Cirque of the Towers
Page Summary: The Cirque of the Towers is a mecca for climbers and backpackers, located in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.
Cirque of the Towers, located ten miles into the Bridger Wilderness of the southern portion of the Wind River Mountain range, is a mecca for backpackers and climbers. It offers spectacular scenery for hikers and technical rock climbing opportunities for those who want to test their endurance and go vertical. The Cirque is a breathtaking beautiful semi-circle of fifteen, 12,000-foot craggy peaks which form a portion of the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains. The Divide approaches along the ridge line from the southeast, makes a turn to the southwest, and wraps nearly 3/4 of a full circle at the Cirque, before heading northwest on its way to Canada. The season to visit is spring to late summer. Spring brings fewer mosquitoes, but the risk of a snowstorm. Summer brings better weather, dryer conditions, and wildflowers, but more pesky bugs. To fully enjoy this experience, it is suggested visitors plan this as a minimum four-day trip to a week stay.
Backpackers and day hikers love the Cirque because of the dramatic landscape, with granite spire peaks and the high alpine wilderness setting. This is not a destination for the novice hiker. Visitors choosing this as their destination should be experienced hikers in good physical condition, acclimated to high elevations. Come prepared with proper footwear, clothing, and camping gear for a high elevation, rocky alpine experience. Summits in the Cirque are approximately 1,000 feet lower than the towering mountain peaks of the north. Gannet Peak far to the north, the highest peak in the Wind River Range, is 13,804 feet. In contrast, Lizards Head Peak in the Cirque is 12,842 feet in elevation. Be sure to bring current, quality hiking maps and compass. It is recommended that visitors coming here research the available guidebooks, maps, and web for other hiker accounts of their trips to the Cirque and heed their comments about camping location scarcity and preparedness.
Access from the western side of the Wind River Range is via Big Sandy Trailhead, located at 9100 feet approximately 1/2 mile from the Bridger Wilderness boundary. Despite its remote location, this is a high use trailhead. The nearest town is Boulder, a tiny community 44 miles from the trailhead offering lodging, fuel and snacks. The nearest town with substantial services for supplies is Pinedale, 54 miles away to the north. The road into Big Sandy is partly paved, then 27 miles of gravel and rough dirt. Big Sandy Campground has 12 sites and is located at 9,100-foot elevation. Commercial lodging is available close by the campground and trailhead at Big Sandy Lodge. When you begin your hike, be sure to register at the trailhead as you embark into the wilderness. If you go with an organized group, you will need to obtain a free permit from the Pinedale Ranger District office before you go.
Trail users should expect plenty of other company on the trail, including those on foot, horse pack strings, and those with llamas. To get to the Cirque from the western side, hikers must pass over the rugged trail over 10,800 foot Jackass Pass, which is not recommended for livestock. Portions of the trail involve scrambling over boulders and across rock slabs. This area is not recommended for novice hikers. The trail to the Cirque involves a 1500-foot elevation gain, then dropping down the other side into the Cirque. The trail has switchbacks and difficult portions. Be sure to have sturdy footwear and be in good physical condition for this trek. There is plenty of beautiful scenery and places to explore on this route. It is recommended that visitors plan this for a multi-day trip, a couple days for travel in and out and a couple for exploring.
Campsite locations are rather sparse near and in the Cirque, and privacy is minimal due to the alpine nature of the setting. Because of the fragile landscape, visitors are asked to be sensitive to the environment and practice minimal impact camping techniques. Within the Cirque itself, camping is prohibited within a quarter mile of Lonesome Lake. Campers should also be "bear aware" and implement proper food storage methods to avoid attracting black bears, which are plentiful in the area. A four-footed bear visitor is most likely to visit your camp and prowl through your belongings at night. Bear-proof portable food storage containers are available for loan at the Pinedale Ranger District for a small fee. Contact the local Ranger District office or Wyoming Game and Fish Department to get the most recent report of bear activity prior to going into the backcountry for your trip.
One of the most common complaints for this area is about the mosquitoes, so make sure the mosquito netting on your tent is bug tight since this will be your refuge against the onslaught if you come in July and August. Mosquito repellant with DEET will help, but also bring clothing to cover your exposed body parts. In June and September, come prepared for unexpected snowstorms to camp and hike in on the trail.
The only nearby commercial facilities are Big Sandy Lodge, located near the trailhead, which offers cabins and meals with advanced reservation. The Lodge will also accept mail-ahead packages, but you must make advance arrangements and mail your supplies at least 3 weeks in advance to assure it arrives in time.
Keep in mind regulations for the Bridger Wilderness permit campfires only below timberline. Above timberline, campers must use gas stoves for cooking. The rule for refuse is "Pack out what you pack in". Do not bury garbage. What frost action does not bring garbage to the surface, animals will likely dig up and spread around. If you choose to bring your pet, you must be able to keep it under control, including barking, and away from other camps and hikers. Pets should be kept on a leash if you cannot keep it from chasing wildlife, and they must be properly vaccinated and have ID tags in case they get lost.
Be aware that this is very remote country, and potential dangers are part of the wilderness experience. You must be prepared to take care of yourself in case of an accident. Help is a long ways away, and you cannot count on your cell phone being able to have reception out to call for help. It is wise to ravel with at least one other person and log a travel plan with a friend on where you are going and when you will return. Know basic first aid and carry a first aid kit. The most common dangers in the high reaches of the Bridger Wilderness are high altitude sickness, hypothermia, and dehydration.
"The Wind River Range is the most amazing place I have backpacked in the USA."
"We loved the solitude, the scenery, and the rugged character of the place."
"The Cirque presents some of the best alpine granite rock climbing in the USA. Comparable to Yosemite."
For more information:
Pinedale Ranger District
Bridger-Teton National Forest
PO Box 220
29 East Fremont Lake Road
Pinedale, WY 82941