As days get warmer (and longer), the snow melts, the rivers rise, and thoughts turn to the mountains. While the snow down in the valley disappears, it seems that up high, winter is far from over. Although the high country will be caked with snow for the next month or so, some of the lower-elevation trailheads have shaken off their snowy coats and there is definitely early season hiking to be had.
Overall, the Upper Green River Drainage, which includes the Wind River Range, Wyoming Range, and Gros Ventures, is sitting at 168% of average for total snowfall remaining this time of year. However, this is a vague figure, especially when you try to convey just how much snow is left. Fortunately, the SNOTEL website tells us exactly how much snow is left at the different gauging stations. From each station’s approximate elevation, we can have a relatively informed idea of what is going on in the mountains and can more accurately predict what the future will hold.
At the Kendall Guard Station (elevation 7740 ft.), we’re reporting 0 inches of snow still on the ground. However, this is where SNOTEL data can be a bit deceiving. As of a week ago, the Green River Lakes road is still snowed in around the Forest Boundary parking lot. You have to remember that most of the Green River Lakes road is shaded by trees for the majority of the day, while the Kendall Guard Station is out in the open sage brush. Any day now, we should see the road past the boundary start to open up and dry out. Conservatively, we estimate that access should be open to the Green River Lakes trailhead (elevation ~8000 ft.) around mid-June.
Ten miles to the south, at New Fork Lake trailhead (elevation 8340 ft.), the SNOTEL website data is reporting no snow. I can confirm that the New Fork Lake trailhead is open until you reach the trees at the end of the lake. Although the elevation at this trailhead is higher than Green River Lakes, the sunny eastern and southern aspects allow for faster snow loss. Short day hikes are definitely possible.
The next trailhead, Elkhart Park (elevation 9400 ft.) is the highest trailhead access into the Wind River Range. Because of its shady aspect and high elevation, it’s usually the last trailhead to melt out. The road up to the first paved overlook is clear of most snow, and a short mile to mile-and-a-half hike puts you at the Elkhart Park parking lot. Since the current snowline is hovering around the same elevation Elkhart Park sits (9300-9500 ft.), and the trail from the parking lot has significant tree cover, conservative estimates place access to Photographers Point (10300 ft.) at around the third to fourth week in June.
Further south, at the Boulder Creek Trailhead (7300 ft.), the trail is completely snow-free approximately 3.5 miles up-trail of the trailhead. Past that, there are some large drifts, but once you start the climb out of Boulder Canyon towards Ethel Lake, the trail continues to be snow-free. Twelve mile round-trip hikes are definitely possible this time of year. We’re not seeing nightly freezes at this elevation, which means the snow is in a constant state of melt.
Big Sandy Opening Trailhead (9080 ft.) is the outlier. As of the SNOTEL measurement for today, Big Sandy Opening Trailhead has 27 inches of snow. As of last week, the road to Big Sandy Opening was inaccessible about a mile past the Lander Cutoff Road turnoff. At those elevations, the temperatures are getting cold enough to start the melt/freeze cycle, which consolidates the snowpack and keeps it from melting away at a high rate. I would place Big Sandy Opening access at the third or fourth week in June, similar to access at Elkhart Park.
For current trailhead conditions, stay tuned for more reports, or give us a call at the shop (307) 367-2440. You can also email us at [email protected]. We’re happy to answer any questions or help you plan your trip into the Wind River Range!