We’ve reached that point in the year when the low country has said “farewell” to winter. The snow below 9,000’ elevation is gone for good, or so we hope. The front country lakes including Fremont Lake, Half Moon Lake, Boulder Lake, Soda Lake, and more, are all completely free of ice. The opportunities for day hikes and fishing are plentiful and are sure to tide us over until the high country opens up. Up high, the snow is melting fast.
It’s not often we get to say this, but we may get a June backpacking season this year. With a rapidly melting snow pack and warmer temperatures on the way, longer, overnight loops into the Winds may be hikeable in as little as three weeks. Loops that start low – think of those out of Green River Lakes and New Fork Lakes in the northern range – will be clear and dry long before high elevation trails, but any backcountry access this early in the season is something to be thankful for. Plus, the clouds of mosquitoes haven’t rolled in yet, so hiking will be that much more enjoyable!
Keep in mind, spring season hiking comes with its own unique risks to be aware of. For one, we have started to see a lot more ticks. The Wind River Range and surrounding area are home to multiple tick species that can carry diseases such as Colorado Tick Fever and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, both of which can put a quick, ugly end to your trip. The most important step in avoiding tick-borne illness is prevention. Wear long clothing, apply insect repellent, and check yourself after every adventure. You can even treat your clothing and gear with permethrin if you’re feeling up to it – this is what I do and I recommend it to every hiker I meet.
Avalanche risk should also be taken into account when hiking in the springtime. Just because there is no snow on the trail you’re following doesn’t mean there isn’t snow ready to slide from a slope above you. It’s okay not to be an avalanche expert, but equip yourself with the basics of avalanche safety. Watch for evidence of past slides and, if you absolutely must, cross any snowy slope early in the day after cold nighttime temps have solidified the snow pack.
Finally, be especially careful when crossing creeks this time of year. As daily highs rise into the 60s and 70s, melting snow and ice collect into mountain streams, raising water levels and flow rates substantially. It only takes a few inches of water to sweep you off of your feet and downstream. Hiking poles can be invaluable tools for high-water crossings, but of course, if you don’t feel one-hundred percent confident in your ability to take on a crossing, turn back. I don’t mean to scare you out of heading out there, but it’s important to know what to expect and how to handle it if you hope to enjoy a fun and safe trip.
Thanks for sticking with me! Here’s what we learned about the trailheads this week:
Big Sandy Trailhead (9,085’) – Snow Depth: 11”
Big Sandy has reached what I’ll call its “snow pack terminus.” Up until last week, the snow was melting at an average rate of two inches/week. In the past seven days, the same area lost seventeen inches. It’s all downhill from here – or uphill? I’m not sure. Either way, Big Sandy Trailhead will most likely open sooner than we thought. At this rate, we can expect the road to be snow-free in about two weeks and the same for a good portion of trail in three. That said, I received a report this morning of someone attempting to drive to the trailhead and being shut down by loads of downed trees. The Forest Service is sure to put a high priority on clearing these quick given its a popular trailhead, but it’s something to consider for now.
Boulder Lake Trailhead (7,300’) – Snow Depth: 0”
Good to go! Boulder Lake is great because of its long season of accessibility.
Elkhart Park Trailhead (9,350’) – Snow Depth: 2”
You can now drive to the Elkhart Park trailhead, which is great news for those who are planning early season expeditions into the high Winds. There is some snow holding on the last half-mile-or-so of the road, but I was able to tackle it with relative ease in my all-wheel-drive SUV. The trails are still socked in with snow, so bring snowshoes or skis and skins if you plan to venture far from the parking lot.
Spring Creek Trailhead (8,200’) – Snow Depth: 0”
As far as I can tell, Spring Creek Trailhead is open. It is well below the snow line and the trail gets a ton of sun once it crests the ridge. However, you may run into the issues of snow and mud during the first couple miles as you’re hiking up the north-facing slope.
New Fork Lakes Trailhead (7,900’) – Snow Depth: 0”
The snow here continues to inch its way back up the canyon walls, giving the freshly exposed trail some room to breathe. The trail will be muddy for the rest of May at least, but there’s no reason to avoid the area.
Green River Lakes Trailhead (8,040’) – Snow Depth: 0”
All reports point to open! Many people have already chosen to make the drive to the lakes, though the road is still muddy. The view from just north of the lakes looks green, gorgeous and snow-free. I haven’t received word yet on the conditions of the trails. That being said, the first few miles of trail around the lower lake stay low and exposed, so I am willing to guess a longer day hike is possible.
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 at (307) 367-2440 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Conditions reports from your recent trips are always appreciated. We look forward to hearing from you!
Snow data gathered from USDA SNOTEL
Mud Season Hiking Dos and Don’ts, Appalachian Mountain Club
Bear Wise Wyoming, WY Fish & Game
Recreate Responsibly, Friends of the Bridger-Teton