Backpack: Hailey Pass - Washakie Pass Loop
Distance: 35.5 miles (loop)
Bridger and Popo Agie Wildernesses, Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests, near Big Sandy in Wyoming's Wind River Range
This rewarding loop hike climbs over two panoramic passes on the Continental Divide and visits three beautiful lake basins.
- Distance: 35.5 miles
- Elevation: 9,085-ft. at Big Sandy Trailhead
11,160-ft. at Hailey Pass
9,964-ft. at Grave Lake
9,980-ft. at Washakie / Bear Ears Trail Junction
10,363-ft. at Washakie Lake
11,611-ft. at Washakie Pass
9,980-ft. at Washakie Pass Trail Junction
9,085-ft. at Big Sandy Trailhead
- Difficulty: strenuous
- More Hikes in:
Big Sandy / Wyoming's Wind River Range
Note: This loop can be hiked in either direction. I prefer clockwise because the views descending the west side Washakie Pass, which are really quite spectacular, are right in front of you and it is easier to ascend than descend the east side of Washakie Pass if snow and/or ice is present on the trail.
From the Big Sandy trailhead follow the Fremont Trail as it heads north, paralleling the west side of the Continental Divide. Along the way the trail passes four beautiful lakes and offers fine views of the massive cirque at the head of the East Fork Valley.
Reach the head of Marms Lake and the junction with the Pyramid Lake trail at 7.4 miles. At the junction, bear right (east/northeast) on the Pyramid Lake trail, which crosses Washakie Creek at 9.1 miles. Beyond the crossing continue along the trail as it passes Skull Lake and the climbs to the junction with the Hailey Pass Trail, branching right at 11.2 miles. (This junction is 0.2 miles before Mae’s Lake.
Turn right (northeast) at the junction and follow the Hailey Pass Trail as it travels beneath Pyramid Peak and past the pretty Twin Lakes, reaching Hailey Pass (11,160-ft.) at 13.3 miles. Here views open east to the Musembeah massif (12,593-ft.) along with Redwall Peak, Buttress Mountain and Grave Peak (12,255-ft.) rising above emerald green meadows of the Baptiste and Grave Creek Valleys. Mt Hooker’s distinctive profile towers above the pass to the northwest.
From the pass a very steep descent through talus and meadows leads to a crossing of Baptiste Creek at 14.6 miles. On the north side of the creek the trail turns east. Soon the trail follows an undulating course high above Grave Lake before dropping to the lake’s northern shore at 15.9 miles. Here the trail traverses the north and then eastern shores to the foot of the lake at 17.2 miles.
Beyond the lake the path crosses a ridge separating the Grave and South Fork Little Wind River valleys and then drops to a trail junction on the western shore of the South Fork Little Wind River at 19.9 miles. At the junction bear right (south/southwest) on the Washakie Trail. (The trail to the left that crosses the river is the continuation of the Bear Ears Trail to the Lizard Head Plateau.)
For detailed descriptions of this segment of the backpack see:
-- Big Sandy Trailhead to Marms Lake
-- Marms Lake to Hailey Pass Trail Junction
-- Over Hailey Pass to Washakie Trail Junction
From the junction the Washakie Trail heads south/southwest, paralleling the west side of the South Fork Little Wind River. Soon the path climbs on moderate grades through tree to the bench holding Washakie Lake (10,363-ft.) at 21.9 miles.
Follow the trail as it traverses the lake’s northern and then western shore. Near the head of the lake the path climbs steeply to the bench where Macon Lake (10,771-ft.) lies nestled in rocky meadows strewn with large boulders.
A traverse of the lake’s southern shore leads to the path climbing steeply to Washakie Pass (11,611-ft.) at 23.5 miles. Along the way enjoy views of Mount Washakie (12,524-ft.), Big Chief Mountain (12,335-ft.), Bernard Peak (12,393-ft.) and the Washakie Glacier. From the pass fine views stretch east to the sheer cliffs and high peaks towering above Macon and Washakie Lakes and beyond.
The descent from the pass features breathtaking views of the South Fork Cirque including Mt. Geikie (12,378-ft.), Ambush Peak (12,187-ft.), Raid Peak (12,532-ft.), Mt. Bonneville (12,585-ft.) and Tower Peak (12,330-ft.). As you descend views open southeast to the serrated summits along the backside of the Cirque of the Towers. This segment of the trail follows the Washakie Pass trail description in reverse.
The Washakie Trail ends at the junction with the Pyramid Lake Trail at 25.6. Backpackers looking for a campsite should turn right (north) toward Skull Lake (0.4 miles from the junction). Alternatively, turn left (south) and retrace your steps on the Pyramid Lake Trail and then Fremont trails back to the Big Sandy trailhead at 35.5 miles.
This backpack requires a minimum of 3-nights/4-days. I recommend allocating five or more days for the trip. The extra time will enable a more leisurely pace and allow time for a side trip to Shadow Lake, fishing and other pursuits.
Mileage and Elevation Detail
|0.0||9,085-ft.||Big Sandy Trailhead|
|0.6||9,120- ft.||Junction Sedgewick Meadow / Big Sandy (bear left)|
|1.3||9,320-ft.||Junction Diamond Lake (bear left)|
|1.5||9,355-ft.||Junction Fremont Trail (bear right)|
|7.4||9,925-ft.||Junction with Pyramid Lake Trail (bear right)|
|9.0||10,160-ft.||Junction Shadow Lake trail (continue straight ahead)|
|9.1||10,090-ft.||Washakie Creek Crossing|
|9.9||10,410-ft.||Junction with Washakie Pass Trail|
|11.2||10,375-ft.||Junction Hailey Pass (turn right)|
|14.7||10,310-ft.||Junction Baptiste Lake Route|
|15.9||9,964-ft.||North shore of Grave Lake|
|17.2||9,975-ft.||Bridge over Grave Lake Outlet|
|18.7||9,895-ft.||Junction Moss Lake Trail (continue straight ahead)|
|19.9||9,980-ft.||Junction Washakie Pass Trail (bear right)|
|21.9||10,363-ft.||Washakie Lake (camping)|
|25.6||10,410-ft.||Junction with Pyramid Lake Trail (turn left)|
|26.4||10,090-ft.||Washakie Creek Crossing|
|26.5||10,160-ft.||Pass the Shadow Lake trail (continue straight ahead)|
|28.1||9,925-ft.||Junction with Pyramid Lake Trail (bear right)|
|34.0||9,355-ft.||Junction Fremont Trail (bear left)|
|34.2||9,320-ft.||Junction Diamond Lake (bear right)|
|34.9||9,120-ft.||Junction Sedgewick Meadow / Big Sandy (bear right/straight ahead)|
|35.5||9,085-ft.||Big Sandy Trailhead|
Trailhead Driving Directions
The Big Sandy Trailhead is located in the southern Wind River Range next to the Big Sandy River.
Directions from Pinedale: From the intersection of Pine Street (US 191) and North Tyler Ave (the Pinedale Tourism office is located on the northeast corner) in Pinedale, WY, drive south on Highway 191 for 11.7 miles and then turn left (east) on WY-353. After 15.5 miles you will notice signs referring to the road as the Big Sandy-Elkhorn Road and after 18 miles the paved road will change to a good packed dirt/gravel surface.
Shortly after the pavement ends go straight through a junction, and drive south crossing the Big Sandy River (Buckskin Crossing). Follow the road for a total of 27.3 miles. Shortly after crossing the Big Sandy River you will reach a junction with the Lander Cutoff Road (the next junction). Turn left on the Lander Cutoff Road. There is a wood sign at the intersection pointing toward the Big Sandy trailhead.
Drive 7.0 miles on the Lander Cutoff Road and then turn left on the Big Sandy Opening Road. Here you will see a sign for the Big Sandy Campground and trailhead. The road now deteriorates and narrows. Blind corners and lush foliage along the road make it hard to see ahead. Drive carefully, following the rocky, rutted road for 9.8 miles to a "Y" intersection. Bear right at the intersection to continue along the Big Sandy Opening Road (Forest Service Road 850). (The road branching to the left leads to the Big Sandy Lodge and Mud Lake.) Follow the road for 0.8 miles to the trailhead parking area, equipped with an outhouse.
Allow an hour and a half to reach the trailhead from Pinedale. The parking area is too small for the number of backpackers visiting the area during the height of the summer. If the parking area is full, find a safe place to park off the access road.
I recommend a high clearance vehicle to reach the trailhead. Passenger cars can make it OK if driven carefully. Check at the Pinedale ranger station before starting your trip to learn about current road and trail conditions. The Ranger Station is located to the east of the Ridleys Grocery Store on US 191 (Pine Street in Pinedale). The entrance to the ranger station is on the Fremont Lake Road. (You can also reach the parking area for the ranger station by driving east through the Ridley’s parking lot.)
This trailhead is remote, so be sure to have a full tank of gas. The dirt road become slippery when wet. The campground at the parking area is tiny, with only 4 sites. I would not plan on camping at the trailhead before starting your backpack.
Trail Photo Gallery / Trail Map
Wyoming's Wind River Range
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