Titcomb Basin Backpacking Guide – Wind River Range, WY

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The Wind River Range, commonly known as the Winds, has some of the most beautiful mountains in the American Rockies. Titcomb Basin sports a unique combination of alpine forests, jagged granite, lakes, and alpine meadows. Some of my favorite scenes from this area include alpine lakes surrounded by mountains, glaciers, and Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest at 13,810 ft.

Planning a backpacking trip can be overwhelming – figuring out where to camp, where to start, how many days you need, what conditions will be like, and the list goes on. I’ve curated this guide to help make the process easier for you!

I’ve broken it up into sections, so if you need to jump ahead, use this menu:

  1. Quick Facts
  2. Highlights & Lowlights
  3. Permits
  4. Best Time to Travel
  5. Trailhead
  6. Possible Itineraries
  7. Campsites
  8. Regulations
  9. Bears & Food Storage

Quick Facts

  • Mileage: 30 miles
  • Peak Elevation: 10,640 ft / 3243 m
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,041 ft / 1,231 m
  • Days Needed: 3-5 days
  • Best Travel Time: July to September
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
  • Permits: may be required (see below)

Highlights

  • Wildlife! You can encounter moose, marmots, beavers, chipmunks, mule deer, and bears (grizzly and black)
  • Being surrounded by jagged peaks and lush valleys
  • Beautiful sunrises and sunsets against the mountain range
  • Great lighting makes for memorable photos
  • Trails are well-maintained
  • Lakes are great for fishing
  • Plenty of water sources, making it easy to filter water instead of packing in all of the water weight

Lowlights

  • You’ll either face a lot of bugs or a lot of people… July is peak bug season, making August and September the crowded season
  • Thunder and lightning storms can roll in unexpectedly
  • Icy lakes make taking an alpine dip very tempting but challenging
  • Snow features at higher elevations well into the late summer
  • Not a lot of shade or trees as you get to higher elevations
  • Campsites can be hard to find with how many people travel here
  • Giardia is present in streams and lakes
Island Lake, Titcomb Basin – photo by Katherine Carling

Permits

Permits and reservations are not required for most hikers. They are however required for organized groups (school, church, scouts, clubs, etc.) and recreational livestock users (overnight pack and saddle stock). If you fit into either of those categories, you can find more information on permits here.

You can also contact the Pinedale Ranger District at:

Pinedale Ranger District
29 East Fremont Lake Rd.
P.O. Box 220
Pinedale, WY 82941
307-367-4326
Fax: 307-367-5750

Best Time to Travel

If you want to plan your trip in the summer months of June or July there are a few things to keep in mind. Winter snow will still be found at higher elevations late into July and you’ll also find that streams and rivers are running faster from mountain runoff. Bugs will be plentiful during these months as well. Make sure to permethrin treat your clothes and bring bug repellent (I recommend Picaridin, but 70-100% deet works as well). A bug net for your face will also be a must – pair this with a wide-brim hat or ball cap to keep the mesh away from your face. When I went in early July, there were times the bugs were swarming my face and the bug net saved my sanity!

Thunder and lightning storms are common in July and they can pop up at any moment. Avoid hiking out in the open, lone trees, granite slabs, ridges, and mountain tops. Steer clear of open fields where you’ll be the tallest object and avoid standing or leaning on tall trees (those are likely to be struck by lightning).

If you want to avoid the bugs and have the best weather, plan your trip for late August or September. Keep in mind that because this is the best time of year, there will be a lot of people enjoying this beautiful area. Because of that, it may be harder to find campsites along the trail – especially in the popular areas of Island Lake and Seneca Lake. 

In terms of weather, you’ll see highs of 70-80 degrees during the day, but it can get as low as 25 degrees at night, so plan your gear accordingly. You’ll be at a higher elevation for the entirety of the trail, so UV rays will be stronger. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and UPF-rated clothing if you have it. 

Trailhead

Elkhart Park Trailhead, otherwise known as Pole Creek Trailhead, is a highly popular access point to the Wind Rivers, namely Titcomb Basin. It’s located 15 miles northeast of Pinedale, WY and there is a fully paved access road leading up to it. There is a small campground with 8 campsites and working toilets if you want to camp the night before hitting the trail. There isn’t any water though, so be sure to fill up before leaving town.

A snow pass on the way from Island Lake to Titcomb Lakes – photo by Katherine Carling

Possible Itineraries

2 Nights

Starting trailhead: Elkhart Park
Camp night 1: Island Lake
Camp night 2: Seneca Lake (day hike to Titcomb Lakes, pack out to Seneca)
Ending trailhead: Elkhart Park

3 Nights

Starting trailhead: Elkhart Park
Camp night 1: Island Lake
Camp night 2: Island Lake (day hike to Titcomb Lakes)
Camp night 3: Hobbs Lake
Ending trailhead: Elkhart Park

4 Nights

Starting trailhead: Elkhart Park
Camp night 1: Hobbs Lake
Camp night 2: Island Lake
Camp night 3: Island Lake (day hike to Titcomb Lakes)
Camp night 4: Hobbs Lake
Ending trailhead: Elkhart Park

View from my campsite at Island Lake, Titcomb Basin – photo by Katherine Carling

Campsites

All camping is undesignated, but try to look for previously impacted areas when selecting where you’ll stay for the night. These are usually flat, shaded areas and are close to a water source. Wilderness rules apply in Titcomb Basin and are enforced by rangers, so make sure to select a site that is 200 ft from the trail and any water source. To maintain privacy for yourself and others, try to avoid camping near other backpackers. During the busy season, this might be hard as there will be a lot of people out there, but when possible, try to distance yourself. 

There are three popular places to camp in Titcomb Basin. The most popular is Island Lake, which means you may be sharing it with a lot of backpackers. The bugs aren’t as bad at this spot because it’s so far into the trail and high in the mountains. This is surrounded by jagged granite mountains and it has one of the prettiest views I’ve ever seen. Every time I looked up, I couldn’t believe I wasn’t dreaming. I highly recommend staying here if you can!

The second location is Seneca Lake. This lake is right before Island Lake and is also surrounded by some beautiful granite mountains. A small tent won’t be difficult to site, but groups will have a harder time finding a location for multiple tents. If you’re planning on staying here, try to get here as early as possible to secure a location. You can find legal campsites at the lake inlet or at the southwest corner of the lake. 

Hobbs Lake is a lake you will encounter early on if you want to do some shorter mileage days. The bugs tend to be a little worse here than at Island or Seneca Lake because it’s at a lower elevation. There are plenty of campsites at this lake and you can even venture around the east side of the lake to have a little more privacy from other campers. 

Regulations

Titcomb Basin falls within the Bridger-Teton Wilderness. The following regulations are enforced to protect this wilderness:

  1. Group size is limited to 15 people and 25 pack/saddle stock
  2. Shortcutting switchbacks is not allowed
  3. Campsites must be 200 ft away from trails and lake shores
  4. All garbage must be packed out, follow LNT principles
  5. Campfires are permitted only below the timberline (Island Lake and above – fires are NOT allowed)
  6. No cutting or damaging trees or other vegetation without a permit
  7. Bury human waster in a hole 6-8 inches deep and at least 100 ft from any water supply, so that rain and snow runoff won’t carry contaminants into lakes and streams
  8. Soap (even biodegradable) and food particles pollute lakes and streams. Do not wash dishes, yourself, or clothes near the shore of lakes, streams, or ponds. 
  9. Do not attract wildlife. Both black bears and grizzlies are present in this area and proper food storage is required.

For more information, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/btnf/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5290512

Bears & Food Storage

You may encounter grizzly or black bears in Titcomb Basin, so make sure you are prepared! Always carry bear spray and make sure you are storing your food in a bear canister or a bear bag. Bear canisters are available to loan from the Pinedale District Office if you need one! While you may not see any bears on the trail, you should always be prepared for an encounter. 

I hope this guide has helped you plan a fun trip to Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions, suggestions, or recommendations. Have fun out there!

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