Over the past week, the snowline has receded radically. Only a week ago, Elkhart park was inaccessible and under 10 inches of snow; two days ago, I drove up there for the first time this year. A cursory glance from the highway reveals the range seems to be melting rapidly. As the freezing line moves higher, expect the snow below 10,000 feet to melt fast.
Without being at upper elevations at all times of the week, it’s hard to know for sure how much snow there is above treeline. From the totals we’ve seen, the Winds are having an average year above 10,500 feet. However, the river reactions are telling us a slightly different story. As the river flows increase (measured in cubic feet per second) with the anticipation of runoff, the Green is drastically below average, and is corresponding with a below average snow year. Remember that the headwaters of the Green River have their start within a glacier in the Winds, so the health of the river corresponds directly with the total snow accumulation in that part of the Wind River Range. If the river flow levels are below average, that means two things: 1) The snow above 10,500 feet hasn’t started to melt in any meaningful manner, or 2) There just isn’t a lot of snow in the high country. Either are plausible, and only time will tell which of the options are correct.
Until then, we can still get into the mountains and do some hiking, although the bigger loops will be out of the question until more snow melts. There are plenty of trailheads open where day hikes are possible. We’ve been seeing the typical spring storms moving through that are bringing much needed moisture to the upper elevations, in the form of snow. If you plan on reaching locales above 10,000 feet, skis or snowshoes are necessary. Expect to start early to avoid postholing in the slightly isothermic snow, and be prepared for rain, sleet, snow and high winds. Spring is a temperamental time of year for the high peaks. Be prepared for temps well below freezing, and weather that can change rapidly.
Green River Lakes and the surrounding area is open and mostly dry. You will encounter some spring creeks that are running full with runoff. Some of these will muddy parts of the trail but don’t expect to be turned away by any. The trail up the Porcupine Pass Trail will be snow-free for a few miles, but once you climb above 9,000 ft., expect some drifts. Clear Creek Canyon and the Natural Bridge are both accessible. The Highline Trail will be open most of the way up the canyon, but expect some trees across the trail from the settling of the downed timber.
New Fork Lake trailhead is open and dry. The trail is open for several miles into the canyon. The Doubletop Mountain Trail is open to the top of the ridge; expect snow past that on the trail to Palmer Lake.
Spring Creek Park is open, and the trail is clear for the first two miles towards Glimpse Lake. Expect snow in the few miles leading to Glimpse. Spring Creek road may be muddy and rutted out. High clearance and 4WD is recommended.
Elkhart Park is open, and the trail has melted about a mile or so past the trailhead. Sacred Rim Trail is passable, but expect snow as you stray from Pole Creek Trail.
No report yet on Big Sandy Opening. The Snotel station reads zero inches, but that does not mean the road is dry and passable. The wind storm caused severe damage to the trails in the area that still need to be cleared, in particular, towards Marms Lake; be aware that the trees may not be passable in areas. Big Sandy Lodge has done a lot of clearing but there is a lot more to be done. When they’re open, be sure to stop by and show your support by purchasing a beer and a burger when you get out of the mountains!
As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any gear or itinerary questions regarding the Wind River Range or surrounding area. We’re open seven days a week, from 8AM to 6PM. You can reach us by phone (307) 367-2440 or send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!