The Highline Trail between Green River Lakes and Island Lakes is popular and deservedly so. A relatively easy climb leads to my favorite section of the Highline between Summit and Island Lakes, featuring photogenic peaks towering above beautiful alpine meadows and scenic lakes.
One of the classic backpacks in the northern Wind River Mountains follows the Highline Trail from Green River Lakes to Island Lake and then exits the range via the Seneca Lake and Pole Creek Trails to Elkhart Park. Fantastic views of towering peaks, emerald green meadows, rugged crags, glorious alpine meadows and glistening lakes makes this trip one of the most popular backpacks in the range.
The first segment of the trip offers relatively easy access to the high country and wastes no time serving up visual delights. From the trailhead the path drops to a bridge spanning the Green River. Here splendid views open to distinctive Squaretop Mountain framed by the rugged cliffs and summits rising above the Green River Valley. These views will be your constant companion as you traverse the grass and sage-clad slopes above the east side of the Green River Lakes.
Beyond the lakes the Highline gradually ascends along beautiful meadows and open forests of pine, fir and spruce trees. The placid Green River, tinted turquoise by glacial flour, meanders along the valley floor beneath the rugged slopes of unnamed peaks. Meanwhile Squaretop Mountain dominates the views, growing in stature as you approach the base of this amazing granite monolith.
After 7.0 miles the views of Squaretop change as the trail travels through meadows and open forest beneath the peak’s eastern face. Beyond Squaretop the trail passes through lovely Beaver Park and then Three Forks Park, named for the confluence of the Green River with Wells and Trail Creeks. Midway through Three Forks Park the Highline begins ascending through forest and soon turns southwest, climb moderately steep switchbacks up the northern and then western slopes above Trail Creek, gaining 1,000-ft in 2.0 miles. At the top of the climb the path crosses to the east side of Trail Creek to Trail Creek Park.
From Trail Creek Park the Highline ascends to Summit Lake, crosses the Pine Creek drainage and then follows a rolling course through lakes and tarns set amid meadows and timber clad knobs. Along the way the trail turns to the east and then northeast as it climbs to the magnificent Elbow Lake basin.
The trail through the basin, one of my favorite places in the Winds, stays well above timberline as it traverses small meadows growing amid ice-polish rock outcroppings and erratic boulders. Massive Elbow Lake, along with a collection of smaller lakes and tarns, lie nestled in rocky bowls.
Surrounding the basin is an amazing collection of high peaks. Bow Mountain (13,020-ft.), Mount Arrowhead (12,972-ft.), American Legion Peak (13,205-ft.) and Henderson Peak (13,115-ft.), along with the summits rising along the Continental Divide, dominate the view to the west. Mount Oeneis and Sky Pilot Peak tower above the basin to the north while Stroud Peak and Mount Whitecap rise to the northwest. Elbow Peak (11,948-ft.) fills the skyline to the south.
At the head of the basin the Highline ascends to a junction with the Shannon Pass Trail, branching left (northwest) to Shannon Pass and Peak Lake. We turn left on the continuation of the southbound Highline Trail toward Fremont Crossing and Island Lake, considered by many to be the most scenic segments of the trail.
Starting at the head of the Elbow Lake Basin the Highline crosses a divide to the headwaters of Fremont Creek and then descends along Fremont Creek, passing the beautiful Jean Lakes along the way. In route the trail stays well above timberline, traveling through stunning alpine lake basins set amid an incredible array of towering peaks.
Beyond Lower Jean Lake the trail drops below timberline to Fremont Crossing and then follows an undulating course through meadows and scattered trees set amid rock outcroppings and granite knolls. Small tarns lie nestled in rocky bowls. The segment ends at the junction of the Highline trail with the Indian Pass trail. Here we turn left and follow the Indian Pass trail for a mile to breathtaking Island Lake.
Jaw-dropping panoramas, great hiking, good fishing and scenic campsites combine to make Island Lake one of the most popular destinations in the Wind River Range. If time and energy allow, plan a few layover days at Island Lake for day hiking. Favorite hikes in the area include the scenic trail to stunningly Titcomb Basin and the terrific walk to Indian Pass that climbs through the starkly beautiful Indian Basin. Parties looking for an easier day can wander around Island Lake, visiting waterfalls and the pretty lake basin to the northeast of the lake.
From Island Lake, the heavily trafficked exit route to Elkhart Park uses a combination of the Indian Pass, Highline, Seneca Lakes and Pole Creek Trails. Due to numerous ascents and descents, the 12.1 miles (one-way) route is more strenuous then the mileage and net elevation loss might imply. Some parties take two days to reach Elkhart Park, camping at one of the many lakes long the way.
|0.0||8,040-ft.||Green River Lakes trailhead|
|3.6||8,000-ft.||Foot of Upper Green River Lake|
|11.4||8,240-ft.||Three Forks Park|
|14.3||9,300-ft.||Trail Creek Park|
|15.0||9,640-ft.||Junction Shannon Pass Trail|
|15.8||10,390-ft.||Green River Pass|
|17.6||10,330-ft.||Junction Doubletop Mtn Trail at Summit Lake|
|20.6||10,880-ft.||Elbow Lake Basin Overlook|
|22.5||10,950-ft.||Junction Shannon Pass Trail|
|23.5||10,799-ft.||Upper Jean Lake|
|24.7||10,651-ft.||Lower Jean Lake|
|28.7||10,550-ft.||Junction with Indian Pass Trail to Island Lake|
|31.1||10,400-ft.||Junction Seneca Lake Trail|
|34.8||10,300-ft.||Junction Pole Creek Trail|
|41.8||9,340-ft.||Elkhart Park Trailhead|
Green River Lakes Trailhead: Located just off the northwest shore of scenic Green River Lake, the trailhead offers access to several trails including the Highline Trail, which is part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Clear Creek Trail, and the Roaring Fork Trail.
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 west on Highway 191 (West Pine Street) for 6 miles and then turn right on WY-352 toward Cora. Follow WY-352 for 25.3 miles to the National Forest boundary, where the pavement ends. Continue straight ahead on Green River Lakes Road (Forest Service Road 600). (Stay along the east side of the river, ignoring any roads branching to the left.)
Follow Green River Lakes Road for 18.5 miles to a signed intersection for the Green River Lakes campground and trailhead. The road to the right leads to the campground. We bear slightly left, staying on the Green River Lakes Road. Continue on the road for 0.2 miles and then turn left at the signed intersection for the trailhead parking area. Drive along the spur road for 0.1 miles to a “Y” intersection and turn right into the trailhead parking area. The road to the left leads to the equestrian parking lot. The trailhead is located at the southwest end of the parking area.
The 50 mile trip should take about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Passenger cars can typically make it to the trailhead. Check at the forest service office in Pinedale for current road conditions.
Elkhart Park Trailhead: 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.