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How to Hike Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range

How to Hike the Cirque of the Towers
As Steve Bechtel writes in his climbing guidebook for the area, “The Cirque of the Towers is one of the great gifts of the mountain gods,” and nothing could be more true!

In this blog, we’re sharing everything you need to know to hike the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. This ultimate guide covers the Cirque hiking route, how long it takes, alternate route variations, what to pack, how to get to the trailhead, the best time to hike, where to camp, and more!

Cirque of the Towers Overview

Lonesome Lake and Pingora Peak, Cirque of the Towers
Pingora Peak looming over Lonesome Lake in the Cirque of the Towers

The Cirque of the Towers has long been a legendary mecca for rock climbers. But though climbers continue to flock to these perfect rock towers, they are also equally well visited by travelers on foot due to the mystical and mesmerizing views that this sub-alpine cirque offers.

As Steve Bechtel writes in his climbing guidebook for the area, “The Cirque of the Towers is one of the great gifts of the mountain gods,” and nothing could be more true. The Cirque of Towers is nothing short of miraculous and despite the many stunning mountain playgrounds within the Rocky Mountain Range, nothing compares to the continuous line of uniquely jagged towers that form an amphitheater-like terrain. The cirque is lush with meadows, trees, and beautiful alpine lakes that will make you feel as if you’ve traveled to a different universe.

With all that said, hiking into the Wind River Range is not just any old national park stroll. The Cirque is a mountainous, backcountry region that requires strenuous hiking to reach and a high level of self-sustainability. The Winds are one of the most rugged mountain ranges and the weather is, as usual in the state of Wyoming, harsh and can be extreme.

Yet don’t let that deter you from experiencing the wonderful wilderness that lies within the Wind River Range!

This blog is here to provide you with everything you need to know to venture off into the Winds and hike the Cirque of the Towers successfully!

Best Time to Hike Cirque of the Towers

The Cirque of Towers skyline
The jagged Cirque of Towers gracing the skyline

The Cirque of the Towers is a mountainous ecosystem and the start of the season can vary a lot. The road usually opens to Cirque around mid-May however, the sub-alpine Cirque can often have snow stick around until mid-July.

You can usually count on snow-free conditions by mid-to-late July. The weather is wonderful then but note that the mosquitos can be horrendous.

Because of this, the best time to hike Cirque of Towers begins around mid to late August when the mosquitos die off and the weather is still wonderful.

Both times we hiked the Cirque of the Towers were the last week of August. There were almost no mosquitos when we went, the nightly low was around 40 degrees, and the high reached about 70.

Prime time lasts through all of September. September may be a tad colder than late August but if you’re lucky, you may even be able to score this hike when fall colors are filling the Cirque.

Depending on the year, you can hike the Cirque of the Towers until as late as mid-October depending on the year and your tolerance for the nightly low.

Average Weather in The Cirque

  • July – 54 Average Low, 75 High,
  • August – 53 Low, 72 High, Average 13 Days of Rain
  • September – 43 Low, 63 High, Average 9 Days of Rain
  • October – 32 Low, 49 High

Current Conditions

You can find out current conditions in the Cirque by contacting the Pinedale Ranger District (307) 367-4326 or the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale (307) 367-2440 or check the Wild Iris Mountain Sports shop website.

Things to Know About Hiking Cirque of the Towers

Cirque of the Towers from Lonesome Lake
Cirque of the Towers from Lonesome Lake basecamp

Weather Considerations

No matter the time of year, the Cirque is still a high alpine environment with harsh weather.

July and August tend to bring the risk of afternoon thunderstorms that come in around 2 pm or 3 pm. Generally speaking, the weather is fairly predictable and the forecasts are very accurate. Pay attention to the weather forecast in the days leading up to your trip to plan accordingly.

I like using this website to get an accurate forecast for the temperatures and the chance of rain and thunderstorms within the Cirque.

Even though you won’t be climbing, I also recommend this mountain forecast for the outlook on the nearby summits like Pingora Peak.

Water Sources

Water is easy to find in the Cirque of the Towers and you’ll never go long before coming across another lake or stream. While the water is most likely safe to drink here, it’s a good idea to carry a good water filter for hiking or backpacking.

For backpacking, we love our HydroBlu Gravity Bag water filter. If for some reason you’re day hiking, bring something speedy like iodine tablets or a Lifestraw water reservoir like this one.

Important: Lonesome Lake is no longer considered safe to drink from (even with filtration) due to excessive human feces found in the water.

Bear Safety

The Wind Rivers are a rugged mountain range full of harsh weather and rich with wildlife including, but not limited to, bears. Be sure to carry bear spray and store your food properly. 

At this point, hard food containers are not required but you do need to hang your food if you’re not carrying a hard canister. You must hang your food and any other odorous items at least 10 feet from the ground and at least 4 feet from any supporting tree or rock. To do this you’ll need 50 feet of nylon cord and 2 stuff sacks.

Pro tip: If you don’t want to deal with hanging food but the weight of a bear can sound heavy and exhausting, try the more economically efficient bear bag product called Ursack.

Leave No Trace

While it may seem like the Cirque is a vast space with very few people to share the beauty with, the reality is that there are still thousands of people who visit the Wind every year, particularly concentrated in the Cirque of the Towers which is a small region of space.

Not only is there a responsibility to pack out your trash, but in high-concentration areas such as the Cirque, it is highly encouraged to pack out ALL of your human waste in something such as a WagBag. I know many hikers are deterred from doing this but it’s not that bad. By doing so, you take responsibility to keep the Cirque of the Towers a pristine wilderness ecosystem, enjoyable to visit fo years to come. The alternative is to pack a camp trowel, dig a cathole 6-8 inches deep, and pack out all toilet paper.

Other Maps

While this blog does cover everything you need to know about hiking the Cirque, if you want a more thorough guidebook to all the different Wind River hikes, check out Hiking Wyoming’s Wind River Range by Ben Atkison.

If you’re someone who likes to have a real map on hand, the most commonly used maps in this area are USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle maps. You can download PDFS these maps for free on USGS.gov or buy real prints at Wild Iris Mountain Gear in Lander or Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale.

The USGS Maps you will need for this area include 1 or all of these depending on your route:

If you just want a good general overview map for the whole southern Wind River region, check out this Wind River Range South by Beartooth Publishing.

Cirque of the Towers Map

Below is a detailed map of the Cirque of the Towers region. The red line that forms a C-shape is the rock ridge that forms the main cirque. As you can see, Cirque Lake, Lonesome Lake, and Hidden Lake sit on the eastern side of the Cirque. This indicates a sort of meadowy plateau region that makes up the heart of the Cirque of the Towers.

A map of the region around Cirque of the Towers. Photo via SummitPost.org

Cirque of the Towers Hiking Route

Style: Out-and-Back
Distance (roundtrip): 17 miles
Elevation gain: 2,100′
Big Sandy Trailhead elevation: 9,080′
Jackass Pass elevation: 10,800′
Stops along the way: Big Sandy Lake, Jackass Pass, Lonesome Lake

When we arrived in Pinedale to hike the Cirque of the Towers, we were pretty confused. Based on our research, we thought that the standard route was a looping route that included Lonesome Lake as a part of a bigger circle (which I’d later find out is the Fremont Loop).

Though this route does exist, when people talk about hiking to the Cirque of the Towers, the standard route is generally regarded as the out-and-back version over Jackass Pass from Big Sandy Trailhead. If we had known this, we might’ve even opted to day-hike instead.

Click here to jump to the section on day hiking the Cirque of the Towers

If you’re looking for extensions and variations, read on to the next section below. If you’re a newbie backpacker or simply want the easiest route to the most beautiful base camp, this is the route for you.

Related blog – Ultimate Wyoming Road Trip Itinerary

Different Ways To Hike Cirque of the Towers: Route Variations

The Cirque if the Towers itself is quite honestly a novice introduction to hiking the Wind River Range. For many, The Winds are a playground of exploration and if you’re willing to spend a few nights in the backcountry, endless trails extend further beyond the Cirque.

If you’re looking to get off the beaten and extend your trip into the Winds, here are some variations we recommend.

Basecamp at Big Sandy Lake

Camping at Big Sandy Lake, Big Sandy Trail
Base-camping at Big Sandy Lake

If you’d rather not have to carry your heavy packs so far out, you can opt for the standard Cirque of the Towers route but instead of backpacking out to Lonesome Lake, make camp on the shores of Big Sandy Lake (5 miles fort he trailhead) and hike the rest with day packs.

This leaves about a 3-4 mile journey into the Cirque depending on your destination (Lonesome Lake vs Cirque Lake etc). This is what we did when we went climbing in the Cirque of Towers, which you can read more about here.

You can still do this as a 1-night adventure or 2-3 nights depending on how much time you want to spend relaxing.

Base Camp in the Cirque, Day Hike to Hidden Lake & Cirque Lake

Cirque Lake from Wolf's Head, Cirque of the Towers
Views of Cirque Lake from above

Another alternative route is to complete the standard out-and-back route to Cirque of the Towers, but instead camp in the Cirque meadows rather than at Lonesome Lake. If you want more details on how to camp in Cirque Meadows, click here to jump to the section on Places to Camp in Cirque of the Towers.

The cool part about hauling your backpacking gear up here is that you can do an awesome day hike out to Hidden Lake and/or Cirque Lake. These tiny little lakes are full of stunning glacial moraine that makes for a vivid turquoise color.

Hidden Lake is bluer and sits at the base of Warrior I and II while Cirque Lake is almost surrounded by towers like Wolf’s Head and Shark’s Nose.

Lonesome Lake & Lizard Head Meadows

Beautiful capture of Bear Lake by JansJaunts.worpress.com

Style: Out-and-Back
Distance (roundtrip): 19 miles
Elevation gain: 2,100’
Average time/nights: 2-3 days, 1-2 nights
Stops along the way: Everything in the classic Cirque route plus Lizard Head Meadows and an optional day hike to Bear Lake

Whether you base camp at Big Sandy Lake or near Lonesome Lake, you have the option to head out to Lizard Head Meadows. Though I haven’t been out there personally, this is where local mountain guides recommended that we camp over staying near Lonesome Lake.

Lizard Head Meadows is considered the mixed meadow and forested region where the Lizard Head Trail junction is. About 1.7 miles east of the Lonesome Lake outlet (on a pretty flat trail) you’ll reach a junction where Lizard Head Trail heads north. This meadowy area around the trail junction and treeline marks the Lizard Head Meadows.

From here, you get a great vantage point of Pingora and the Cirque plus pretty meadows. You can do day trips back into Cirque (about 3 miles each way to Cirque Lake) or to the nearby Bear Lake which is a 2 2-mile roundtrip, but fairly steep.

From Lizard Head Meadow it’s a 9.5-mile return trip to the opening.

Fremont Loop to Texas Pass and Shadow Lake

View from Shadow Lake. Photo via Pinterest.com

Style: Loop
Distance (roundtrip): 24 miles
Elevation gain: 3,900’
Average time/nights: 3-4 days, 2-3 nights
Stops along the way: Everything in the classic Cirque route PLUS Texas Pass, Shadow Lake, and Dad’s Lake

If you’re someone like me who hates hiking trails as an out-and-back, this is the route for you.

What’s great about this route is that it includes the standard Cirque of the Towers route, but instead of heading back the way you came, you get to also cross Texas Pass for a new stunning panoramic viewpoint, and pass by beautiful Shadow Lake which many have referred to as the most beautiful point on the whole Fremont Loop, and return on the less crowded Fremont Trail.

Hiking the Fremont Loop adds about 7 miles to your roundtrip journey. This is a great option for those who are looking to see the Cirque and also get off the beaten path without spending a long time in the backcountry.

Do note that the hardest part of this route is ascending and descending the steep, unmarked trail over Texas Pass with a 40-60% grade at times. Take this trail only if you have experience with off-trail travel and you don’t mind some boulder hopping.

If you d this route, it’s recommended to hike clockwise, starting on Fremont Trail to Dad’s Lake (mile 4.9) then Shadow Lake (mile 10.2), then heading to Lonesome Lake and finishing on the Big Sandy Trail.

For more info on this route, see this AllTrails page.

Washakie Pass Loop to Cirque of the Towers

Washakie Pass Loop photo via AllTrails.com

Style: Loop
Distance (roundtrip): 34 miles (or 39-40 miles for Hailey Pass alternative)
Elevation gain: 6,500’ (or 5,000’ for Hailey Pass alternative)
Average time/nights: 5 days, 4 nights
Stops along the way: Everything in the classic Cirque route PLUS Lizard Head Meadows, Washakie Lake/Pass OR Grave Lake, Mount Hooker and Pilot Knob

If you continue out far beyond the well-worn trail to the Cirque, you can make this an epic multi-night backpacking hitting so many stunning spots in the Winds including the stunning Washakie Pass and Washakie Lake before continuing back to Lizard Head Meadows and the Cirque of the Towers. 

Or if you choose the Hailey Pass route, you can stop by the gorgeous Pyramid Lake, see Mountain Hooker and Pilot Knob near Grave Lake, and then pass back through Lizard Head Meadows and the Cirque of the Towers.

Do note that this is quite the commitment in terms of mileage and nights spent out in the backcountry plus, there is constantly a lot of elevation once you pass the first 7 miles to Marm’s Lake.

If you love alpine meadows, panoramic mountain views, uncrowded trails, and don’t mind lots of elevation gain, this is the route for you.

For more info on this route, see this AllTrails submission.

Pro tip: If you don’t necessarily care to visit the Cirque, combine the last two route variations and ditch the Cirque entirely for a Hailey and Washakie Pass 32.6-mile lollipop loop. See Hiking Wyoming’s Wind River Range guidebook.

Related blog – Best Hikes in Wyoming

Backpacking Cirque of the Towers

Camping in Cirque of the Towers

Located in the Popo Agie Wilderness within Shoshone National Forest, there is no entrance fee, pass, or permit needed to enter the Cirque. 

At this time, no permits are required to camp in the Cirque. To keep this land preserved in its pristine nature and to prevent a permitting system from being enlisted (which would create quite a hassle for visitors), please abide by these general dispersed camping rules that are in place in the Cirque:

  • You must be camped at least 100 feet away from any stream or creek
  • You must be camped at least 200 feet away from any lake, trail, or wet meadow
  • Finally, you must be camped at least 1/4 mile away from Lonesome Lake

Overall, be conscious of the delicate sub-alpine terrain.

Where to Camp in Cirque of the Towers

With the prior rules in mind on camping in the Cirque of the Towers, here are a couple of key spots where people pitch tents.

The first camping spot is right about .3 miles before you arrive at Lonesome Lake. As you descend from Jackass Pass, you’ll approach a small cluster of scattered forest on your left and here, you’ll see a few tiny footpaths leading into the woods. Here, there are about a dozen spots in the meadow suitable for pitching a tent. This is perhaps the most beautiful spot to camp in Cirque of Towers because you’ll be on an upper cliff band that gives you incredible views of Lonesome Lake and Pingora Peak from above. The con is that spots are less spacious and flat in terms of space to cook and hang out.

Basecamp above Lonesome Lake
Basecamping in the trees 1/4 mile above Lonesome Lake

The second and probably the most common option amongst backpackers here is to descend down toward Lonesome Lake and camp in the meadows on the south and east sides of the lake. Many of the campsites on the south side are nice and spacious and have nice meadow views. Campsites on the east side of the lake are much more forested which can be nice, however, your views of the Cirque all be very limited.

Bear Safety: Familiarize yourself with bear safety practices. Use bear-proof containers for food storage and follow guidelines for safely handling food and waste.

The last option is to camp out where climbers camp to climb different summits in the Cirque. This spot is what many refer to as the Cirque Meadows due to its proximity to Cirque Lake itself. There are endless different spots to camp in this area but all of them are stunning since you are nestled in the center of looming granite towers in all directions. By camping here, you have the option to day hike out to Cirque Lake and Hidden Lake which are both otherworldly beautiful. Keep in mind that to get to these campsites, you’ll need to stay left at the climbers trail at Arrowhead Lake. See the trail guide below for more details.

Can You have Campfires in the Cirque?

Technically, you are allowed to build campfires in the cirque but try to only use existing fire rings. Fires are partially discouraged in the Cirque, mainly because there isn’t much wood to burn.

If you do build a fire, make sure to keep it small and put it ALL THE WAY out before leaving it unattended. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way that fires you think are out are not actually. It’s not out until you’ve drowned it with water!

Related blog – 10 Best Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Day Hiking the Cirque of the Towers

With the confusion we had about what the route options were, I had no idea that it was even possible to day hike the Cirque of the Towers. Had I known, there’s a good chance I would’ve opted for this since day hiking means you can carry much less weight.

Not only is Cirque of the Towers DOABLE to hike in a day, but it’s also not too strenuous and offers plenty of time to sit and enjoy the views without having to rush.

If you day hike The Standard Route, here are a couple of tips. First, you probably don’t need to descend to Lonesome Lake. Quite honestly, the best views are from the first faux pas, which is before you even get to Jackass Pass. If you want to see Lonesome Lake though, you should go just a little bit past the Jackass Pass summit before turning around.

Second, pack light but smart. There are plenty of places to refill water. Make sure you have a warm packable jacket like the Patagonia Down Sweater the case of bad weather. Don’t forget a headlamp, our favorite is the BioLite, in case you have to hike in or out in the dark. We recommend carrying the REI Flash 22, which is our favorite day hiking pack.

Getting To Big Sandy Trailhead

Arriving at Big Sandy Trailhead
Arriving at the Big Sandy Trailhead

The Big Sandy Trailhead can be accessed from 3 different directions, all of which are well-maintained dirt roads up until the last 6 miles to the trailhead that is shared by all routes. Despite the popularity, these last 6 miles to Big Sandy Opening are surprisingly the rockiest and most poorly maintained portion of the road of all the trailhead access points in the Wind.

Though it’s a bit rough, there is technically no need for high clearance or 4WD. Even RVs make it out to the trailhead, though I’d imagine the washboard would certainly be very rattly. Your biggest concern is quite honestly a flat tire from the rocks which is why you should definitely make sure you carry a car jack and tire iron and know how to change a tire on your vehicle because cell service is limited if you need to call for help.

If you are traveling to Wyoming from afar, the closest airports you can fly into are Riverton or Jackson Hole where you can rent a car to drive to the trailhead.

If you’re arriving at the Big Sandy Trailhead late in the evening, there are vast camping opportunities. There are tons of undeveloped free camping sites once you enter the national forest boundary (about the last 6 miles of the drive). In addition, there is paid camping in 12 established campsites at the trailhead for $8.00 per night. None of these sites offer potable water.

If you perhaps want more comfortable sleep (i.e. not on the ground) before you head off on a multi-night backpacking trip, you can opt to stay at Big Sandy Lodge cabins.

Related – Best Campgrounds in Wyoming

Getting To Big Sandy Trailhead From Pinedale

From Pinedale, head south on Highway 191 for 12 miles. Turn left onto road 353 E which starts paved and soon turns into dirt. Set your odometer and follow this well-maintained dirt road for 27 miles, then make a left on Lander Cutoff Road. After 7 more miles (at mile 34), turn left again following signs to Big Sandy Opening.

Follow this road for 10 more miles to reach the trailhead. It takes 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to the trailhead from Pinedale.

Times to Pinedale:

  • Jackson – 1.5 hours
  • Salt Lake City – 6 hours

Getting To Big Sandy Trailhead from Rock Springs/Farson

From Rock Springs, head north on Highway 191 for 40 miles. Turn right onto Highway 28, following signs toward Lander, and reset your odometer. After 4.6 miles make left onto Farson 4th East Road (marked with a sign for Big Sandy Opening). 

In 22 miles (or mile 26.6 on your odometer), turn right onto Elkhorn Cutoff Road. In a little over 7 miles (mile 34.2), you’ll intersect Lander Cutoff Road where you’ll make a left.

Follow this for 5 miles and make a right at the signed junction for Big Sandy Opening. Follow this road for 10 more miles to reach the trailhead.

It takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to get to the trailhead from Rock Springs or 1 hour and 40 minutes from Farson.

Driving Times to Farson:

  • Salt Lake City – 3 hours
  • Grand Junction – 5 hours

Getting To Big Sandy Trailhead From Lander

From Lander, head south on Highway 28 for 33 miles then turn right on Lander Cutoff Road. Lander Cutoff is a very well-graded dirt road that you’ll follow for 25 miles to reach a junction. Head right at this junction, following signs to Big Sandy Opening.

You’ll approach another junction in 5 more miles, and stay right again for Big Sandy opening. Follow this road for 10 more miles to reach the trailhead. 

It’s a 2-hour drive to the trailhead from Lander.

Driving Times to Lander:

  • Casper – 2 hours
  • Cheyenne – 4 hours
  • Fort Collins –  4.5 hours
  • Bozeman – 6 hours

Related – Climber’s Travel Guide to Lander, Wyoming

Cirque of the Towers Trail Guide

Big Sandy Trailhead to Big Sandy Lake

Big Sandy Trail, Wind River Range
Hiking the Big Sandy Trail

The beginning miles of the hike into the Cirque of the Towers are easy and pleasant. The trail is practically flat with only 600 feet of total elevation gain over 5.1 miles. The hike along Big Sandy Trail follows a river and passes through a few sunny meadows. For the most part, these 5 miles are forested, which is a lovely relief from the mid-summer sun.

South side of Big Sandy Lake
Reaching the south side of Big Sandy Lake

2 hours of hiking will bring you to the near end of Big Sandy Lake. It takes about 10-15 minutes to hike to the far end of the lake where you’ll reach the trail junction for Jackass Pass.

Big Sandy Like, Wind River Range
Hiking 10 minutes to the north side of Big Sandy Lake

Most people who camp at Big Sandy pitch their tents here on the north side of the lake. There are a few campsites on the west (left) side of the lake just before the trail junction and there are also more spots to pitch your tent if hike just slightly around the northern, just past the trail junction.

Big Sandy Lake to Arrowhead Lake Junction

Once you head left at the junction at the north end of Big Sandy Lake, the real hike begins. The trail now begins a series of switchbacks up the hillside. After 20-30 minutes, the trail will plateau out at a small meadow before veering right and ascending a small hill. The trail begins to weave between trees and large boulders as you skirt along the northern edge of North Lake that will soon be in sight.

Climbing Jackass Pass Trail, Cirque of the Towers
Climbing up the Jackass Pass Trail

Warbonnet Peak towers before you on the left and Pingora Peak is faintly visible in the distance. The trail makes a small descent to the north end of North Lake where the trail crosses a stream and you’ll now begin your 2nd series of switchbacks of the day. The steepest part of the ascent is only about 15 minutes long before the grade declines a bit.

Arrowhead Lake Junction to Jackass Pass

About 1 hour from the Big Sandy Trail Junction, you’ll reach the next junction for Jackass Pass & Arrowhead Lake. Here is where climbers who headed into the heart of the Cirque go left. However, hikers may still want to opt for this alt route to jackass pass.

Arrowhead Lake Junction, Jackass Pass Trail
The Arrowhead Lake junction

If you go right, you’ll continue a steady ascent up a rocky hill that may seem like Jackass Pass but isn’t Jackass Pass. It’s about a 10-minute trek up to this summit and though this isn’t the Pass, here you’ll see some of the best possible views of the Cirque of the Towers.

Climbing over Jackass Pass, standard Cirque of the Towers route
Climbing the standard hikers route over Jackass Pass

The negative is that you kind of have to do a whole lot of unnecessary elevation gain. This is because, from the faux summit, you actually have to descend almost the whole way back down to Arrowhead Lake before beginning the final ascent to Jackass Pass.

Trail Conditions Check: Before heading out, check the trail conditions. Weather changes can affect the path, so ensure you’re prepared for any variations.

In a way, by opting to traverse the west shore of Arrowhead Lake on the climber’s trail, you avoid an entire hill that you have to ascend and descend. But then again, you miss out on the great views.

If you do go left on the climber’s trail, simply follow the cairns and head toward the trails on the far end of the lake that are headed up and right. If you are trying to get to Jackass Pass & Lonesome Lake, DO NOT go up and left. This is the climber’s trail.

Arrowhead Lake, Cirque of the Towers
Looking toward Jackass Pass from the west shore of Arrowhead Lake

After regaining the Jackass Pass trail, you’ll make one final push up an incredibly steep, sandy trail. But don’t worry, it’s only 10 minutes of hiking, upon which you’ll reach the officially signed summit of Jackass Pass.

Jackass Pass Summit, Wind River Range
The true summit of Jackass Pass

Optional: Cirque Meadows Variation

If, however, you are aiming to camp in the Cirque Meadows as I suggested in the Places to Camp section, you WILL follow this climber trail up and left on the scree-filled trail that goes toward a hill crest beneath Pingora Peak.

traversing Arrowhead Lake, Cirque of the Towers
Traversing Arrowhead Lake’s west shore

The trail will remain obvious for 10 minutes as you descend for the hill crest upon which, you’ll cross a stream and head left to stay on the climber’s trail.

Heading into Cirque of the Towers
Cresting the hill and heading into the heart of the Cirque of the Towers

At this point, it’s all up to you where you want to camp. This climber’s trail continues towards Cirque Lake and intermittently goes between the trail and cairns marking the way on the boulder field. Hike on for as little or as long as you want. Pitch your tent in the trees or out in the open meadows, whatever you want as long as you are 100 feet from a stream and 200 feet from a lake or trail.

The Cirque of the Towers climbers trail
In the heart of the Cirque of the Towers

Jackass Pass to Lonesome Lake

Jackass Pass Trail to Lonesome Lake
Hiking down to Lonesome Lake

From the official Jackass Pass, it’s all downhill to reach your destination at Lonesome Lake. Following the trail downhill, in about 15 minutes you’ll reach your first camping options (see other section of this blog for details on camping) on a cliff band that overlooks Pingora and Lonesome Lake. Continue down to the lake shore for great views or to camp in the meadows on the south or east sides of the lake. 

Or, continue on for an extended trip to Lizard Head Meadows or other variations mentioned earlier in this blog.

Where to Eat Nearby

When you finish hiking the Cirque of the Towers, you couldn’t ask for a better reward than burgers at the Big Sandy Lodge, located just a 2-minute drive from the trailhead. Not only are their artisan burgers absolutely delicious, but they are also made with pure local ingredients and Wyoming beef. Keep in mind they are only open Thursday-Monday (plus holidays) 11 am-8 pm.

Where to Stay in Pinedale, Wyoming

If you’re traveling from afar and/or perhaps looking to hike another region of the Winds on your trip, getting a few nights of rest in Pinedale in between may be a good option. The town of Pinedale doesn’t have a ton of great camping.

The Town of Pinedale has a designated tent camping park which is a very affordable place to pitch your tent for the night, but it’s not particularly scenic. If you’re a camper arriving late from Salt Lake City or other towns, heading toward Big Sandy in the morning, it could be a helpful option.

If you’re an RV camper, you can stay at the wonderful Yellowstone Trail RV Park. This luxury RV park has full hookups, great showers and amenities, and a pickleball & basketball court. The coolest part is that they even offer hot tub rentals that they bring to your site for the day. The only negative is that this park is pricey per night. The amenities are so nice though that if I were headed to hike Cirque of the Towers with a truck/trailer combo, I would definitely stay here afterward because it’s exactly what you need after nights in the backcountry.

In terms of non-camping options, there are budget-friendly options like Teton Court Motel or Gannet Peak Lodge. But if you’re looking for a bit more comfort and luxury after being in the backcountry, you should check out Lakeside Lodge or even the Hampton Inn if that’s more your style.


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Bill

Thursday 25th of January 2024

The Cirque, including Lizard Head Meadows, is in the Popo Agie Wilderness and subject to the wilderness rules of the Shoshone National Forest, Order 98.2 which reads, in part:

1.Camping. 36 CFR 261.58(e) a. Within (50) fifty feet of any Forest Development Trail in the North Absaroka Wilderness and Washakie Wilderness. b. Within (100) one hundred feet of any trail, lake, or stream that is indicated with a solid blue line on USGS topographic maps in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness. c. Within (200) two hundred feet of any trail, lake, or stream that is indicated with a solid blue line on USGS topographic maps in the Popo Agie Wilderness and Absaroka - Beartooth Wilderness. d Within (1/4) one fourth mile of Lonesome Lake in the Popo Agie Wilderness.

So, the key is "Within (200) two hundred feet of any trail, lake, or stream that is indicated with a solid blue line on USGS topographic maps in the Popo Agie Wilderness".

100 feet from streams is insufficient. Rangers patrol this area and will measure.

Robyn Robledo

Thursday 25th of January 2024

Thanks for the detailed clarification.

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