Located deep in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountain Range is a backpacking trail dominated by mountain peaks that scrape the sky and a landscape covered in beautiful lakes and tarns. Backpacking the Titcomb Basin takes hikers from Elkhart Park near Pinedale, Wyoming more than 16 miles into the remote backcountry of the Bridger Wilderness in Sublette County (named after the mountain man, Bill Sublette, and an ancestor of mine). The beautiful Titcomb Basin is the jumping-off point for a journey to Wyoming’s highest mountain, Gannett Peak but no less than nine of the state’s ten highest peaks rise out of the landscape immediately surrounding the Titcomb Basin. This is a place of unparalleled beauty and a trail that should be on every avid backpacker’s must-do list.
Backpacking the Titcomb Basin in Wyoming – Complete Guide
The backpacking season for the Titcomb Basin is a short one. Typically snow will linger on areas of the trails into late July. It is also not uncommon for winter weather to blow in any time of the year. We had planned on backpacking the Titcomb Basin in mid-August but the forecast was for several inches of snow to fall every day of the 4-day journey. We decided to wait a few weeks and had better luck in early September.
It should be noted that if you are summiting Gannett Peak it is actually better to go early in the season while the snow bridges are still well intact. The warmer temperatures can cause deeply hidden crevasses to form making the glacier crossing extremely dangerous.
In general, mid-July to mid-September is the best season for those not seeking to summit Gannett Peak. Bugs will be abundant until late August but so will the wildflowers.
The Pole Creek Trailhead parking lot in the Elkhart Park area of the Bridger Wilderness is a large lot. It needs to be as the Titcomb Basin is a very popular destination. We made the journey into the basin over Labor Day weekend and rarely found ourselves hiking alone. A fellow hiker told us that he counted 150 backpackers in the span of about 3 hours. All that to say, arrive early as even this large lot fills up.
The Main Trail
Starting from Elkhart Park (9,357′) follow the Pole Creek Trail as it climbs through the evergreen forest. At 2 miles you will pass through an area where a tornado or microburst blew down the trees. I am always amazed at the destructive power of nature. Nearing 3.5 miles the path crosses an open meadow where the first junction for the Miller Lake Spur Trail is located.
Sticking to the main trail the path continues to climb for another 1.5 miles to the first overlook known as Photographers Point (10,323′). While you will see signs leading to this rocky outcropping the point itself is not signed. There is a clearing in the trees just beyond a small tarn where views of the 13,000′ mountain range can be taken in. However, for the absolute best views take a small unmarked spur trail out onto the treeless rocky point. This provides unobstructed views of the mountainous landscape. One of our favorite outdoor apps, Maps.me, lead us straight to the point.
2nd Miller Lake Intersection
Leaving Photographers Point, the trail begins a descent through the trees for half a mile before emerging in an alpine meadow with several tarns dotting the landscape. This is where the Miller Lake Trail rejoins the main Pole Creek Trail.
Pole Creek and Seneca Lake Intersection
Ahead the trail reenters the trees before reaching the Seneca Lake and Pole Creek Lake Intersection at 6 miles. The Pole Creek Trail actually takes a hard right-hand turn towards Eklund Lake and is the path followed to make a giant loop to the Titcomb via the Highline Trail. However, the most direct route to the Titcomb Basin is found by continuing straight onto the Seneca Lake Trail.
After a short descent, you will find yourself strolling along the shore of Barbara Lake. This is the first of many gorgeous lakes found along the trail to the Titcomb Basin. The lake is relatively small with few areas meeting the requirements for camping so it is best to keep moving.
After Barbara Lake, the trail comes to a ledge overlooking a meadow with a small pond. This perch makes for a beautiful lunch spot. The path ahead descends sharply to the floor of the meadow before crossing over and climbing steeply up to Hobbs Lake located at 7.5 miles from the parking lot. Hobbs is a nice lake and an option for camping for those looking to make the climb to Island Lake in two days. The southwest corner of the lake seems to be the best for camping.
Beyond Hobbs, the trail meanders north crossing over a cascading waterfall coming down from Seneca Lake. The path then crosses through a forested area dotted with small ponds and tarns which is very beautiful.
Approaching 9 miles on the trail, it turns east beginning a 350′ climb up to the rocky ledges above Seneca Lake (10,260′). Some people set up their tents on this rocky outcropping but the better campsites are found on the north end of the lake. The trail undulates as it makes its way up the west coast. The lake is gorgeous and made all the better by the hawks flying overhead.
At 10.5 miles, the trail comes to the Lost Lake intersection which is a side trail option especially accessible to those who choose to camp on the north shore of Seneca Lake.
The Highline Intersection
Leaving Seneca Lake, it is a short and easy hike to the shore of Little Seneca Lake. The path follows the shore of the small lake wrapping around the rocky shoreline and then climbing up the opposite side. Just above the lake, the path finds its way to the first intersection with the Highline Trail (aka Continental Divide Trail) located above a small treeless unnamed lake. The path to the right is an option for a loop back to Eklund Lake through the Cook & Pole Creek Lakes area. The next half-mile of the main trail to the Titcomb Basin is a small section of the 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail. If you are lucky you might cross paths with someone hiking from Canada to Mexico.
It is a brief but steep climb up and over a rocky section of the path to the second intersection with the Highline Trail. The second intersection is found in the next meadow. The Titcomb Basin trail cuts through the nearly treeless meadow and then climbs up and over another 150′ rise. At the top of this rise, the beautiful Island Lake (2,403′) finally reveals itself over 200′ below. Island Lake is a gorgeous spot with the massive Fremont Peak rising above it along with several other 13,000′ mountains. It is a gorgeous spot to spend a night or two in the Wind River Range.
The Junction for the Titcomb and Indian Basins
Continuing on the Titcomb Basin Trail the path descends to the east corner of the lake and then follows the shoreline to the north. At 13.5 miles from the trailhead, the path begins a 150′ climb into the basin above. An unnamed lake whose outflow creates a waterfall that cascades into Island Lake sits in a bowl at the top of the climb. Equally as beautiful is the cascading waterfall flowing into this unnamed lake from the Indian Basin above. The small lake also receives the flow from the Titcomb Basin on the adjacent side. It is the junction for the basins.
At 14.25 miles the trail passes by the trail junction for the Indian Basin and crosses over the cascading waterfall via boulder hopping. On the other side, the path rounds a tarn and continues a moderate climb following the flow of the creek down from the Titcomb Lakes.
Approaching 15 miles, the trail wraps around the eastern shore of Lake 10548 and then climbs to a shelf above the lake. This is an especially picturesque perch for taking in the beautiful lake with a less-than-inspiring numerical moniker. There is also a tarn located on the north side of the trail that is worth gazing upon as well.
The 1st Titcomb Lake
Finally, at 15.5 miles the trail tops a small ridge and the first of the two Titcomb Lakes reveals itself to those intrepid backpackers who have come to glimpse the mountainous lake. The lake is gorgeous as it stretches out for nearly a mile towards Mount Woodrow Wilson rising out of the end of the basin to a height of 13,501′. The rugged mountain hides Wyoming’s highest point Gannett peak beyond.
The 2nd Titcomb Lake
For the mile-long traverse along the eastern shore of the 1st Titcomb Basin Lake, I was left wondering how a second nearly mile-long lake lay just beyond it. It looks as if the mountains beyond rise directly out of the north end of the 1st lake but with only a small 15′ or so rise between the lakes we found ourselves standing at the outflow of the second lake. It is an equally stunning view and made all the better by the cascading creek running between the two massive lakes.
Where to Turn Back?
This view from the outflow of the second lake is perhaps the best found when backpacking the Titcomb Basin and why we made it the terminus for this guide. One of the biggest challenges to backpacking the Titcomb Basin is deciding when to turn back. The trail continues along the eastern shore of the lake, climbs to the end of the basin, and then crosses over Booney Pass on its way to Gannett Peak (mountaineering skills needed).
We followed the trail for another 2 miles, climbing to the very end of the basin. If you want a decent view overlooking the Titcomb Lakes continue on or if you are attempting the summit of Gannett otherwise the view, at the base of the second lake, 16.5-miles from the trailhead, is as good as it gets. It makes an excellent terminus when backpacking the Titcomb Basin Trail.
Side Trails & Adds
Backpacking the Titcomb Basin Trail is just the beginning of an adventure into the Wind River Mountain Range. There are many spur trails that lead to other beautiful basins and the highest mountain peaks in Wyoming. There are options for adding trails that loop back to the main trail giving a variety of scenery during the otherwise long out-n-back traverse.
Type: Thru-Hike (Added to ascent or descent on main trail)
Rating: Moderately Difficult
Distance: 2.75 miles (Adds 3/4 of a mile)
Total Elevation Gain: 490′ (Adds 210′ more than main trail)
Total Elevation Loss: 250′ (Adds 150′ more than main trail)
While backpacking the Titcomb Basin trail you will have an option early on (3.5 miles from the trailhead) of taking a side spur through the Miller Lake area of the Bridger Wilderness. This is a beautiful traverse through the trees that takes you alongside two beautiful lakes. This route does skip the vaunted Photographers Point so we suggest sticking to the main trail for whichever day is forecasted to be clearer. The elevation is listed for the ascent but if you choose to take this side journey during the descent it will be reversed with 490′ of loss and 250′ of gain. The trail itself is moderate but the path is not well maintained and we found an exorbitant amount of downed trees creating obstacles along the way. The signage is also limited so make sure you have a GPS app or a topo map to assist you with the turns.
Cook & Pole Creek Lakes via the Highline Trail
Type: Thru-Hike (Added to ascent or descent on main trail)
Distance: 10 miles (Adds 6 miles to the trail)
Another option for changing up the scenery during either the initial climb or the long return is by exploring the Pole Creek and Cook Lakes area of the Wind River Mountain Range. Located 6 miles from the parking lot the Pole Creek Trail takes a hard right towards Eklund Lake while the main trail continues straight and becomes the Seneca Lake Trail. After passing Eklund Lake the Pole Creek Trail continues to roughly follow the flow of the creek to Pole Creek Lake and the Cook Lakes beyond. At Cook Lakes, the trail intersects the Continental Divide Trail (referred to as the Highline Trail in this area of Wyoming). Take a left onto the Highline Trail and follow it over Lester Pass (11,115 feet). Not far beyond the pass, the trail returns to the main trail just above Little Seneca Lake.
Total Distance: 3 miles (roundtrip from Main Trail)
Total Elevation Gain/Loss: Approx 800′
Lost Lake Elevation: 9,765′
Lost Lake is an option for those looking to spend more time in the Wind River Range. The hike from the lake can be done as an out-n-back from a base camp at Seneca Lake or as another option for adding a little diverse scenery on the way up or back from the Titcomb basin by taking the Highline Trail to the North.
Indian Pass & Basin
Rating: Very Difficult
TotalDistance: 8.5 miles (roundtrip from Main Trail)
Total Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,683′
Indian Pass Elevation: 12,120′
The Indian Pass Trail is a well-established path that crosses over the Wind River Range at 12,120 feet. Along the way, the path traverses the Indian Basin, located to the east of the Titcomb Basin on the backside of Fremont Peak. While the trail is well-worn you will see far fewer people making the hike. The trail is only signed at the intersection and lists a distance of 6-miles one-way. This is not correct. It is about 4.25-miles one way. At times, the path can be hard to follow so make sure you bring a GPS app or topo map. There are three lakes found in the basin along with a multitude of tarns. The trail climbs alongside glaciers so if you want to get eye-level with some ice late in the summer without the strenuousness of summiting a peak this is a must-do hike when backpacking the Titcomb Basin.
Rating: Extremely Strenuous
TotalDistance: Unknown but approximately 5 miles (one-way from the top of the Titcomb Basin)
Total Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown but approximately 4,100′
If you asked most American’s what is the tallest peak in Wyoming they would probably shrug and say, “Grand Teton?” That is an understandable response given that the 13,770′ mountain has a national park named after it. However, in reality, the extremely remote Gannett Peak rises 34′ higher to an elevation of 13,804 feet. There is no easy way to summit the imposing peak but many mountaineers will use the Titcomb Basin as a base camp. That being said any summit of the peak requires climbing the mountain’s glacier and isn’t for the inexperienced. Out of the throng of backpackers on the Titcomb Basin Trail we ran across only five groups intent on summiting the remote mountain. I am in awe of people who not only carry all the backpacking gear but who then throw on a climbing rope, helmet, ice axes, and crampons.
If you are intent on summiting Wyoming’s highest peak and have the skills to do it here is a resource of where to start. Let us know how it goes.
Rating: Very Strenuous
TotalDistance: 3 miles from Indian Basin Trail junction. (1.5-miles each way)
Total Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,500′
A more common but also challenging summit, is the third highest mountain in Wyoming, Fremont Peak. Rising to 13,743′ this massive mountain stands out above the Titcomb landscape. It is especially prevalent as it dominates the skyline above Island Lake and the Indian Basin. While this route requires no special gear the trail leading from the Indian Basin climbs up loose rocks to the saddle and remains sketchy as you follow cairns to the summit. I did not make the attempt but ran across several who did. One older group of guys turned back before reaching the summit saying it was too sketchy. A younger group of guys made it to the top but agreed that it isn’t for the faint of heart. I wish I had planned to make the attempt and will make it a priority next time we backpack the Titcomb Basin.
Wyoming’s Wind River Mountain Range is a remote area of the country. However, the Titcomb Basin is well-traveled making it a relatively safe traverse for people of all ages and experience levels. This is bear country so keep a clean campsite and store your food properly. That being said the crowds alone keep away the wildlife and we never saw anything bigger than a squirrel on the entire traverse. I think the real danger is coming unprepared for the potentially frigid weather conditions. Make sure you have a good weather forecast and that you come prepared for cold, windy, and wet conditions.
Don’t forget to sign the registry at the trailhead and let someone know your itinerary.
There are no official campsites on the Titcomb Basin Trail but there is no shortage of places to camp. When camping in the Bridger Wilderness Area the forestry service mandates that you should not set up camp within 200′ of the lakes or the main trail. There is also no camping allowed within 100′ of creeks and streams. Rangers patrol the area especially around Island Lake and they will make you move if you are violating these rules.
Island Lake Camping
Island Lake is the most popular spot to camp when backpacking the Titcomb Basin. Most of the established sites are found on the southwest side of the lake. These sites meet the requirements but it is a long way to gather water for the campsite. Be aware that there are many established sites along the lake that do not meet the requirements of the forestry service so make sure you are paying attention to how far the spot is located from the lake, trail, and streams.
Seneca Lake Camping
Seneca Lake is the second most popular place to camp. The north side of the lake is one of the flattest areas and provides the most opportunity for setting up camp.
Camping in the Titcomb Basin
The basin above the 2nd Titcomb Lake is a popular area for camping especially when planning a summit of Gannett Peak. The area is above the treeline and the ground is very rocky. There are some large boulders that help break the wind and we spotted a few sites where campers had constructed a windbreak by stacking rocks.
Camping in the Indian Basin
Similar to the Titcomb Basin, the Indian Basin is located above the treeline and large boulders are your only reprieve from the cold winds that permeate the Wind River Range. The last of the trees are found near the intersection with the main trail. The area isn’t as beautiful as Island Lake but it does make day hikes into the Titcomb and Indian Basins easier.
Backpacking Gear & Logistics
The Wind River Mountain Range, like much of the Rocky Mountains, is unpredictable. Cold, wet weather can roll in at any time regardless of the forecast. It is best to backpack with layers of clothing and rain covers. The nights are almost always cold and the mercury drops quickly as soon as the sun passes over the horizon. If you are new to backpacking in the Rocky Mountains we’ve done a series of posts on the backpacking gear we carry. You can check out our packlist where we give ratings of importance and go into detail about each piece we carry and why in subsequent posts.
The Bridger Wilderness is home to bears and proper food storage is required. The trees beyond Hobbs Lake are stunted and not adequate for a proper bear hang (or hammocks for that matter). You should plan to travel with a bear canister if you intend to camp at Seneca Lake, Island Lake, or in the basins above.
Water on the Titcomb Basin Trail is surprisingly sparse until you reach Barbara Lake (6-miles in), and then it is abundant for the remainder of the hike. Make sure that you have enough to reach the small lake on the way in and enough water after you leave the lake on the way back down. You should of course filter or treat the water gathered on any wilderness adventure. Giardia and other water-borne illnesses are no fun.
There is a set of pit toilets found at the Pole Creek Trailhead but beyond that, there are no wilderness toilets on the Titcomb Basin Trail. You will need to bring your trowel and bury your waste at least 6″ deep and 200′ from any water source.
A proper itinerary for backpacking the Titcomb Basin will depend greatly on your ability, how much ground you are able to cover each day, and how many of the side trails interest you. If we were going to venture back out on this trail we would make sure to allot 5 days at a minimum. If you intend to summit Gannett Peak that is a 5-day commitment and I wouldn’t recommend tacking on anything else.
5 days, 4 nights Itinerary (Everything Adventure)
1st Day – Hike up the main trail to the Seneca Lake Intersection and take the side trail (Pole Creek) towards the Cook Lakes. Camp near the Pole Creek and Highline Trail junction. (11.5 miles)
2nd Day – Pack up camp and climb the Highline Trail back to the main trail. Pass by Island Lake and climb into the Indian Peak Basin. Setup camp on the north side of the upper Indian Basin Lake. (9.5 mile day)
3rd Day – Awake early and summit Fremont Peak if you are up to the challenge. Afterwards take on the easier trail to Indian Pass. Return to camp, pack up and make your way back down to camp at Island Lake. (11 miles)
4th Day – Make and out an back journey to the end of the Titcomb Basin and then upon your return to Island Lake pack up camp and move down to the north side of Seneca Lake. (10.5 miles).
3rd Day – Take a day hike into the Titcomb Basin and return to base camp at Island Lake. (8 miles)
4th Day – Take a day hike into the Indian Basin and on to Indian Pass or Fremont Peak, whichever you are best equiped to complete. (11.5 or 12.5 miles).
5th Day – Pack up your camp at Island Lake and hike the main trail back to the trailhead. (13.25 miles)
5 days, 4 nights Itinerary (Beginners)
1st Day – Hike to Hobbs Lake and setup camp. (7.5 miles)
2nd Day – Pack up camp and continue to Island Lake and find a good base camping spot. Spend the afternoon exploring the lakeshore and relaxing. (5.75 miles)
3rd Day – Take a day hike into the Indian Basin and on to Indian Pass. Return to base camp at Island Lake (11.5 miles).
4th Day – Take a day hike into the Titcomb Basin and back. Upon your return, pack up camp and move to the north side of Seneca Lake. (10.5 miles)
5th Day – Pack up camp and hike the main trail back to the trailhead. (10.75 miles)
After Backpacking the Titcomb Basin in Wyoming
After any long trip into the backcountry, we always return to civilization tired, dirty, and longing for a good hearty meal. Luckily, Pinedale, Wyoming is just down the road and this small quirky town has surprisingly a lot to offer.
Wind River Brewing Company – It’s probably the adopted-Coloradian in me but I always love finding a good microbrewery that cooks up tasty beverages and great food.
Burger Barn – If you prefer a quick burger to a brewery check out the Burger Barn. It is hard to go wrong with a hearty burger after backpacking the Titcomb Basin.
Pinedale Aquatic Center – Aquatic centers are always great places to get a shower and if your legs aren’t too tired from backpacking the Titcomb Basin you can always put in a few laps as well. Keep in mind when planning your journey that the center is typically closed on Sundays.
Trails End Campground – This campground is actually a better choice for the night before your adventure than the night after. We list it here for that reason. If you want to hit the trail early (as you should) plan on camping at this campground located just up the road from the trailhead.
Soda Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Area– After refueling and showering in Pinedale head north to this self-contained camping area on the shores of beautiful Soda Lake. While there are few amenities it is free and quiet.
Yellowstone Trail RV Park – While the area around Pinedale has lots of camping options this RV park is one of the only ones to offer full hookups.
Gannett Peak Lodge – This is a great alternative to the several hotel chains that line the west side of Pinedale. It is located near Pindale’s main street and has a historic vibe to it while still being clean, comfortable, and affordable.
Backpacking the Titcomb Basin in Wyoming – Complete Guide
Backpacking the Titcomb Basin Trail in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountain Range is a journey of unparalleled beauty with countless opportunities for jumping off the main trail to explore this remote area of the Rocky Mountains more fully. It has an overwhelming number of the state’s highest peaks topping 13,000′ in elevation. The mountainous landscape has glaciers, an overwhelming number of stunningly beautiful lakes, tarns, creeks, and streams. This is a trail that is surprisingly suitable for all skill levels. While it isn’t an easy hike, anyone of any age with a little bit of determination can make the journey into this beautiful remote basin. It is a backpacker’s paradise albeit one that is at times a bit crowded. Still, it is one that should be fully explored and enjoyed by those seeking the most beautiful landscapes in the backcountry. We hope that this guide helps you do just that.
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