Backpacker Bugaboo Provincial Park

Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Backpacker Bugaboo Provincial Park Backpacking Photography Gear TipsBugaboo Provincial Park British Columbia 

For most people bringing back photos from a backpacking trip is essential. Who doesn’t want to share their adventure with friends and family on the social media beast?

The big question is what is the end use for those photos, and what photo gear should you take to meet that end? Ask 100 photographers that question and you’ll get 100 different answers. And there really are no wrong answers here.

For the purpose of this article I’ll focus on backpacking photography gear tips for photographers that may be in the advanced amateur to aspiring pro levels.

Mount Baker Wilderness campsite North Cascades Washington Backpacking Photography Gear TipsMount Baker Wilderness North Cascades

It’s All About Weight

Get used to it, if you’re into serious photography while backpacking your pack will be heavy, period.

Only you can determine how much weight you can comfortably carry and for how far. There are endless variables which determine what you should or shouldn’t bring, such as photography goals, trip length, elevation gain, trail or off trail routes, and seasons, to name a few.

Basically though, carrying too much weight can turn your trip into a grueling muscle cramping ordeal. And at the end of the day you won’t have any energy left for photography. Believe me I know what I’m talking about here. For 20 years I lugged around a 4×5 film camera with four lenses, 18 film holders, a film changing tent, extra film, light meter, tripod, filters, etc. All this photo gear alone was well over 35 pounds.

So here are my gear tips for helping to make your backpacking photography trip more successful and enjoyable.

Disclaimer: The following tips are offered from my personal experience and preferences after many years of backpacking photography. What works for me may not work for you.

Backcountry camp North Cascades National ParkBackcountry camp North Cascades National Park

Photo Gear

There isn’t much you can do here for weight savings. You can’t shave off pieces of you camera or lens to cut down on weight. And this isn’t the category for scrimping on quality to save weight. My choice of photo gear may be on the heavy side, but it ensures high quality results.

  • Camera:

    One camera body. The best you can afford. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or film or, which brand, as long you can change lenses. Make sure it has a high quality sensor with enough megapixels sufficient for your end use. A 20 megapixel body may be good enough for social media sharing, but not probably for making large format fine art prints.

    Pro Tip:   Pro or Prosumer level cameras are much more rugged, and have better weather seals than consumer level cameras. Something to consider if you regularly visit dusty, and or rainy environments, or are hard on your gear.

My Gear:
Nikon D850 Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s well built with all the features I need and more. It’s 45.7 megapixel sensor is outstanding for night sky photography, and mural size prints.
Really Right Stuff L Plate Used for quick release in conjunction with Really Right Stuff Tripod Ballhead.

Alice Lake camp Sawtooth MountainsIlluminated tent, Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

  • Lenses:

    Wide or ultra wide to short telephoto lenses will cover most situations. Again, go with the highest quality you can afford. It wood be ideal to bring just one zoom lens with a focal length from 20-200mm. However the quality of such a lens may not be optimum.

    Many photographers will swear by the quality of prime lenses, but for our purpose bringing an arm load of them isn’t practical. One wide angle zoom lens, plus a normal to short telephoto zoom lens would be a good option.

    Pro Tip:  High quality lenses are always more important than the camera body. The most expensive camera or post-processing editing app can’t make up for an inferior quality lens.

My Gear: 
Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 This lens is considered by many landscape photographers to be the gold standard of wide angle zooms. I can attest that it is extremely sharp, and has minimal distortion and chromatic aberration.
Nikon 24-70mm 2.8E ED VR  There are arguably smaller, lighter weight, and cheaper lenses in this focal length. But for me this lens has proven its worth many times over. It’s tack sharp, and the VR feature is outstanding for hand held work.
Nikon 70-200mm 2.8E FL ED VR  Again, it’s a heavy and expensive lens, but for me it’s high quality glass and features are worth every ounce.

  • Tripod:

    A tripod is an essential piece of photo gear. Night photography would be absolutely impossible without it. So would close-ups of flowers, long exposures of flowing water, and techniques such as focus stacking.

A tripod is also one item where you may be able to get away with choosing a lighter weight model. This is especially true if you camera body and lens combination is on the lighter side.

Many manufacturers offer tripods with three or four section legs. I prefer three, simpler, less parts that can fail. Also make sure your tripod is tall enough for your needs. Carbon fiber tripods are your best option, they’re slightly lighter than metal, and very durable. They also won’t freeze your hands in cold weather light metal does.

In recent years ball heads have become the standard, and I find them to be a vast improvement over older style handles and knobs.

Pro Tip:   Do not opt for an inexpensive poorly made tripod with plastic components! They are not stable and break very easily. I was once in desperate need of a replacement tripod while on location. All I could purchase was a cheap lightweight model. Even with everything locked down as much as possible it was like using a wet noodle to support my camera!

My Gear:
Gitzo GT 1532 Mountaineer Series 1
Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead with quick release plate.

Backcountry camp North CascadesMount Baker Wilderness North Cascades

  • Filters:

Polarizing Filter. Probably one of the most indispensable filters to bring along. Just be careful not to overdue the effect of darkening a sky. Also keep in mind their limited effect when using wide angle lenses.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters. I still find them extremely useful. But If you’re looking to save weight you could leave these at home, and produce their effect in post-processing. They are not always the best option in certain circumstances. However, when possible I will always prefer to use them to make the best exposure in the field, and not rely on post-processing techniques.

My Gear:
B+H Polarizing Filter
Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters: Four filters; 1 & 2 Stop soft and hard edge.
Lee SW150 Mark II Filter System, necessary to accommodate Nikon 14-24mm lens

  • Miscellaneous Gear

    Extra Batteries. I always take three fully charged batteries, one in the camera and two extras. On a recent 10 day backpack I still had about half power left on my last spare. Be aware that mirrorless cameras may consume more battery power.
    Extra Memory Cards. 
    Remote Shutter Release. Weighs next to nothing and helps in reducing camera shake.
    Micro Fiber Cleaning Cloth. Essential for cleaning lenses and filters
    Camera Chest Pack. I find this optional item to be extremely useful. Not only does it give me quick access to my camera while on the tail, it also has room for small items such as trail snacks and maps.
    My Gear:
    Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AWII

Backpacker Glacier Peak Wilderness Backpacking Photography Gear TipsBackpacker Glacier Peak Widerness

Backpacking Gear

Here is where you’ll have the most opportunities for saving weight while on the trail. It’s also where you can spend or save lots of money. Once again how light you go depends on your destination, how long you will be out, and what season you’ll be backpacking in.

Going Ultralight is the catch word of the day, and gear manufacturers are cashing in on it big time. Just be aware that that ultra expensive ultralight gear may not be ultra durable, especially when the weather turns nasty, and after a few seasons of use.

Absolutely nothing is worse than sitting out wind, rain, and or snow for days at a time in a flimsy leaking tent.

Nearly every tent, backpack, or rain jacket on the market today will perform well in adverse conditions, at least for their first season. What gear reviewers won’t tell you is how well they hold up after a few seasons of use!

  • Backpack

    A high quality good fitting backpack is one of the most essential pieces of gear you’ll need for a successful and enjoyable backpacking trip.

    Pro Tip:   Forget that fancy expensive photo gear backpack. They are designed foremost to protect your camera and lenses while on the trial, everything else is secondary. You’ll quickly find that out when you’re several miles into a steep climb when that backpack has suddenly turned itself into a medieval torture device.

    Go with a pack specifically designed for backpacking. Use soft items in you pack, like clothes to protect your gear. Visit a reputable outdoor gear store and try on different packs. Speak with a knowledgable salesperson about what you need, a good one will help choose and fit the ideal pack. Keep in mind that to accommodate all your photo gear you may need a larger pack than you initially think.

    Pro Tip:   Do not buy a backpack from an online retailer until you have already physically checked it out and tried it on! Ideally borrow a friends for a short trip first to see if it works for you.

    My Gear: 
    Osprey Zenith 88 Osprey makes high quality packs for every type of adventurer. This is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever used.  Its suspension system is much more comfortable for carrying heavier loads than their popular Aether 85. Perfect size for trips over three or four days in length. Although it is a bit on the large size for a weekend trip.

North Cascades backcountry campBackcountry camp North Cascades

  • Shelter

    A good shelter is the next most important piece of backpacking gear.

    If you’re traveling light and fast, and are only concerned about making miles in gorgeous summer weather without any flying insects to bother you, then even a thin nylon tarp will do.

    But it’s a different story when you’re out for a week and the weather turns sour, with mosquitoes, flies, and gnats out in biblical proportions. Then you’ll wish for something a bit more substantial to protect you and camera gear.

Look for a lightweight tent with a silicone treated rain fly. I also like a tent with a vestibule large enough to protect items you don’t want inside the tent. Like boots and a dirty backpack.

My Gear:
Big Agnes Copper Spur 2. Super lightweight, easy to pitch, with two doors and large vestibules. This tent also comes in a one person size, but I like a little more elbow room.

  • Sleeping Bag and Pad

    For years I steered clear of down bags, mainly because  I felt they were a poor option in the rainy Pacific Northwest. However, now I’m an enthusiastic supporter of down. They’re like sleeping enveloped in a warm cloud. And they’re generally much lighter and more compressible than synthetic bags. A high quality down sleeping bag is not cheap so look at it as an investment. However, with proper care a well made bag will last for many years. Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering make some of the finest bags around.

    Sleeping pads are essential for keeping those roots from poking into your back while sleeping, or for insulation when camped on snow. Options here are either a foam pad or an inflatable. I’ve used Therm-a-Rest pads exclusively for many years. They are incredibly comfortable with adjustable firmness, are lightweight, and compress down very well.

    My Gear:
    Western Mountaineering Badger 
    Therm-a-rest Classic

Backcountry Camp North Cascades National Park Backpacking Photography Gear TipsNorth Cascades National Park

  • Stove

    Another essential item for any overnight trip. The days of preparing your meals over an open campfire are long gone. Campfires above timberline are banned just about everywhere, and for many good reasons. Besides, cooking over an open fire takes an awful long time and is messy and dangerous.

    The two options are liquid white gas (Coleman Fuel) and butane mix canisters. Canister stoves are all the rage right now and I have a strong opinion regarding them.

    In my experience canister stoves are great for warm weather summer trips. However, when it starts getting cold their performance drops significantly, especially with a partially filled canister. On one winter ski trip I went through 2 whole canisters trying to boil a quart of water. The heat output wasn’t much better than a candle. Thankfully my friend had a backup stove and saved the day.

    The empty canisters are also very wasteful. Some canisters can be recycled, but why even bother if there’s another better option.

    Liquid fuel stoves perform well at any temperature, and do so to the last drop of fuel. They weigh only slightly more than canister stoves, and there are no empty canisters to dispose of.

    My Gear:
    MSR XGK. Yes, I know, this model is loud. But it heats like a blowtorch in any weather. Plus it’s both incredibly dependable and well built. The one I have now has lasted over ten years and is still going strong!

Titcomb Basin backcountry campWind River Range

  • Footwear

    Proper footwear is only second to a good backpack for comfort on the trail. There is a strong debate on leather boots vs lightweight trail runners. For years I’ve sworn by stiff leather boots with lugged soles. But on recent trips I’ve gone with lighter weight boots, and will probably move more towards trail runners in the near future.

    Pro Tip:  Be aware that if you’re backpacking in the mountains early in the season lightweight shoes may not be the best option. Hiking in snow for only a few minutes will result in very wet cold feet. In steep snow slopes you also won’t get much traction, and step kicking will be very difficult.

  • Other Gear

    Here is a list of other necessary items. They’re all important, but I won’t go into detail about them since it would require a separate article.

    Weather appropriate clothing
    Cookware
    Water bottle or hydration bag
    Water filter or other purification method
    Food, including trail snacks
    Map
    Headlamp
    Ten Essentials

Limestone Lakes Basin Height of the Rockies Provincial Park British ColumbiaHeight of the Rockies Provincial Park

In Conclusion

This should provide you with enough gear tips to begin planning for your next backpacking photography trip. As I mention many times in this article, cutting down on weight is important. But so is your personal comfort level. This isn’t a contest to see who can have the lightest pack and hike the farthest. So what if you choose a slightly beefier tent, or need to bring another lens? It’s your trip and you can always make adjustments to your preferences in the future.

Now get out there and have fun!

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues! And make sure to check out my next post in this series: Backpacking Photography Tips

Backpacker on Titcomb Basin Trail Wind River Range Wyoming Backpacking Photography Gear TipsTitcomb Basin Wind River Range

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Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming

Green River Lakes Wind River Range

Green River Lakes Wind River Range

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain and Green River #67163  Purchase

In the North end of the Wind River Range is one of the most scenic and accessible areas in the Bridger Wilderness, Green River Lakes. The Winds are famous for its numerous trails winding through rugged subalpine terrain. Most of those trails start high and involve lengthy approaches to the most scenic areas. However, at Green River Lakes a hiker starts low and passes through a pleasant valley before climbing into the alpine.

Dominating the Green River Lakes landscape is Squaretop Mountain, one of the most iconic mountains in the state of Wyoming. Only Grand Teton in Grand Teton National Park is arguably more recognizable. Squaretop immediately  comes into view at the end of the access road. And it remains the focal point for the first six or so miles along the Green River trail.

Square Top Mountain seen from Green River Lake Wind River Range WyomingGreen River Lakes Wind River Range #66979  Purchase

Following my nine day backpacking trip to Island Lake and Titcomb Basin this was to be my final destination in the Winds. After several lengthy backpacks over the past month this last one would be short and easy.

The Green River Lakes trailhead is at the end of a 52 mile drive north from Pinedale. The last 21 miles are on a washboard gravel and dirt road. Adjacent to the large trailhead parking area is the Green River Lakes Campground, which has 39 sites. However, there are plenty of random camping sites available along the 21 miles of gravel road.

Squaretop Mountain Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain Wind River Range #66997  Purchase

Hiking the Green River Lakes/Highline Trail

The trailhead is actually the northern end of the Highline trail, which runs the length of the Wind River Range. It’s also the beginning, or end, of the increasingly popular Wind River Range High Route. The plan was to hike in only for the first five or six miles to the best views of Squaretop and Green River. At that location I would set up camp and spend a few days photographing the area.

Starting at the north end of the larger of the two Green River Lakes, the trail follows the open eastern side of the lake. With only minor ups and downs, and unobstructed views the entire way, this section is very pleasant. After a couple miles is a junction with the Clear Creek trail, and a large open area filled with gravel and willows. Then comes a short climb and the second Green River Lake is spread out just below. All of this makes for great hiking but the real treat is just ahead.

Soon after passing the southern end of the second lake the trail begins to follow close to the twisting Green River. Its name is taken from the fact that the river is fed by glacial meltwater, coloring it an opaque green or turquoise. The Winds contain a number of large glaciers, located mainly on the east side of the Continental Divide. Although here on the west side of the range few are visible  from trails. Being so far south in such a dry climate it is surprising to come across a glacier fed river, similar in appearance to those further north in the Canadian Rockies.

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain and Green River #67170  Purchase

Along the Green River

This area, where the river runs slow among many bends, was where I needed to be, and I began to keep my eye out for a suitable campsite. Getting an early start once again paid off big time. Just above the most scenic point along the Green River I found an unoccupied site. I considered myself very lucky in this respect since this was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. There were sure to be lots of parties looking for a site close by.

After setting up camp I walked down to the river and knew I was in the ideal spot. There were a few spots along the river where it was evident that this was a prime viewing area. I’m guessing most of those were other photographers or photo tours/workshops. The reason why it’s so popular is very clear. With the Green River in the foreground Squaretop Mountain looming in the background framed by fir and pine trees.

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain and Green River #67138  Purchase

After a dayhike a couple miles further up I decided that the best spot for photography was were I set up camp. Due to weather and lighting conditions I ended up spending three nights here. Like my previous backpacks in the Winds this summer the weather was just too good. Every day was warm and sunny, perfect for just about any outdoor activity, but not for landscape photography.

The first two days were lacking suitable clouds and light during morning and evening golden hours. During this time I was entertained by an otter swimming in the river and some moose grazing in the meadows on the opposite side. However, on the morning of my last day some approaching weather helped make the wait worthwhile.

Bridger Wilderness boundary sign on Green River Lakes Trail, Wind River range WyomingBridger Wilderness Boundary Sign #67194  Purchase

Moving on to Grand Teton National Park

On  Monday morning it was time to pack up and hike out. My adventures in the Winds were finally coming to a close, and the next half of my Rocky Mountains photo tour was about to begin. Now that the busy Memorial Day weekend was over it was safe to drive north into Grand Teton National Park. Little did I know at the time, but there were only a few mores days of good weather left. Fall storms would soon be rolling in, bringing lots of rain and even some snow.

Sitting at my desk writing this post on a rainy winter day, I have fond memories of my month of backpacking in the Winds, and Sawtooths. I truly hope I have the opportunity to return soon, there is so much more to see and explore!

If You Go to Green River Lakes

Distance from trailhead to river flats:  5 miles
Elevation Gain:  about 300′
Difficulty:  Easy
Red Tape:  As of 2019, no permits needed

The Green River Lakes Trailhead is located 52 miles north of Pinedale, on the Green River Road. The last 21 miles are unpaved and can be rough in several places. Adjacent to the trailhead there is the Green River Lakes Campground, 39 sites $12 per night. This site doesn’t open until July 1. However, if the campground is closed there are plenty of free sites along the road.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are especially notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in mid-August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. I had great weather on my trip but the wind was brutal for several days.

The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to got for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!

Squaretop Mountain reflected in Green River, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSquaretop Mountain and Green River #67130  Purchase

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

If you enjoyed reading Green River Lakes Wind River Range please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check out my previous posts on the Winds:

Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range
Island Lake Wind River Range
Titcomb Basin Wind River Range
Indian Basin Wind River Range

All photos appearing in Green River Lakes Wind River Range are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Adult male backpacker with blue backpack and red shirt on the Fremont Trail near Dads Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingOn the Highline Trail Wind River Range #66332  Purchase

Green River Lakes Wind River Range

Indian Basin wildflowers Wind River Range wyoming

Indian Basin Wind River Range

Indian Basin Wind River Range

Indian Basin wildflowers Wind River Range WyomingIndian Basin Wildflowers Wind River Range #66885  Purchase

In the Wind River Range of Wyoming lies Indian Basin, a rocky alpine area along the Continental Divide. Sitting at around 11,000′ Indian Basin shares the spotlight with the popular Island Lake and Titcomb Basin areas. Part of the Bridger Wilderness, these three areas are one of  the most sought after destinations for backcountry adventure in North America

Indian basin is less than three miles from campsites at Island Lake, making it an ideal day-hike. The trail to the basin extends all the way to Indian Pass, one of the few hiker accessible passes in the entire Wind River Range. Aside from sitting on the edge of the Continental Divide the pass also gives close views of  the Knife Point Glacier. This entire area is also part of the popular Wind River Range High Route. The High Route is a mostly off trail 80+ mile hike that follows the length of the range.

On my 2002 trip to Island Lake I didn’t have time to check out this fabulous area. The one extra day I had I used to day-hike into Titcomb Basin instead. On this trip Indian Basin was definitely part of my itinerary.

Indian Basin Wind River Range WyomingTent in Indian Basin Wind River Range #66807  Purchase

Hiking into Indian Basin

Having already spent several days at Island Lake and Titcomb Basin I was ready to move on to new terrain. Earlier in the day I broke camp in upper Titcomb Basin and made my way south to the trail junction for Indian Basin. By the time I reached the junction alongside a swift flowing stream the wind was again picking up. I only had about two miles and 400′ elevation gain left to make the basin, but it was a tough stretch for me.

By this time I had been backpacking in the Winds and Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains for around 25 days. I could easily say I was in very good physical condition. However, on all these trips I neglected to pay close enough attention to one very important thing, my diet. Trying to save weight on long backpacking trips is always a priority. And with my pack heavily weighed down with camera gear food was the easiest target for weight reduction.

Indian Basin backcountry camp, Harrower Peak is in the distance, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingIndian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66822  Purchase

It didn’t take a nutrition expert to see that my meals contained mostly carbohydrates. There was next to no fat and very little protein present in my food. Although I always carry vitamin supplements, I believe it was the lack of adequate protein that took a toll on me. This was painfully evident as I climbed up to the basin.

The last mile or so traverses and switchbacks steeply to a ridge above the basin. It was also here that the wind really began to pick up. Every step would result in clouds of dust whipping up in front of me. At several points the wind was so strong it almost knocked me over, even with a full pack! Finally at the top of the ridge I looked down into the rocky basin. As if to hurry me on, an especially strong gust pushed me forward and down to my goal.

Indian Basin wildflowers Wind River Range wyomingIndian Basin Wildflowers Wind River Range #66912  Purchase

Camping in Indian Basin

There was about 100′ to descend from the ridge and I immediately scouted the terrain for a suitable campsite, preferably sheltered from the wind. Towards the bottom near a lake outlet I came across several beautiful fields of wildflowers. They certainly looked out of place in such a barren environment, but they would make great subject matter for photos.

Indian Basin contains three main lakes and several small tarns, guarded over by Fremont, Jackson, and Harrower peaks. As testament to past glacial activity the bedrock of the entire basin exhibits extensive scouring and polishing by glaciers. It was easy to envision the entire basin buried under a massive glacier spilling into Island Lake below.

Just above the largest lake I found a good campsite sheltered from the wind by a granite wall. Throughout the day I saw a few climbing parties setting up a basecamp on the opposite side of the lake. Late in the day a couple arrived and began to search for a good site. It was apparent that they were fatigued from the hike and constant wind. I guessed that from the fact that they set up their tent in the first available level spot, which unfortunately offered no shelter from the wind. It looked like their tent would not survive the night.

Indian Basin wildflowers Wind River Range wyomingIndian Basin Wildflowers Wind River Range #66893  Purchase

Poor Light and Hi Tech Discoveries

There were some promising looking clouds earlier in the day, but they vanished by evening. The result was an empty sky with little to no chance of good light during the golden hour. However, I dutifully went out and did my best  to make some photos. Of course the fields of wildflowers I saw earlier were my prime subject matter. With landscape photography opportunities limited, recreation photography filled its place. Once again I used the campsite and myself as stock photo subject matter.

The next day I took to wandering around the basin to look for more subject matter. Unfortunately throughout day and evening lighting conditions were still pretty bland. While scouting around on a high granite knoll I came across an unlikely piece of trash. At first I thought it was some sort of packaging, but it turned out to be a solar charger.

Backpacker in Indian Basin Wind River Range WyomingIndian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66863  Purchase

Either the charger fell out of someones pack or was forgotten. Whichever the reason it apparently was sitting there for at least one full year. The exterior was weather beaten and fading. Also some of the wires had evidence of small critters chewing on them. I took it back to camp and hooked it up to my iPhone to see if it still worked. Using a bandaid to tape the chewed wires it worked, but just barely.

The next morning it was time to leave. I only had enough supplies left for one last night at Island Lake before the hike out. My one regret while staying at Indian Basin was that I didn’t attempt to hike up to Indian Pass. At the time I was tiring from a long trip, and bummed at the lack of good light for pictures. So I foolishly decided to blow it off. Sitting here now writing this post I’m kicking myself for not checking out the pass.

Alpenglow over backcountry camp with illuminated tent in Indian Basin, Harrower Peak is in the distance, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingAlpenglow over Indian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66949 Purchase

Last Night at Island Lake and Hiking Out

Hiking out of Indian Basin I came across one of the climbing parties I saw a few days earlier. They had attempted to reach the summit of Fremont Peak, which sits at 13,745′. The main route to the summit is a long steep hike followed by a scramble, although there are also other technical routes. I spoke with the leader of the party and was informed that extremely high winds and cold turned back them back short of their goal.

Arriving at Island Lake I once again opted to set up my last camp on the granite knoll above the lake. I spent the rest of the day watching the activity at the camps below. It was a bit sad that several days ago I just arrived here at the start of the trip, and now it was nearly over. As a fitting finale I set up my tripod for a last panoramic shot of the scene. This time I would do a night shot with the Milky Way over the Continental Divide.

Milky way over Island Lake Wind River Range WyomingMilky Way and Andromeda Galaxy over Island Lake #66970  Purchase

The next day it was time to pack up for the long hike out. It went fast and easy, my pack was much lighter since most of my fuel and food was used up. After recognizing my nutrition problem the other day I planned accordingly. I saved the food packets with the highest amount of protein ingredients for dinner and breakfast. It must have worked since the hike out was a snap.

With spirits high from a wonderfully successful trip I made my way down the trail, but not before one last gaze on Island Lake and the great peaks. Of course it was lots of fun stopping along the trail to chat with hikers and climbers just beginning their adventure.

Rewards of a Backpacking Adventure

When I arrived back at my truck at the trailhead I had a quick tailgate shower and put on some clean clothes. My next stop was the Wind River Brewing Company, where I enjoyed a big burger and a tall cold glass of IPA. Then I did something I had never done in my past 35 years of photography trips, I checked into a motel to enjoy a hot shower and soft bed!

The next day was spent driving to the trailhead of my final Wind River Range backpacking destination, Green River Lakes.

Backpacker in Indian Basin Wind River Range WyomingIndian Basin Camp Wind River Range #66825  Purchase

If You Go to Indian Basin

Distance from Island Lake:  3 miles
Elevation Gain:  about 300′ from Island Lake into the basin
Difficulty:  Easy
Red Tape:  As of 2019, no permits needed

Totals for my nine day trip including side trips and photo scouting
Distance: 44 miles
Elevation: 5800″

The Elkhart Park Trailhead is located at the end of Skyline Drive, an excellent paved road 15 miles east of Pinedale. About a mile before the road ends there is a viewpoint with dramatic views of the range and the gorge below. Adjacent to the trailhead there is a small campground. The few good sites here are almost always taken.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in mid-August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. I had great weather on my trip but the wind was brutal for several days.

The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to got for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!

Island Lake and Fremont Peak, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake Wind River Range #66371  Purchase

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

If you enjoyed reading Indian Basin Wind River Range please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check back soon for Green River Lakes Wind River Range!

All photos appearing in Indian Basin Wind River Range are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Milky way over Wind River Range wyomingMilky Way and Andromeda Galaxy over Indian Basin #66970  Purchase

Indian Basin Wind River Range

Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming

Titcomb Basin Wind River Range

Titcomb Basin Wind River Range

Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin, Wind River Range #66582  Purchase

In the Wind River Range of Wyoming is a place that nearly every backcountry enthusiast dreams of visiting. There are few places in North America that are as staggeringly beautiful as Titcomb Basin and Island Lake. Both areas, located just west of the Continental Divide, are rich in outstanding scenery and recreation opportunities. Whether you’re here for backpacking, mountaineering, climbing, fishing, or photography, this is the place to experience it all.

In the previous post I detailed the first section of my nine day trip, from the trailhead to Island Lake. Now it’s time to move on to the next destination, Titcomb Basin. First I should explain the odd name. Titcomb Basin, as well as Titcomb Lakes and the Titcomb Needles, bear the names of Charles and Harold Titcomb. Although mountain men certainly were in the area in the early 19th century, these two brothers were among the first white men to officially visit the area. While there they made assents of some of the surrounding peaks.

Titcomb Basin Trail, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin Trail #66613  Purchase

Depending on which source you reference, Titcomb Basin begins at the narrow exit of the lower lake, or is limited to the boulder strewn alpine basin beyond the upper lake. For my part I consider it the former. In either case Titcomb Basin is a narrow treeless alpine valley about six mile long. On three sides granite peaks rise up to 3000′ above its floor. Occupying most of the basin are two large lakes. A third lake, called Mistake Lake, sits in an unlikely spot, hidden several hundred feet higher on a rocky shelf below Fremont Peak. At the north end of the basin lie some of the most imposing peaks of the entire Wind River Range. Twin Peaks, Mount Woodrow Wilson, The Sphinx, Dinwoody Peak, and Mount Helen are all over 13,000′.

 Titcomb Basin Backpacker Wind River Range WyomingBackpacking into Titcomb Basin #66780 Purchase

Hiking Into Titcomb Basin 

In the morning along the shore of Island Lake, I began breaking camp and stuffing my pack, eagerly anticipating the day ahead. It was another beautiful August day and I was about to finally return to Titcomb Basin. Back in 2002 I spent a few days at Island Lake but was only able to make a day-hike visit to the basin. Since then I made sure that my next trip would have more time for exploration. On this trip I would have at least two full days for wandering and photographing its beauty.

The hike begins with the trail navigating around the southeast end of Island Lake. In contrast to rocky shores on the rest of Island Lake, and all the previous lakes, this part has a wonderful broad golden sand beach. Soon after the trail leaves the lake and begins to climb past small waterfalls into wide meadows. Alongside a creek crossing is a junction with a trail heading up to Indian Basin and Indian Pass. This area is also on my itinerary, but I’ll visit it on the way out of Titcomb Basin.

Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin, Wind River Range #66582  Purchase

Shortly after the junction the trail approaches Lower Titcomb Lake’s rushing creek outlet. To get by it makes a tight squeeze along a rock wall. On the other side of the wall the view opens wide onto a most unforgettable scene. Here the trail winds its way through grassy meadows into a rugged landscape of massive peaks and lakes. It’s apparent that many hikers in awe of the scene have paused here to take it all in. To see it in pictures is one thing, but to stand there in person, feel the breeze on your face, and take in the sounds and smells is something that makes you feel incredibly alive!

Lower Titcomb Lake

My plan was to find a campsite somewhere along the lower lake before moving into the basin beyond the upper lake. This was a bit easier said than done. Between the lake and the base of Fremont Peak is a narrow strip of land  which doesn’t offer many level spots to set up camp. I was also mindful of regulations requiring camps to be a certain distance from lakes, streams and trails. Also, I certainly didn’t want to be one of those that sets up camp on a pristine meadow.

After about an hour of wandering around and checking out all the nooks and crannies. I found a spot out of site of the trail on bare gravel, not ideal but sufficient. While scouting for a site I came across some photogenic groupings of wildflowers to work with later in the day.

Titcomb Basin wildflowers Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin Wildflowers #66559  Purchase

As the day wore on clouds closed in and the sky became gray. Nevertheless I still had to thoroughly check out the immediate area for evening photo compositions. One place I was eager to see was the terrain on the opposite side of the lake. There was a narrow channel in the lake just a little too wide to hop over. In it were some deep spots with a swift current which gave me pause to consider. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if I didn’t have expensive camera gear. However, at the time it didn’t look like it was worth taking the chance.

In addition to the aforementioned wildflowers, about a half mile up the trail was an area of grassy wetlands along the lake. The winding channels and grassy hummocks made for perfect foreground elements to the backdrop of Fremont Peak. With several ideal spots lined up all I had to do was pray for good light. I found a suitable trailside boulder to relax on and kept a close watch on the sky.

Hiker in Titcomb Basin Wind River Range WyomingEnjoying the view #66543  Purchase

Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingFremont Peak from Lower Titcomb Lake 66567  Purchase

Evening Light At Lower Titcomb Lake

For a while it was looking like the evening would be a bust, there were a few breaks in the clouds but they soon closed up. Just before sunset I was about to  throw up my hands in the air with exasperation when the sky began to open up. Only a few sun rays made it through at first as I rushed back to the patch of wildflowers. Earlier on I had previsualized this scene, so it was short order to actually set it up and photograph it.

Soon it became apparent that something special was happening. After photographing the wildflowers I rushed over to the lakeshore to look for compositions of rocks and lake reflections. The light was getting better and better, and by this time I was in overdrive. From years of experience I knew that the light could continue to get better or shut off completely at any moment. So there was no time to lose.

Titcomb Basin Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin Wind River Range 66567  Purchase

I didn’t forget the area of grassy wetlands, so I began to run like a madman to get to them in time. As I arrived the summit of Fremont Peak was glowing red, a sure indication that there were only a few minutes left before the sun  set. This was a great spot and I wished I had more time to explore the possibilities for compositions. However, unless there were some exceptional sunrise conditions these wetlands would be best photographed in the evening.

Titcomb Basin backcountry camp Wind River Range WyomingCampsite in Titcomb Basin #66593  Purchase

Titcomb Basin backcountry camp Wind River Range WyomingCampsite in Titcomb Basin #66599  Purchase

Back at camp I kept photographing, this time working with the night sky and an illuminated tent. In the morning there was a brief bit of nice light as the sun rose. Once again my campsite became the subject matter.

Upper Titcomb Basin

The next morning I broke camp and began the short hike into the upper basin. The entire length of Titcomb Basin is easy pleasant hiking, the trail is always along the lakes and has next to no ups and downs. Once the trail goes beyond the upper lake it begins to fade out, although route finding is very straightforward. From here you enter a vast basin filled with rocks, boulders of every size, large glacier polished slabs, and rushing streams. The vegetation is confined to small patches of flower filled meadows. The further you go the more barren it becomes.

Titcomb Basin backcountry camp, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingCamp in Upper Titcomb Basin #66635  Purchase

I found an ideal campsite about a half mile beyond the upper lake. Set near a large stream it was obviously used many times in the past. It was also obvious that this is an area which routinely experiences high winds, since there were stone walls built as wind screens. It was breezy most of the day, but later that night I had a real taste of those winds.

Bonney Peak and Mount Helen, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingBonney Peak (L) and Mount Helen Wind River Range #66641  Purchase

The Alpine Basins

In the afternoon I went out to explore the terrain further up in the basin. This is the area where many climbers and mountaineers set up a base camp. Bonney Pass in the east part of the upper basin is the preferred route for a climbing approach to Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming. This is also an area that is traversed by hikers and mountaineers doing the 80+ mile long Wind River Range High Route.

Since I’m not a mountaineer and traveling solo I looked for an easy route to higher ground. I found a boulder filled slope veering west which ultimately led me to the base of Twins Glacier. This was truly an alpine environment, only rock and ice made up the view in every direction.

Upper Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingBighorn Sheep near Twin Glacier #66636 Purchase

As I navigated among the boulders I spotted a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep a short way off. They all had the appearance of being either females or yearlings. Their activity revolved around a big boulder and some muddy ground, which led me to believe some sort of mineral lick was present. Of course they all saw me while I was still a long way off and easily moved higher up and out of harms way. Aside from a few birds and ground squirrels this was the most significant amount of wildlife I came across since leaving home. The day was wearing on so I reluctantly made my way back down to camp.

Mount Helen and field of purple Asters growing in Upper Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin wildflowers Wind River Range #66700  Purchase

Wind and Stars in Upper Titcomb Basin

Back at camp I began to line up photo compositions. My prime subject matter were several large groupings of purple asters, using Mount Helen as a backdrop. The meltwater creek was another source of compositions. But it was difficult to get the best angles without having to stand in the middle of the stream and not loose footing on the slippery slabs.

Golden hour light wasn’t as dramatic as the previous evening. However there were a few wispy clouds present to aid in compositions. Part of the difficulties in photographing Titcomb Basin are its high walls and narrow width. Meaning that during both morning and evening the majority of the basin will be in shadow. Only the upper halves of the peaks will receive warm light during the golden hours.

Mount Helen Titcomb Basin Wind River Range WyomingUpper Titcomb Basin Wind River Range #66695  Purchase

After the sun set I began work on some evening shots. First I made some long exposures of camp. But my main goal was to do some Milky Way photography. I set up my tripod looking south where the bulk of the Milky Way would cross diagonally across the sky. As I waited for the sky to become sufficiently dark the air was mostly calm with a few brief gusts of wind. Around 11:00 the Milky Way was out and I began to work. Towards the horizon a few wispy clouds still had a bit of illumination to them which I brought out in post processing.

Titcomb Basin backcountry camp Wind River Range WyomingCamp in Upper Titcomb Basin #66635  Purchase

I made several exposures and left the tripod set up for pre-dawn shots. That was a mistake since sometime during the night it was blown over by the wind. After midnight the wind picked up in earnest. Periods of dead calm were broken by severe gusts which made the tent fabric snap like gunshots. Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep!

Milky Way over Upper Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingMilky Way over Upper Titcomb Basin #66741  Purchase

Leaving Titcomb Basin for Indian Basin

In the morning it was still fairly windy, which made tearing down the tent a bit of a challenge. Again it was difficult to decide if I should stay an extra day, or move on. Food and fuel supplies were limited and I wanted to stay a couple nights in Indian Basin, which was still new to me. Also my plan was to spend the last night at Island Lake before the final hike out.

Titcomb Basin wildflowers Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin Wildflowers #66766  Purchase

In the end the empty blue sky made the decision for me, and I decided to move on to Indian Basin. The weather for the rest of the trip was mostly sunny with clear skies, so staying an extra day in Titcomb Basin would’ve been mostly fruitless from a photographic standpoint.

Making my way back down along the lakes I paused to photograph some yellow arnica flowers, which I made a note of on the way in. I also made an extended stop at the entrance to the basin. It would mark my last view of Titcomb Basin until I hopefully returned sometime in the future. It was also a good spot to take some selfie hiking shots. Both for posterity and to use as stock imagery.

Backpacker on Titcomb Basin Trail Wind River Range WyomingLast view of Titcomb Basin #66804  Purchase

I sat a little while longer to take in the scene, then shouldered my pack and continued on to Indian Basin. That final segment of the this trip will be in my next post, Indian Basin Wind River Range.

If You Go to Titcomb Basin

Distance from Island Lake to Upper Titcomb Basin:  ~6 miles
Elevation:  ~300 gain from Island Lake to Upper Titcomb Lake
Highpoint 11,500′ at Twins Glacier area
Difficulty:  Easy
Red Tape:  As of 2019, no permits needed

Totals for my nine day trip including side trips and photo scouting
Distance: 44 miles
Elevation: 5800″

The Elkhart Park Trailhead is located at the end of Skyline Drive, an excellent paved road 15 miles east of Pinedale. About a mile before the road ends there is a viewpoint with dramatic views of the range and the gorge below. Adjacent to the trailhead there is a small campground. The few good sites here are almost always taken.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in mid-August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. I had great weather on my trip but the wind was brutal for several days.

The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to got for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!

Titcomb Basin Wind River Range WyomingTitcomb Basin Wind River Range 66580  Purchase

Leave No Trace

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

If you enjoyed reading Titcomb Basin Wind River Range please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check back soon for Titcomb Basin Island Lake Part 3!

All photos appearing in Titcomb Basin Wind River Range are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Milky Way over Upper Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingMilky Way over Upper Titcomb Basin #66743  Purchase

Titcomb Basin Wind River Range

Island Lake Wind River Range

Island Lake Wind River Range

Island Lake Wind River Range Wyoming Titcomb Basin Island Lake Part 1Island Lake, Wind River Range #66377  Purchase

In the north central portion of Wyoming’s Wind River Range lies one of the most popular backpacking destinations in the lower 48, Island Lake and Titcomb Basin These areas represent the essence of the Winds, and for good reason. A well maintained trail leads to breathtaking scenery, filled with beautiful lakes, meadows, and some of the highest peaks in the state of Wyoming. Whether you’re here for fishing , climbing, cross country exploring, or photography it has it all. In addition, the trailhead is one of the most easily accessed in the range. Elkhart Park Trailhead, at about 9300′, is only 15 miles on a paved road from the basecamp town of Pinedale.

Upon completing my trip to Bonneville Basin, this was to be my next and most important destination of the Rocky Mountains Photo Tour. The three backpacking trips in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, and Bonneville Basin were all warm ups leading to the main event. My previous, and only, trip to Island Lake and Titcomb Basin was back in 2002. Since then a return trip has always been on my mind. This time my plan was to go all out, allotting 10 days total,  ample time for photographing the area.

Bridger Wilderness Pole Creek trail sign WyomingPole Creek Trail Bridger Wilderness #66973  Purchase

After spending a few days resting up and restocking on supplies in Pinedale,  I drove to the Elkhart Park Trailhead and settled in for the night. I wanted to leisurely sort through all my gear and have it organized and ready for an early morning start. Like the Big Sandy Trailhead in the southern Winds, the Elkhart trailhead was overflowing with vehicles. However, parking wasn’t much of a problem since cars were coming and going throughout the day.

Horse packing Bridger Wilderness WyomingHorse packers Wind River Range #66965  Purchase

Hiking the Pole Creek Trail to Island Lake

Getting a start just after sunrise I hoisted my pack and hit the Pole Creek Trail. There are numerous trails and intersections on this trip, with the Pole Creek Trail occupying the first 6 miles. This first segment is a long very gradual climb through pine forest. The monotony here is broken by the constant dodging of endless piles of horse manure. Aside from hikers you’ll be sharing the next 12 or so miles with horse packers.

Photographers Point, Bridger Wilderness Wyoming Titcomb Basin Island Lake Part 1View from Photographer’s Point #66345  Purchase

After the first four miles in forest the trail begins to enter several meadows. At about five miles you reach the first milestone, Photographer’s Point. For most, Photographer’s Point at 10,400′,  is a mandatory resting place at the beginning or end of a trip. It’s also a turnaround destination for day-hikers. Going in, this is the first real wide open view of the rugged terrain which you’re hiking into. From a deep yawning canyon to the great peaks on the Continental Divide, it’s an awesome unforgettable scene. Gazing upon this chaotic landscape you’ll wonder how in the world your trail will navigate through it.

The next five miles will rudely answer that question. You’re probably thinking that since Photographer’s Point is so high the rest of the trail will be in open subalpine terrain. Wrong. The trail soon gradually descends to Elklund Lake, and begins a constant roller coaster of a hike. Fortunately you’ll be passing numerous pretty lakes and small meadows along the way, which will help alleviate all the ups and downs.

Seneca Lake Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingSeneca Lake, Wind River Range #66350  Purchase

Seneca Lake

The next major milestone, and my first night’s destination is Seneca Lake.  However, before you reach this large scenic lake the trail quickly dips to its lowest point, around 9800′. Then it mercilessly climbs back up to around 10,300′ in half a mile. Towards the end of the first day with a fully loaded multi-day pack, this stretch is no fun!

At the end of the switchbacks on a low ridge is the reward for all your hard work.  Spread out before you is a shimmering blue lake set in a cliff bound bowl. Beyond which are the peaks first seen at Photographer’s Point, although now they are much closer. From here to far end of Seneca Lake the trail scenically winds its way just above the water.

Island Lake Trail Wind River Range WyomingTrail to Island Lake, Wind River Range #66351  Purchase

Although Island Lake is only a little more than two miles further, Seneca Lake makes a good end to the first day for a couple of reasons. For one, the first day of a long trip is often the most difficult, due to a fully loaded pack. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the availability of campsites at Island Lake. For the average hiker getting to Island Lake in one day will mean arriving in mid to late afternoon. Since this is the number one destination for nearly every party, most campsites will be occupied  long before you get there.

Camping at Seneca Lake on the first night will allow for an early arrival at Island Lake, when some of the best sites may soon be vacated. At the far north end of Seneca there are several campsites tucked away among the rocks. With a bit of difficulty I was able to find a marginal site, although with little shade from the hot sun. But it fit the bill for my needs.

Island Lake Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake Wind River Range #66366  Purchase

Above Island Lake

The next morning I broke camp to hike the final miles to Island Lake, and encountered another reason to save this segment for the second day. The final two miles have a couple more fatiguing elevation gains and losses to overcome. Finally, at the summit of the last small pass comes the long awaited view. Only a few hundred feet below lies a sprawling lake dotted with small islands and coves. Beyond are the towering ramparts of the Continental Divide, dominated by Fremont and Jackson Peaks, both reaching heights of over 13,000′.

On my first trip to Island Lake I went on to find a site below the pass near the lake. This time I took a left at the pass to look for a site higher up with a panoramic view of the scene. It was a relief to find the small granite summit free of other campers. There is really only one decent level spot here for a tent, which meant I had the whole place to myself. The only drawback was the lack of water, so I had to settle for a small snowfield near the pass.

Island Lake and Fremont Peak, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming Titcomb Basin Island Lake Part 1Island Lake Wind River Range #66386  Purchase

Several yards further from my tent was a great spot with unobstructed views of the entire basin. It was still only around nine in the morning so all I had to do was enjoy the view and wait for some good light. I spent most of the day observing activities below at the lake. Since I would be moving down there the next day I was able to clearly see where the best sites were.

Later, in the evening, the clouds and light I had hoped and prayed for arrived. I was kept busy photographing the scene as the light changed light until it finally faded just after sunset.

Island Lake sunrise Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake Sunrise Wind River Range #66404  Purchase

Moving Down to Island Lake 

The next morning I woke early to set up my gear again. At first it was looking like a gray dawn, but then the rising sun lit up the clouds in warm hues of red, orange, and yellow. A real treat, and a good start to the trip. After photographing my plan was to move camp down to one of the sites near the lake.

At this point I should mention that there are strict camping regulations in place throughout the Bridger Wilderness. Starting at the trailhead there are numerous signs stating that camping is prohibited within 200′ of any lake or trail. Also, fires are prohibited at or above timberline.

As I previously mentioned, Island Lake is one of the most heavily used areas in the Winds. So besides observing all regulations it should only be common sense to thread lightly here, and respect the privacy of other campers. Most parties I observed were following those rules. However, as always, there were a couple parties that just had to camp on the meadows and build a campfire. Overall I found the lake area to be good condition despite the amount of use it gets. I didn’t see any litter or trash, or worse, used toilet paper. I’m guessing the Forest Service and volunteers are stepping up on maintenance activities.

Fremont Peak reflected in Island Lake Wind River Range WyomingFremont Peak reflected in Island Lake #66413  Purchase

Photographing at Island Lake

The plan was to spend the day scouting around the lake for photo ops. This is certainly one area where just about every footstep will yield another great composition. The numerous bays, rocks, and islands make for great photographic potential. And with good light and a mirror calm lake everything is in place for portfolio quality images.

Unfortunately there was only a short time in mid-morning to create any decent images. Clouds were moving in and the rest of the day and the next morning was gray and overcast. However I was able to make some nice photos while the lake was calm with a few wispy clouds in the sky. I was imagining how wonderful they would look in golden hour light. At least now I have another to return in the future!

Fremont Peak reflected in Island Lake, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingFremont Peak reflected in Island Lake #66408  Purchase

Moving on to Titcomb Basin

Unfortunately for me there was only a short time in mid-morning to create any decent images. Clouds were moving in and the rest of the day and the next morning was gray and overcast. So a decision was in order, stay an extra day at Island Lake, or move on to Titcomb Basin? Rolling the dice and staying an extra day would mean one less day available to photograph in Titcomb Basin and Indian Basin. Both of these areas offered lots of new photographic potential, and I was planning to spend as much time there as possible.

Since I already had good photo success in the previous evening and morning, I decided to move on to Titcomb basin the next day. There was always the possibility of spending another night at Island Lake on the way out. But that story will have to wait for Titcomb Basin Island Lake Part 2.

Peaks of Titcomb Basin and Island Lake Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingPeaks of Titcomb Basin and Island Lake #66379  Purchase

If You Go to Island Lake

Distance to Island Lake:  12 miles
Elevation:  Trailhead 9300′, Island Lake 10,400′, trail high point 10,600′
About 2600′ gain and 1600′ loss along length of trail.
Difficulty:  Easy hiking but strenuous due to length and elevation changes
Red Tape:  As of 2019, no permits needed

Totals for my nine day trip including side trips and photo scouting
Distance: 44 miles
Elevation: 5800″

The Elkhart Park Trailhead is located at the end of Skyline Drive, an excellent paved road 15 miles east of Pinedale. About a mile before the road ends there is a viewpoint with dramatic views of the range and the gorge below. Adjacent to the trailhead there is a small campground. The few good sites here are almost always taken.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in mid-August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. I had great weather on my trip but the wind was brutal for several days.

The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to got for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!

Island Lake and Fremont Peak, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingIsland Lake Wind River Range #66368  Purchase

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Titcomb Basin, Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingView of Titcomb Basin and Island Lake #66356  Purchase

If you enjoyed reading Island Lake Wind River Range please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check back soon for my next post, Titcomb Basin Wind River Range!

All photos appearing in Island Lake Wind River Range are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Island Lake Wind River Range

Mount Bonneville and Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming

Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range

Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range

Mount Bonneville and Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range  #66272  Purchase

The second part of last summer’s Rocky Mountain photo tour took place in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. This spectacular section of the Rockies contains 40 peaks over 13,000 feet, the largest glacier in the American Rockies, and over 1300 named lakes. All spread over three wilderness areas.  Several areas can get downright crowded with hikers and climbers. However, there are numerous trails that rarely sees any boot traffic.

My first destination in the Winds was to one of those quiet spots, Bonneville Basin. While planning my stay in the Winds I was looking to visit an area that was new to me with good photo potential. I had seen photos of this area online and I was immediately impressed by it’s rugged  beauty and remote feel.

There are a couple of trailheads accessing this area, Scab Creek and Big Sandy, both entail long miles of hiking to get to Bonneville Basin. I opted for Big Sandy, since it starts higher and I was already familiar with it. The Big Sandy trailhead accesses one of the most popular areas in the Winds, Cirque of the Towers. I knew what to expect here, well over a hundred vehicles. Consequently they were overflowing the parking lot and lining the road for nearly a mile. Therefore I arrived very early in the morning and found a spot right next to the trail kiosk.

Backpacker, Wind River Range, Wyoming Bonneville Lakes Wind River RangeOn the Fremont Trail near Dad’s Lake #66325  Purchase

Backpacking to Bonneville Lakes

Backpacking trails on the west side of the Winds can be somewhat deceiving. On a map you will see trailheads starting at around 9000′ with your destination around 10,000′. The length of your hike may be anywhere from 5-15 miles. This may lead you to believe that a relaxing hike with minimal elevation gain awaits you. But, in most cases you would be dead wrong.

The Big Sandy Trailhead sits at 9080′, Bonneville Basin is at 10,500′, a mere 1500′ higher. However, in the 17 miles to the basin you will hike a roller coaster of a trail. My rough tally was around 3000′ of elevation gain. The good news is that much of the distance you will be hiking at or above tree-line, with awe inspiring views most of the way.

Wind River Range, WyomingUnnamed lake along Fremont Trail benchland #66257  Purchase

After an initial climb through forest the trail opens up into expansive subalpine meadows. The hiking is pleasant for the next five miles, as it passes picturesque lakes with great views. The first seven miles or so can feel like you’re on a freeway, since the trail is shared with groups of backpackers doing the extremely popular Hailey-Washakie Loop. Solitude begins at trail junction  to Pyramid Lake, a short way beyond Marms Lake. This is where parties doing the Hailey-Washakie Loop exit the Fremont Trail. Although the loop trip was tempting I stayed with my original plan.

From here on I met few other hikers, several of which were doing the Continental Divide Trail, or CDT. I always envy these hikers. Although they are on a trip of over 1000′ miles their packs are tiny and weigh next to nothing. Mine, however, is a great burden weighed down with heavy camera gear.

The Fremont Trail continues its roller coaster nature for the next nine mile to the Raid Lake junction. An especially taxing point is the descent to East Fork Crossing, immediately followed by a stiff climb to a high plateau. I decided to call it a day and camp at an unnamed lake a few miles from the Raid Lake junction.

Sunburst rays over Mount Bonneville and Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingLittle Bonneville Lake #66285  Purchase

At Bonneville Lakes

The next day I hiked more ups and downs on the final few miles to the junction. Exiting the Fremont Trail I was now on a trail that was more like a route. The first mile or so gradually climbs and makes a few easy stream crossings. Then it tackles a headwall and climbs steeply through forest.  After a making that final grueling climb on the second day, the sight of Little Bonneville Lake  was a nice reward. I should note here that until this point the trip was not truly in the mountains  proper. Although it feels like you’re in the mountains as you hike the benchland, the real peaks are just to the east, along the Continental Divide. However, it wasn’t until I was at Little Bonneville Lakes that the big craggy peaks were all around me.

It was a bit of a surprise to see that in the entire lakes basin I saw only one other tent, and that party left in a few hours after my arrival. Subsequently I had the entire area all to myself. Little, or Lower, Bonneville Lake, in my opinion, is the most scenic of the three lakes in the basin. With small islands dotting the lake, and the spires of Mount Bonneville in the background, it is truly an impressive scene.

Mount Bonneville upper Bonneville Lake Wind River Range WyomingMount Bonneville and  Bonneville Lake  #66296  Purchase

To reach Bonneville Lake requires some route finding skills. Beyond the lower lake there is a faint trail that approaches a headwall to the right of an obvious waterfall. At that point it fades out. I ended up backtracking a bit until I found a break in the cliffs filled with a steep boulder field. Here I scrambled up to the top where it was an easy walk to upper Bonneville Lake.

Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingLittle Bonneville Lake #66308  Purchase

Here in the true alpine the terrain takes on a barren look. Bonneville Lake is all cliffs and boulder fields, with only a few grassy areas to add color. Although another lake, Sheila, is a short way higher up, I didn’t bother to check it out. I was too busy relaxing in the sun and enjoying the view. Making my way back down to camp was a bit trickier since I had a difficult time finding the appropriate break in the cliffs again.

Mount Bonneville Wind River Range WyomingMount Bonneville, Little Bonneville Lake #66283b Purchase

Frustrating Light and Heading Out

Back at the Little Bonneville I had one more evening and morning left for photographing Mount Bonneville. Photography-wise the trip so far was a bit frustrating. This was mainly due to a lack of good light during golden hour and a nearly constant wind whipping up the lakes surface. Every day from mid-morning to early evening there were some promising cloud formations. But for the most part they either dissipated too soon or were in the wrong part of the sky. The area around Mount Bonneville itself only had a few tantalizing wisps to accent any compositions during the golden hour.

Leaving the next day was a difficult decision. It was such a beautiful area with excellent photographic potential, and I had come a long way to see it. But the weather forecast before I left predicted clear skies and wind for at least a week. So it didn’t seem that staying a day or two more would yield the conditions I needed for photography. And in the end I was right. The weather on this hike was perfect for backpacking but not the best for photography.

Retracing my route on the hike out I enjoyed a sense of accomplishment. Meeting others on the trail I passed on information of how beautiful the lakes were, and inquired about other areas I would like to visit in the future. The last night was spent at Dad’s Lake, a pleasant spot with lots of fishing potential, but not many views of the big peaks.

Fremont Trail near East North Fork RiverFremont Trail near East North Fork Crossing #66311  Purchase

Arriving back at the trailhead the parking lot was still packed with cars and parties of hikers and climbers eager to start on their own Wind River Range adventure. I chatted it up a bit with some of them, then headed back to Pinedale for some good food. I also replenished supplies since I would soon be starting on the longest backpack of the trip. Two days later I would be on the trail to Island Lake and Titcomb Basin in the Central Wind River Range.

If You Go to Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range

Trail info:
Round Trip Distance:  40 miles
Elevation:  Trailhead 9085′ Bonneville Lake 10,800′
About 6000′ gain and 2500′ loss along length of trail.
Difficulty:  Moderate hiking but strenuous due to length and elevation changes
Red Tape: As of 2019, no permits needed

The Big Sandy Trailhead is located 57 miles south of Pinedale. About 27 miles of it is on dusty gravel roads, with the last 10 miles being rough and narrow. There is lots of traffic, and on the last segment you must remain alert on curves for oncoming cars, and especially for horse trailers. There are excellent campsites in the last few miles before the trailhead. I took advantage of them so as to organize my gear and also to get a parking spot and early start the next morning.

Make sure you take along plenty of insect repellant. The Winds are especially notorious for its ravenous hordes of mosquitoes and flies. Although they weren’t too bad during my trip in mid-August. Also be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. I had beautiful warm sunshine, but due to the elevation the wind was very cold. Consequently I was hot on one side and chilled on the other.

The town of Pinedale makes a great base for multiple trips into the Winds. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to one of my favorite outdoor recreation stores, the Great Outdoor Shop. It’s stocked with everything needed for a successful trip, including a very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Don’t visit Pinedale without dropping in! Right next door to the great Outdoor Shop is the best place to got for a post-trip meal, the Wind River Brewing Company. They have excellent burgers and great brews!

Unnamed lake along Fremont Trail Bridger Wilderness Wind River RangeUnnamed lake along Fremont Trail benchland #66262  Purchase

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Wind River Range and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Mount Bonneville and Little Bonneville Lake. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingMount Bonneville Bridger Wilderness #66270  #Purchase

If you enjoyed reading Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range please share it with your friends and family. And make sure you check out the next post of my Wind River Range adventure, Titcomb Basin Island Lake Part 1!

All photos appearing in Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Bonneville Lakes Wind River Range

Twin Lakes and Peak 9,923, Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop Trail Sawtooth Mountains

Alice-Toxaway Loop Backpacking Photography

Alice-Toxaway Loop Backpacking Photography

Twin Lakes Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop Trail Sawtooth MountainsTwin Lakes #66175  Purchase

The final destination during my time in the Sawtooth Mountains was the classic Alice-Toxaway Loop. I could say that I saved the best for last, but that wouldn’t be accurate. The hikes to Baron Lakes and Sawtooth Lake were equally spectacular. All three destinations have something unique to offer the backcountry visitor.

The Alice-Toxaway Loop sits at the southern end of the range.  It is roughly 17 miles long, travels over one mountain pass and visits four gorgeous alpine lakes. Aside from the main trail there are several attractive side trips possible. The most popular being to Imogene Lake over a second pass.

The loop takes usually takes 2-3 days to complete. Some backpackers do the loop in two days, or even day hike or run the loop in one day, but to me that is ridiculous. Isn’t the pace of life today fast enough? It is not difficult to hike in one or two days, but you will be rushing through some of the best scenery of the Sawtooths, on a thoroughly enjoyable trail. For me taking less than three days would be unthinkable. I allotted five days, but spent four days due to poor weather on the last day.

Alice-Toxaway Loop Sawtooth Mountains IdahoAlice-Toxaway Loop #66053  Purchase

Hiking to Alice Lake

The loop can be done in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. I chose clockwise since I was eager to spend a couple of nights at Alice Lake at the beginning. Starting at Petit Lake from the Tin Cup Trailhead the trail follows the lake shore then enters the forest for a brief spell. From the start to Alice Lake the trail has numerous creek crossings which can be difficult early in the season. Soon the trail begins to climb and the views open. Certainly, one of the best of these is a view far across the valley to the White Cloud Mountains and Wilderness.

Alice Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoAlice Lake #66110  Purchase

After this the trail continues a pleasant climb through rocky terrain, dotted with wildflowers and babbling streams. Soon enough the trail levels out and passes by several small ponds near the outlet of Alice Lake. All along this stretch the landscape is dominated by the lofty spire of El Capitan. Here, and at Alice Lake, there are many great places to set up camp. I chose one further along the trail at Alice Lake near some of the best photo ops. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and scouting for photo compositions.

Alice Lake camp Sawtooth MountainsCamping at Alice Lake  #66072  Purchase

Alice Lake camp Sawtooth MountainsCamping at Alice Lake  #66086  Purchase

There were some great spots along the far end of the lake for photography. However, from that perspective El Capitan had a more rounded appearance. Hiking back to near the lakes outlet it displayed a more impressive horn-like spire.

El Capitan Sawtooth Mountains IdahoEl Capitan, Alice Lake  #66114  Purchase

On to Twin Lakes

After a couple night spent at Alice Lake I moved on to Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes is a very short hike from Alice, about a mile and around several hundred feet  higher. Some say Twin Lakes has the better views, but that’s all subjective. I think Alice and Twin are equally impressive, they just have different personalities.

Backpacker Twin Lakes Sawtooth Mountains IdahoBackpacker at Twin Lakes #66137  Purchase

The focal point for photography was the impressive unnamed horn shaped peak across the lake. I spent a good deal of time scouting and lining up compositions for evening and morning light. Along the way I came across a huge gnarled old White Bark Pine. I just couldn’t pass up making some photos of its lumpy distorted trunk.

Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) Sawtooth Mountains IdahoWhite Bark Pine #66141  Purchase

The next morning I awoke before dawn and set up my gear in a preselected site and waited for dawn. There were some beautiful clouds and soft light to work with. Utilizing a wide lens I was able to use angles and shapes to from the peak across the lake.

Twin Lakes Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop Trail Sawtooth MountainsTwin Lakes #66170  Purchase

Unfortunately more clouds soon moved in and it became apparent that the weather would be making a change. After finishing up photography and breakfast I packed up camp and set out for the next destination on the loop, Toxaway Lake.

Toxaway Lake

Immediately the trail begins a switchback climb up to Snowyside Pass, the high point of the loop at 9416′. From here the views are spectacular. Although I continued on down the pass, an easy scramble to the summit of Snowyside Peak is a popular side trip. Below are Twin Lakes, set in a bowl surrounded by jagged peaks and ridges. The pass area would make a great spot to camp but after a short while I needed to move on.

Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop Trail Sawtooth MountainsTrail above Twin Lakes #66198  Purchase

Toxaway Lake is several miles further on from the pass. The trail down passed through some beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers. I was disappointed to see how far down the trail descended, and it soon became apparent that Toxaway Lake would be just below the tree-line. Getting nearer the lake mosquitoes became a problem for the first time on the trip.

After what seemed like a long hike I finally arrived at the lake and began looking for a campsite. Further on  down the lake is a junction which heads up to Imogene Lake, and many other in the adjacent basin. I must have passed up the main camping area since near the outlet I had some trouble locating a suitable spot. When I did find one it was just when it began to rain. During the rest of the day and most of the next morning it rained steadily. Any chance of meaningful photography at Toxaway Lake was gone.

Twin Lakes Sawtooth Mountains IdahoTwin Lakes #66185  Purchase

The Hike Out

The next morning the rain eased up a little but clouds still shrouded the surrounding peaks. I took advantage of the break in rain, packed up and headed down the trail. Long sections of the trail were now muddy ponds and streams. Eventually the rain stopped but the clouds still hung low.

The trail continued  a gradual descent as it passed Farley Lake. I was disappointed to have missed out on photographing at Toxaway Lake, and now Farley Lake would also be a casualty of the weather. After Farley the trail descended more rapidly and entered deep forests of pine. It passed through an enormous avalanche path made during the previous winter. Huge trees snapped like match sticks were laying everywhere.

Alice-Toxaway Loop Trail Sawtooth Wilderness IdahoAlice-Toxaway Loop #56141  Purchase

The last section of the trail seemed to be the longest and most uninteresting. A monotonous hike through lodgepole pines, a tricky stream crossing, and then a climb over and down a ridge to the trailhead at Petit Lake. Along the way I came across an interesting sight, a large group of backpackers all sleeping in separate hammocks. There must have been six to eight hammocks  spread out among the trees. They reminded me of some sort of giant insect cocoons! I must admit that they didn’t look like the kind of shelter I would enjoy being confined to during the previous day of rain.

The Alice-Toxaway Loop was now in the bag, and it lived up to its reputation in every way. I would highly recommend this trip for beginners and advanced backpackers, it has all the elements that hiking dreams are made of!

Little Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoLittle Redfish Lake #66227 Purchase

Last Day at Little Redfish Lake

Now, after two weeks of Backpacking and photography in the Sawtooth Mountains I was just about ready to wrap things up and move on. However, I was treated to one final glorious morning of photography at Little Redfish Lake. As usual I was there before dawn and ready. As the sun came rose it lit up the clouds in pinks, purples, and then orange, and yellow. A truly wonderful finale to one of the most memorable group of hiking trip I’ve ever done.

As a celebration I made a brief stop at Sunbeam Hot Springs, and had a good soak along the Salmon River. Now on to the main attraction of this trip, the Wind River Range of Wyoming!

Sunbeam hot springs Salmon River IdahoSunbeam Hot Springs  Idaho #66250 Purchase

If You Go

Round Trip Distance:  19 Mile Loop
Elevation:   About 2900′ gain, Highpoint 9416′
Difficulty:  Moderate to difficult
Red Tape:  Free Permits are required, available at trailhead

To get to Tincup Trailhead hikers parking lot, drive about 18 miles south of Stanley on U.S. 75 and another two miles west along FR 208. The small scenic town of Stanley Idaho makes a great base for trips into the Sawtooths. Lodging, groceries, restaurants, outdoor gear stores, and a great bakery are in town. Redfish Lake Lodge also has many similar amenities.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the Sawtooths are an extremely popular destination. Not only for hikers and backpackers, but also for tourists, front country family camping, river rafters, and fishing. During the height of summer just about every campsite, both front country and backcountry will be filled before noon. Therefore, make your plans accordingly to avoid frustration.

One of the best perks of the area are the numerous natural and wild hot springs. Soaking in one along the Salmon River is one of the greatest post hike activities.

Leave No Trace

As I said in my previous post, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Sawtooth and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Check out more of the photos from this trip in my Idaho Archives.
All the photos in this post are available as Fine Art Prints and for Commercial Licensing.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Little Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoMount Heyburn, Little Redfish Lake #66244  Purchase

Alice-Toxaway Loop Backpacking Photography

 

Monte Verita Peak mirrored in still waters of Baron Lake. Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness Idaho

Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Baron Lake Monte Verita Peak Sawtooth Mountains Baron Lakes Sawtooth MountainsBaron Lake Sawtooth Mountains  #66032  Purchase

After a successful trip to Sawtooth Lake I was itching to get back on the trail and see more of the Sawtooth Mountains. The question was where to go next. There are plenty of tantalizing destinations in the Sawtooths. To explore them all you would need at least a full summer. Like most people with limited time I wanted to visit the best of the best, and return later for more in depth exploration.

With about two weeks available I knew that the famous Alice-Toxaway Loop was a must do. There were also several very attractive destinations in the Redfish Lake area. Cramer Lakes and Saddleback Lakes were two of those. However, the hike to Baron Lakes looked like it would provide several elements I was after. First and foremost was a good variety of photographic subject matter. Three lakes and one mountain pass is better than a straight hike into just one lake. Secondly, I wanted the hike in to be moderately challenging, but not exhausting. I was, after all, carrying plenty of heavy photo equipment on my back, aside form the usual camping paraphernalia. So Baron Lakes it was.

Redfish Creek Canyon Trail Sawtooth Mountains Idaho Baron Lakes Sawtooth MountainsRedfish Creek Trail  #65999  Purchase

Hiking to Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

To get to the start of the Baron Lakes trail, or any destination along Redfish Creek Valley you have two options. On one hand you can begin at the hikers parking lot near Redfish Lake Lodge. Or for $17 roundtrip you can take a water taxi from the lodge to the trailhead at the head of Redfish Lake. This option will save you about five miles of hiking. Like a lot of others I opted for the water taxi. On a beautiful warm summer morning it was tempting to just rent a canoe or kayak and leisurely explore the lake. But I was there to grunt and sweat my way up a hot and dusty trail instead.

After an initial climb the trail levels out a bit for the first few miles. At Flatrock Junction the trail splits. Continuing on the main trail will take you to Cramer Lakes, the right fork ascends to Alpine, and Baron Lakes. Here is where the real work begins. The trail begins to switchback up to Alpine Lake, first through meadows and then along a cliff wall partially shaded by trees.

My first night was spent at Alpine Lake, yes there are two lakes sharing this name in the Sawtooths. Although the lake is set in a picturesque bowl I was a bit disappointed in this location. This is a popular destination and most of the NE side of the lakeshore has been pounded to dust by overuse, and the open forest here doesn’t provide much opportunity for solitude.

Baron Divide Trail Sawtooth Mountains Idaho Baron Divide Trail  #65051  Purchase

The next day I awoke and packed up early. I was eager to leave the dismal campsite and reach Baron Divide before it became too hot. This climb to the divide is pleasant, passing several ponds and grassy meadows along the way. Finally at the divide the fabulous scene of Baron Lakes and Monte Verita Peak came into view. It was a long switchback hike down to the lakes along boulder fields and flower meadows. This is truly one of those stretches of trail that backpackers dream of.

Hiker at Baron Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho Baron Lakes Backpacking PhotographyBaron Lake  #66043  Purchase

At Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Upper Baron Lake is a great destination with good campsites, but the middle  lake has the views I was anticipating for photography. Most of the campsites are on the North side of the lake and are close to the lake outlet. Fortunately I was there early enough to find a secluded spot further on along a small bay. For most of the morning I had the lake all to myself, but by evening every available space that could hold a tent was occupied. Despite highly visible trailhead signs prohibiting campfires at least one group felt the need to build one and fill the area with smoke.

Baron Lake Warbonnet Peak Sawtooth MountainsWarbonnet Peak  #66029  Purchase

There are many possibilities for exploration from the lake. A short climb behind the camps offers great views down to the lower lake, and Baron Creek Valley with the imposing bulk of Baron Peak dominating the scene. Monte Verita and Wabonnet Peaks offer exciting scrambling and climbing routes. Hiking around the shore you can also climb back to the upper lake for a pleasant loop trip. Of course you also can just sit and enjoy the view or try your luck at fishing.

Photographing at Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Since this was my first visit my goal was to photograph the classic view of Baron Lake with Monte Verita in the background. It doesn’t get much better then that. I just had to scout out the best compositions and wait for some good light.

Milky Way Baron Lake Sawtooth MountainsMilky Way over Baron Lake  #66011  Purchase

Evening was pleasant, but there was very little light illuminating the spires of Monte Verita. It became apparent that at this time of year the best light would come in the morning. After sunset I took the opportunity to do some night photography. The location was perfect, since the Milky Way was just to the left of Monte Verita at a pleasing angle.

At sunrise there was a very attractive sprinkling of small puffy clouds reflected in a mirror smooth lake surface. As the sun rose the clouds were continually changing patterns, keeping me busy photographing Rorschach-like compositions.

Baron Lake Monte Verita Peak Sawtooth Mountains Baron Lake #66034  Purchase

Hiking Out

I spent another night at the lake, but since it was Sunday everyone else had Packed up and left. Therefore I had it all to myself, with plenty of time to anticipate the grueling climb back up to Baron Divide. The next morning that climb wasn’t too bad since I once again had a successful trip in the bag, and the views were still spectacular.

Like every other hike, descending Baron Divide was somewhat sad since the views were behind me and the trip was coming to a close. As a took one last look at the lakes and peaks I was hoping to return soon. All the way back down the trail to Redfish Lake I was all smiles, eager to speak with other hikers about the beauty they would soon see. By the time I reached the water taxi dock the day was hot, so the boat ride back was a cool relief.

Redfish Lake Lodge boat dock, Redfish Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoRedfish Lake Marina  #65995  Purchase

By then my mind was occupied by thought of pizza, a cold beer, and the Alice-Toxaway Loop hike.

Next up: Alice-Toxaway Loop

If You Go

Round Trip Distance:  15 Miles
Elevation:   About 3500′ gain, Highpoint Baron Divide 9175′
Difficulty:  Moderate to difficult
Red Tape:  Free Permits are required, available at trailhead

To get to Redfish Lake hikers parking lot, Redfish Lake Lodge and water taxi drive about 6 miles south of Stanley on U.S. 75 and another two miles along FR 214. There are plenty of campsites near along Redfish Lake and Little Redfish Lake.

The small scenic town of Stanley Idaho makes a great base for trips into the Sawtooths. Lodging, groceries, restaurants, outdoor gear stores, and a great bakery are in town. Redfish Lake Lodge also has many similar amenities.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the Sawtooths are an extremely popular destination. Not only for hikers and backpackers, but also for tourists, front country family camping, river rafters, and fishing. During the height of summer just about every campsite, both front country and backcountry will be filled before noon. So make your plans accordingly to avoid frustration.

One of the best perks of the area are the numerous natural and wild hot springs. Soaking in one along the Salmon River is one of the greatest post hike activities.

Leave No Trace

As I said in my previous post, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Sawtooth and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Milky Way Baron Lake Sawtooth MountainsMilky Way over Baron Lake  #66010  Purchase

Check out more of the photos from this trip in my Idaho Archives.
All the photos in this post are available as Fine Art Prints and for Commercial Licensing.

Next up: Alice-Toxaway Loop

Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan Idaho

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan Idaho Sawtooth Lake #65880  Purchase

The first destination on my summer photography tour of the Rocky Mountains was the Sawtooth Range of central Idaho.  I had been to the Sawtooths for photography several times in the past.  However, this was to be my first foray into the famed backcountry. With ample time available my plan was to make several backpacks into several of the most scenic locations. The first destination I chose was Sawtooth Lake.

Sawtooth Mountains Idaho Trailside view of Sawtooth Mountains #65987  Purchase

Hiking to Sawtooth Lake

Sawtooth Lake is the largest backcountry lake, and one of the most popular in the Sawtooth Wilderness. It is also probably one of the shortest backpacking destinations. The distance from the Iron Creek trailhead to the lake is about 4.5 miles, with 1750′ of elevation gain. Depending on your physical condition and pack weight the trip could be anywhere from easy to moderately difficult. The first half of the hike is fairly easy and passes through the cool shade of forest. However at around 3.5 miles things get serious with a switchback climb to Alpine Lake.  Sitting in a cliff ringed bowl at tree line Alpine Lake is a nice destination in itself. Some hikers decide to base camp here and then day hike up to Sawtooth Lake. I decided to take a pass since I was eager to see Sawtooth Lake.

Alpine Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho Alpine Lake Sawtooth Mountains  #65988  Purchase

At the junction to Alpine Lake the trail really gets down to business. For the last mile or so the trail switchbacks steeply up a ridge to Sawtooth Lake. Although it is a bit of a grind it is also the most scenic part of the trail. Here the trees thin out and offer great views of the rugged peaks and ridges. The views make this last stretch go quickly despite the steep climb. If you started out later in the day this section can also be hot with the sun beating down on you.

At Sawtooth Lake

When the trail levels out it meanders through a pleasant subalpine landscape of  cool streams and small ponds. From here it’s less than half a mile to the lake. If you’ve arrived later in the day you should probably take advantage of any open campsites available in this area. A good reason to get as early a start as possible. Nearly all backcountry camps in the Sawtooths fill up very quickly. If you arrive late you may not find a spot and be tempted to camp in an undesignated area. Please don’t do this as the vegetation is extremely fragile.

Sawtooth Lake hiker, Sawtooth Mountains idahoSawtooth Lake and Mount Regan #65930  Purchase

After a short hike through this area I arrived at the fabled view of Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan. It was a thrill to see this sight in person after viewing pictures of it for many years. While I wanted to just sit and take it all in I immediately went down to the business of finding a campsite. Although I arrived early the best sites with a lake view were already taken. A few minutes of checking out the area yielded a great site among boulders and trees a short distance from the lake.

Photographing At Sawtooth Lake

Upon setting up camp, relaxing, and having a bite to eat, it was time to begin scouting the lake vicinity for photo ops later in the day. Two spots which seemed to offer good photo compositions. One was a little south along the shore by a big boulder field, the other higher up at the head of the lake on the trail to McGown Lakes. This second spot was where I decided to set up for evening light.

Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan IdahoSawtooth Lake Afterglow #65888  Purchase

The trail to McGown Lakes begins at the lake outlet and climbs thorough rocky bowls dotted with wildflowers. Soon it begins a wide open traverse through scree fields below an unnamed peak. In an area with beautiful views in all directions this was one of the best. The entire lake was spread out below with Mount Regan as an impressive backdrop. I set up my tripod here and relaxed for a fews hours as the evening light came on. I was very fortunate to have some nice wispy clouds at sunset to accentuate the composition. A wonderful end to my first day in the Sawtooths.

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoSawtooth Lake #65898  Purchase

The next morning I set up in the boulder filed along the lake shore. I arrived before dawn and was disappointed to see an empty cloudless sky. But here I was, so I waited patiently hoping for some nice light. Fortunately some nice clouds appeared and it turned out to be a beautiful morning. Returning to camp I noticed that all the others in the area were still sound asleep. It’s always nice to have a beautiful sunrise to yourself, but I feel sorry for those who sleep in and miss it.

Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan IdahoMount Regan Sawtooth Lake #65922  Purchase

At the south end of Sawtooth Lake

After breakfast I decided to move on to the other end of the lake. A short scenic mile brought me to the south end of Sawtooth Lake. Most hikers don’t seem to bother with checking out this end so I had it all to myself. I found a nice established camp  among some giant boulders and began exploring the area. I was especially interested in hiking a little further south along the trail to see if there were good views across the valley to Baron Peak. The hike below Mount Regan trough open rocky terrain was exciting, but the trail soon began to drop into the valley. There were nice views of Baron Peak but not what I had hoped for.

Sawtooth Lake night sky Sawtooth Mountains IdahoNight sky over Sawtooth Lake #65938  Purchase

That evening the sky was disappointingly cloudless. To make up for it I decided to take my first shot at night sky photography. The next morning I again set up before dawn in a cloudless sky. Very frustrating but again I waited and hoped. Incredibly just at dawn a few clouds appeared. What looked at first like a boring morning turned into a nearly two hour frenzy of photography. Cloud patterns and light continued to change and I came away with plenty of new and exciting images.

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoMorning clouds over Sawtooth Lake #65942  Purchase

Later that morning I packed up and began the hike out. It’s always a little sad for me to leave such a beautiful place, but I was thrilled at having my first trip into the Sawtooths a total success. I savored every step I made on the trail and envisioned my return sometime in the future.

Next up: Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoMorning clouds over Sawtooth Lake #65954  Purchase

If You Go

Round Trip Distance:  10 Miles
Elevation:   About 1758′ gain, Highpoint 8471′
Difficulty:  Moderate
Red Tape:  Free Permits are required, available at trailhead

To get to the Iron Creek Trailhead from Stanley, go northwest 2.5 miles on ID 21, then 4 miles south on Forest Road #619. There are plenty of campsites near the trailhead and along the road to facilitate an early start.

The small scenic town of Stanley Idaho makes a great base for trips into the Sawtooths. Lodging, groceries, restaurants, outdoor gear stores, and a great bakery are in town. There are also many campgrounds in the vicinity.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the Sawtooths are an extremely popular destination. Not only for hikers and backpackers, but also for tourists, front country family camping, river rafters, and fishing. During the height of summer just about every campsite, both front country and backcountry will be filled before noon. So make your plans accordingly to avoid frustration.

One of the best perks of the area are the numerous natural and wild hot springs. Soaking in one along the Salmon River is one of the greatest post hike activities.

Leave No Trace

Don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). All wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles  and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Stanley Basin Sawtooth Mountains IdahoSawtooth Mountains from Stanley Basin #65845  Purchase

Check out more of the photos from this trip in my Idaho Archives.
All the photos in this post are available as Fine Art Prints and for Commercial Licensing.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains IdahoMorning clouds over Sawtooth Lake #65974  Purchase

Next up: Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains

Sawtooth Lake Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

 

Oxbow Bend sunrise Grand Teton National Park

New Images Yellowstone Teton Glacier

New Images Yellowstone Teton Glacier

Oxbow Bend sunrise Grand Teton National ParkOxbow Bend Sunrise Grand Teton National Park  #67700  Purchase

The final group of new images is now online and ready to view. This group represents close the second half of my Rocky Mountains photo tour, and includes three national parks.

After a full month of backpacking in the Sawtooths and Winds I was originally planning only a brief stop in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The next major destinations were to be the Beartooth Highway and eastern Montana. However, weather forecasts and other circumstances presented opportunities in these parks that I could not pass up.

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park New Images Yellowstone Teton GlacierMammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park #68021  Purchase

Therefore, in the end I spent nearly two weeks in Grand Teton, and about a week in Yellowstone. After leaving Yellowstone it became apparent that deteriorating weather patterns would bing the trip to an early close. Consequently there was only enough time to make a quick drive to Glacier National Park before storms set in. Although during my short stay in Glacier I was presented with several more great photo opportunities.

Castle Reef Mountain Sun Canyon Montana New Images Yellowstone Teton GlacierCastle Reef Mountain Montana #678137  Purchase

As mentioned in previous posts, I’ll soon be writing more detailed posts on all aspects of the trip.

Locations Added:

Grand Teton National Park: Mormon Row Barns, Schwabacher Landing, Oxbow Bend
Yellowstone National Park: Geothermal features of Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Falls and Canyon, Mammoth Hot Springs
Montana: Rocky Mountain Front Range near Augusta and Choteau, Sun River Canyon
Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Lake, Saint Mary and Virgina Falls

All images are ready and available as Fine Art Prints and for Commercial Licensing. In addition please check out the new 2020 Desktop Nature Calendars!

Clepsydra Geyser Yellowstone National Park New Images Yellowstone Teton GlacierClepsydra Geyer Yellowstone National Park #67803  Purchase

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National ParkSaint Mary Lake Glacier National Park #68299  Purchase

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National ParkSaint Mary Lake Glacier National Park #68200  Purchase

New Images Yellowstone Teton Glacier