Backpack: Island Lake Backpack
Segment 1: Elkhart Park to Island Lake
Distance: 12.1 miles (one way)
Bridger Wilderness, Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Elkhart Park in Wyoming's Wind River Range
- Distance: 12.1 miles
- Elevation: 9,340-ft. at Elkhart Park Trailhead
10,090-ft. at Junction Miller Lake Trail
10,350-ft. at Photographers Point
10,300-ft. at Junction Seneca Lake Trail
9,995-ft. at Low point west of Seneca Lake
10,375-ft. at High point above Seneca Lake
10,410-ft. at Junction Highline/Continental Divide Trails
10,625-ft. at Top of hill above Little Seneca Lake
10,490-ft. at Stream crossing
10,640-ft. at High point above Island Lake
10,410-ft. at Island Lake
Note: There is a lot of up and down along this trail. Based on GPS measurements, the trail gains over 2,600-ft. and loses almost 1,600-ft. on its way to Island Lake.
- Difficulty: strenuous
- Basecamp: Elkhart Park / Big Sandy
- Region: Wyoming's Wind River Range
Elkhart Park to Island Lake Description
The fastest route to Island Lake is along the Pole Creek, Seneca and Indian Basin Trails. The Pole Creek Trail (#119) starts at the northeast end of the large parking lot at the Elkhart Park trailhead between the outhouse and trailhead kiosk. (See driving directions for the trailhead.)
The trail immediately plunges into forest and briefly ascends north on easy grades. Soon the path curves to the right (southeast) and continues climbing through trees on easy to moderate grades along the southwest side of the Faler Creek Valley. Views occasionally open to willow-choked meadows along the valley floor. Twice I have seen Moose grazing among the willows. As you ascend the trail gets rockier and can be quite muddy after it rains.
At 1.7 miles the trail curves to the left (northeast) and ascends on moderate grades through spruce-pine forest. The grade eases as 2.1 miles and at 2.3 miles as the path enters the Bridger Wilderness. Beyond the wilderness boundary the trail resumes climbing and curves to the right (east) at 2.7 miles.
Soon the grade eases as the trail traverses the meadows of Miller Park, passing the junction with the Miller Lake trail at 3.3 miles. Here we get a preview of coming attractions with distant views of the high peaks in the northern portion of the Wind River Range.
At the edge of the second meadow the trail turns to the left (north/northeast) and briefly ascends on moderate to easy grades through trees and then a third meadow with views to the north of Mount Helen (13,620-ft.), Mount Sacagawea (13,569-ft.) and Fremont Peak (13,745-ft.).
The landscape changes as the trail exits the meadows. The path now climbs on moderate grades through forest and small meadows set amid rock outcropping and granite knobs. At 4.1 miles the path turns to the left (north), passing a few small ponds nestled amid boggy meadows.
Reach Photographer’s Point at 4.6 miles. From the aptly named viewpoint a stunning panorama of high peaks fills the skyline to the north. Visible summits towering above the area between Island Lake and the upper Fremont Creek Valley include Bow Mountain (13,020-ft.), American Legion Peak (13,205-ft.), Mt. Woodrow Wilson (13,502-ft.), Mount Helen, Mount Sacagawea, Fremont Peak and Jackson Peak. Below the viewpoint is the deep canyon carved by Fremont Creek. Look carefully and you will see the south end of Gorge Lake on the canyon floor. In the mid-distance are a sea of granite knobs and low peaks.
Past Photographer’s Point the trail descends to the southeast and then turns left (east), climbing over two low rises separated by a meadow. In the meadow pass the junction with the Sweeny Creek Trail branching to the right (south) at 5.3 miles.
Reach the junction with the Seneca Lake Trail at 5.6 miles. Here the Pole Creek trail turns to the right (south), drops to Eklund Lake and then heads east toward the Pole Creek Lakes. We bear left (northwest) on the Seneca Lake Trail toward Seneca Lake.
The Seneca Lake Trail descends through trees to Barbara Lake at 5.7 miles. Views extend across the lake to the high peaks rising to the north/northwest. Campsites are located along the south and east sides of the lake.
Follow the trail as skirts the lake’s western shore and curves to the northeast. A short distance beyond the end of the lake the path crosses Barbara’s outlet stream at 6.0 miles and then climbs a low rise. From the top of the rise the trail drops down switchbacks to a marshy meadow containing a small pond at 6.5 miles. From the Pole Creek/Seneca Lake junction to the meadow the trail loses over 360-ft in 0.8 miles.
Head north across the meadow, crossing a small stream to the south of the pond and then climb the rocky hillside along the west side of a draw. At the top of the draw the path briefly curves to the right (east), reaching the western shore of Hobbs Lake at 6.9 miles. The pretty lake is ringed by small meadows and rocky knolls clad with scattered trees. Peak 11,550 rises to the northeast. Good campsites are found above the lake’s southwestern and eastern shores.
At Hobbs Lake the trail curves to the left and heads north along the lake’s western shore. Cross the lake’s outlet stream at the beyond the north end of the lake at 7.2 miles. The undulating path now wanders between small ponds and knolls and crosses a creek as it descends on gentle grades to a crossing of Seneca Lake’s outlet stream, gushing down a rocky gully at 7.6 miles. Either rock-hop or wade the creek, depending on the time of year.
On the north side of the stream climb out of the gully up a timbered hillside on steep switchbacks and then continue ascending north through meadows along the west side of a draw. At the head of the draw the trail curves around the east side of a pond and then climbs over a wooded saddle on a low ridge.
On the north side of the saddle the trail drops down steep switchbacks. The grade abates as the trail skirts the west side of a pretty pond and then travels through meadows along the west side of the pond’s outlet stream.
A short descent down a rocky hill leads to a small pond at 8.3 miles. Here the trail curves to the right (northeast) and climbs over 400-ft. in 0.75 up a wooded hillside to an overlook high above the west shore of Seneca Lake at 9.1 miles. As the trail nears the top of the climb is curves to the left (north). On a clear day the overlook offers fine views of Fremont and Jackson Peak rising to the north. Mount Lester (12,342-ft.) towers above the lake to the northeast.
From the overlook the trail descends 100-ft. and then follows an undulating course heading north along the west side of the lake. Reach the head of the lake at 9.7 miles. Here you will find well-used campsites. The trail now swings right (northeast), ascending on easy grades to the south end of Little Seneca Lake at 10.2 miles. Along the way pass the junction with the trail to Lost Lake branching left (north). More campsites are located in the area between the two lakes.
The trail travels along the west side of Little Seneca Lake and then curves to the right (southeast) around the head of the lake. The trail now ascends the rocky slopes above the lake northeastern shore on easy grades. At the southeast end of the lake the trail turns left (northeast) away from the lake, reaching the junction with the Continental Divide/Highline Trail at 10.7 miles.
The junction marks the end of the Seneca Lake Trail. Here the northbound Highline/Continental Divide trail turn left (northeast) toward Island Lake and Fremont Crossing. The southbound Highline/Continental Divide trail branches to the right (southeast), climbing to Lester Pass. (Note the trail signs only list the Continental Divide trail.)
The combined Highline/Continental Divide trails now ascend steep switchbacks up a rocky draw. The grade ease as the trail reaches the top of the ridge. Here Fremont Peak (13,745-ft.) and Jackson Peak (13,517-ft.) dominate the view to the northeast.
Descend from the ridge on moderately steep grades, passing the junction of the Continental Divide/Highline trails with the Indian Pass Trail at 11.1 miles. At the junction the Continental Divide/Highline trails branch left (northwest) toward Fremont Crossing and the Jean Lakes. We continue straight ahead (downhill) toward Island Lake on the Indian Pass trail.
At the bottom of the ridge the trail traverses a small basin and crosses a creek at 11.2 miles. Here views encompass Mount Helen (13,620-ft.), Mount Sacagawea (13,569-ft.) and Fremont Peak towering above Titcomb Basin. A wall of granite summits, including Bow Mountain (13,020-ft.), Arrowhead Peak (12,792-ft.) and the Titcomb Needles (12,714-ft.), fill the skyline to the northwest.
Beyond the crossing the trail climbs over a low rise and then ascends a draw on easy to moderate grades, heading toward the top of a second ridge. The grade eases at 11.6 miles as the trail passes a pretty pond with a backdrop of the peaks to the northwest. Reach the saddle (10,640-ft.) on the ridge at 11.8 miles. Beyond the saddle the trail drops on gentle grades toward Island Lake. Along the way views open to the Fremont Peak, Jackson Peak and Elephant Head towering beyond the eastern end of lake.
The grade steepens as the trail descends toward the lake. At 11.9 miles reach a viewpoint offering a stunning panorama. Here the high peaks towering above Titcomb and Indian Basins form a breathtaking backdrop for Island Lake. The jagged summits of Twin Peaks (13,185-ft.), Mt. Woodrow Wilson (13,502-ft.), the Sphinx (13,258-ft.), Bob’s Tower (13,040-ft.) and Miriam Peak (13,080-ft.) rise above the head of Titcomb Basin. Mount Helen, Mount Sacagawea and Fremont Peak rim the basin’s eastern wall while American Legion Peak (13,205-ft.), the Titcomb Needles and Peak 12450, to name a few, form the western wall. Jackson Peak (13,517-ft.) and Ellingwood Peak (13,052-ft.), along with a number of unnamed summits, tower above Indian Basin to the northeast. Closer at hand, Island Lake is set amid granite knolls with Elephant Head Peak rising to the east.
From the viewpoint descend steeply down a rocky slope and then through meadows with scattered trees to an unmarked junction above Island Lake’s (10,346-ft.) eastern shore at 12.1 miles. Along the way pass a few spur trails leading to campsites.
At the unmarked junction the trail branching to the left (northwest) leads to scenic campsites along the lake’s southwestern shore. The Indian Pass trail continues straight ahead (northeast) toward Indian and Titcomb Basins.
Island Lake is an extremely popular destination, so don’t expect solitude. On the knoll at the south end of the lake are tightly packed, overused campsites. Please try to avoid camping here. The further you get from the junction at the south end of the lake, the more likely you will find a campsite with some privacy. Additional campsites are located along Island Lake’s northeastern shore and in the basin above the waterfall on the northeast side of the lake. Please respect the areas closed for regeneration along Island Lake’s heavily used eastern shore.
Campsites are also located in Titcomb and Indian Basins. Both basins are above timberline so campsites are exposed with large rocks offering the only protection. Finding legal campsites that are at least 200-ft. from trails and water is somewhat challenging in both basins. Hanging food is also problematic due to the lack of trees. You will need to find a large boulder to hang your food or carry a bear container.
Return to Introduction: Island Lake Backpack
Go To Segment 2: Island Lake to Elkhart Park
- Introduction: Island Lake Backpack
- Segment 1: Elkhart Park to Island Lake
- --- Side Trip: Titcomb Basin
- --- Side Trip: Indian Basin and Pass
- --- Side Trip: Island Lake Waterfall Hike
- Segment 2: Island Lake to Elkhart Park
Driving Directions to Elkhart Park Trailhead
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 east on Highway 191 (East Pine Street) for 0.3 miles and bear left onto Fremont Lake Road. Follow this road for 14.3 miles and turn right into the large parking area for the Elkhart Park/Pole Creek Trailhead. After the first 3.0 miles the road will turn into Skyline Drive/Forest Service Road 370740. The trailhead is located at the northeast end of the parking lot between the outhouse and the trailhead kiosk. It should take about 25 minutes to drive the trailhead. The last section of the road has some holes and uneven spots.
- Backpack Intro
- Segment Photo Gallery
- Segment Map
- Trailhead(s) Information: Elkhart Park / Big Sandy
- Region Information: Wyoming's Wind River Range
- Other Hiking Regions in: Wyoming