spot for a small tent. Check the lake inlet or on the southwest corner of the lake. Groups will have a much harder time finding a place to pitch multiple tents.
As for the basin itself, the high number of backcountry users, the incessant wind and the talus and slab granite make finding a campsite very challenging. By the end of August, the further you get into the basin, the easier campsites and solitude are found. Look near the outlet of Lower Titcomb Lake, as well as slightly above Titcomb Basin at Mistake Lake.
As you search for suitable legal campsites in the basin, make sure to consider food storage and prep. Never leave food or cooking gear unattended. Cook at a distance and downwind from your campsite. A treeless basin means you’ll need to wedge your critter-proof food sack or canister under a large boulder.
Campfires are illegal at Island Lake and above.
July and August are peak climbing months in the Winds. You’ll encounter lower snowpack in August, but in July the major and minor crevasses have yet to yawn, and a firmer snowpack makes traversing ice and/or rock over long distances less tiring.
Titcomb Basin serves as one of the two approaches to Gannett Peak. Climbers rank Gannett Peak as the fourth hardest U.S. summit. Ganner Peak follows Alaska’s Denali, Washington’s Mt. Rainier and Montana’s Granite Peak. You’ll need solid mountaineering skills, including route-finding and map navigation skills, and experience with changing mountain weather conditions (blizzards, avalanches).
It also means you better know how to read and negotiate adverse terrain conditions that include changing snowpack, long snow couloirs, glaciers, crevasses, and steep boulder and ice fields.
Titcomb Basin has numerous other options. It’s bound on the west by the Titcomb Needles (technical climbs), which are shadowed by Henderson Peak (13,115 ft.), a classic three-ridge pyramid. Mt. Woodrow Wilson (13,502 ft.) lies at the head of the basin, followed by the Sphinx (13,258 ft.).
Dinwoody Peak (13,540 ft.), a Class 2 (via Bonney Pass), and Fremont Peak (13,745 ft.), considered a Class 2+ (you’ll need ice ax skills for descending) are two other options. If you take the SW Buttress summit approach on Freemont, it’s more like a Class 3 or 4. The West Buttress is 5.10.
Most of the other peaks are ranked Class 4 (simple climbing often with exposure, and use of ropes) or Class 5 (rope, belaying, and protection, further defined by a decimal and letter system—in increasing and difficulty) by their easiest routes.
Wildlife sightings around Titcomb Basin are extraordinary. Expect to see pika, marmots, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mule deer, elk and, maybe, moose, gray wolves, bighorn sheep, and black bears. Grizzlies roam through, but you’d be really lucky to see one. Their habitat is located to the north and east of the Pinedale area.
Golden trout are legendary in the Wind River Range’s Titcomb Basin. Additional fish species in other streams include native Colorado cutthroat, mountain whitefish, as well as four other species of trout: browns, rainbow, brook, and lake.
In order to fish, you’ll need a valid Wyoming fishing license. Order in advance or pick one up at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, or from any appointed licensing agents throughout the state (supply and outdoor stores).
You don’t need a permit for small, non-commercial groups. They’re required for all organized groups (clubs, schools, church, scouts, etc.), all parties using pack and saddle stock overnight, and commercial outfitters and guides. For the lightest, least damaging and most sustainable footprint, it’s best to keep group sizes small, max of 4 people.
Permits can be obtained from the Pinedale Ranger District, PO Box 220, Pinedale, WY 82941, 307–367-4326