“After thinking that there was nothing that could be more impressive than Roper’s Sierra High Route, I can’t say enough how much my mind was blown by the grandeur of Skurka’s Wind River High Route.”
— Austin Lillywhite, Ithica, NY
“Skurka has created what is easily one of the best, and most challenging backpacking routes in the lower US. Yep, going to be hard to top this one.”
— Derek Bartz
“What a trip! The Winds defy description, the most spectacular scenery per square mile anywhere in the lower 48 in my humble estimation. Loop 2 was a great introduction. I am very grateful for the effort you have put into developing these lines and definitely want to go back.”
— Erik van Os, Colorado Springs, CO
For 97 miles, the world-class Wind River High Route follows the alpine crest of Wyoming’s Wind River Range, which ranks among the lower 48’s wildest and most magnificent. It is best completed as an end-to-end thru-hike, but its eight recommended section-hikes are more approachable and convenient.
From start to finish, the Wind River High Route remains immersed in jaw-dropping mountain scenery and topography. From high passes between towering peaks, it drops into deep, glacier-carved valleys and strolls past hundreds of lakes. In July and August, its alpine meadows are cloaked in lush grasses and colorful wildflowers. Elk sightings are common; seeing bighorn sheep or grizzly bears is more rare and special. The summertime weather pattern is predictable and mostly friendly: sunny mornings give way to increasing cloudiness in the afternoon, with possible thunderstorms, sometimes violent.
Without question, the Wind River High Route is the finest line in one of the finest mountain ranges in the world. But like other high routes — e.g. Sierra High Route, Kings Canyon High Basin Route — it is recommended and appropriate only for ambitious intermediate and advanced backpackers.
Sixty-five miles, or two-thirds of the route, is off-trail. The longest continuous off-trail stretch is 30 miles; another is 22 miles. There is extensive travel on talus, granite slabs, snow, and likely some glacial ice, but no technical climbing. It can be done entirely in trail running shoes, though micro crampons and/or an ice axe can be useful.
The heart of the route is bookended by the range’s southernmost and northernmost named 13,000-foot summits, Wind River Peak and Downs Mountain. In between, the route hovers between 10,000 and 12,000 feet. It drops just once to 9,700 feet, which is more than offset by a 12,259-foot mid-route summit, Europe Peak.
The vertical change between the route’s nine passes and three summits, and the accompanying low points, adds up. There is more than 30,000 vertical feet of climbing, or an average of 620 vertical feet of change per mile.
Not surprisingly, the Wind River High Route never crosses a road and it is never immediately accessible from another trailhead.
The lands through which the Wind River High Route passes are managed by Bridger-Teton National Forest, Shoshone National Forest, and the Wind River Indian Reservation (for which a permit should be obtained). The route is not officially recognized, nor should it be.
There have been several efforts to establish the Wind River High Route. See Wandering Daisy, Dan McCoy, Backpacker Magazine, and most substantially Alan Dixon and Don Wilson. These routes are in the spirit of a high route, but they fail to fulfill the range’s full potential. Most importantly, they bypass entirely the northeast corner of the range, its most spectacular section, home to Gannett Peak (Wyoming’s high point) and the largest concentration of glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. Surely, “the” Wind River High Route must go there.