Red Castle vs Cirque of the Towers vs Titcomb

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oh, and while I would choose either of your Wind River trips (or any of about 5 other Winds routes of similar mileage) over the Uintas any day, the amount of horrible road time needed to get to Pinedale or Big Sandy (etc) through that horrible stretch of horrible Wyoming for that few days on the trail.... yeah, might as well do the Uintas instead. Go to the Winds when you have 6+ trail days to make it worth the horrible drive there.
l
 

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Janice

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I've appreciated learning from all of you and others on this site about the Winds, and we want to backpack there next summer. It will be our first Winds trip, and we probably won't be able to return again and again since we don't live out West and have lots of other places on our wish list. I'd love route advice - I know there are many great options and it's hard to decide what makes the most sense. We're not comfortable with complicated route-finding so want to stay on trail. We'll be able to spend ~6 days and nights hiking and camping. Due to my teaching schedule, we have to go before mid-August, so I realize it will probably be buggy and crowded. We don't need complete solitude but don't want "ants-in-a-line" hiking or to camp near tons of other people. Does that eliminate Titcomb Basin and/or Cirque? @Bob I see that you recommend anything other than Titcomb and Cirque, but what about for first-timers who haven't explored there at all yet? We would love recommendations!
 

Jackson

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If your plan is to go straight to Titcomb and back or straight to the Cirque and back, those are probably the busiest stretches of trail you can walk in the range. However, the destinations are top notch, and that's why they're popular. Since you have 6 days to work with, you could take alternative routes into one of those places and makes loops, like going by Pole Creek Lakes and up around over Lester Pass to get down to Island Lake and then head up to the basin. Or going up by Dad's Lake and Marm's Lake and over Washakie Pass or Hailey Pass and then over Lizard Head Plateau to the Cirque. That way, you'd only be on the busiest portions for one way. And those busy portions are probably nothing like extremely crowded trails near big cities.

You could also just go somewhere less visited entirely, like the Glacier trail up on the northern end. But if you're only going to visit the Winds once in your life, you may want to spend some time in the well known places.
 

Bob

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East fork, Halls, Europe canyon, golden lakes basin, angel pass area....as a start. Bear basin for rugged stuff
 

Janice

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If your plan is to go straight to Titcomb and back or straight to the Cirque and back, those are probably the busiest stretches of trail you can walk in the range. However, the destinations are top notch, and that's why they're popular. Since you have 6 days to work with, you could take alternative routes into one of those places and makes loops, like going by Pole Creek Lakes and up around over Lester Pass to get down to Island Lake and then head up to the basin. Or going up by Dad's Lake and Marm's Lake and over Washakie Pass or Hailey Pass and then over Lizard Head Plateau to the Cirque. That way, you'd only be on the busiest portions for one way. And those busy portions are probably nothing like extremely crowded trails near big cities.

You could also just go somewhere less visited entirely, like the Glacier trail up on the northern end. But if you're only going to visit the Winds once in your life, you may want to spend some time in the well known places.
Super helpful - thanks!
 

OldBill

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"We don't need complete solitude but don't want "ants-in-a-line" hiking or to camp near tons of other people. Does that eliminate Titcomb Basin and/or Cirque?"
- Yes, though Jackson's idea is great - try less traveled routes. But, that 1st 6 miles from Elkhart is "ants in a line" and camping anywhere near Titcomb will be "near tons of other people". Yes, the top of Titcomb is less crowded, but camping anywhere in Titcomb is pretty open. You might be able to do it as a day hike basing from the small meadow near the Wall/Island route, near Fremont Crossing or even Lost Lake. Also, make sure you're comfortable with stream crossings as Pole Ck can run high late July/Aug. (Alternatively, look into the Monument Creek cutoff- though that's a use-trail, so you also need to be comfortable with that.)

The parking lot at Big Sandy is smaller and it's a "bear" to get to. Dad's is likely pretty crowded, but you could make Shadow L in a day to go over Texas Pass the next (or follow Jackson's ideas for longer loops - those are spectacular). But, camping anywhere in the Cirque is likely to be crowded. I had a great time in East Fork this year, but I had the entire canyon to myself in late September! You can also access the Cirque via North Fk trail. That is much less used but still an official, maintained trail. Avoids Big Sandy TH completely. Just base camp a few miles short of the Cirque.

Don't worry even if none of these fits your criteria. To have a great trip in the Winds, all you have to do is just go. You'll be back.
 
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Janice

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"We don't need complete solitude but don't want "ants-in-a-line" hiking or to camp near tons of other people. Does that eliminate Titcomb Basin and/or Cirque?"
- Yes, though Jackson's idea is great - try less traveled routes. But, that 1st 6 miles from Elkhart is "ants in a line" and camping anywhere near Titcomb will be "near tons of other people". Yes, the top of Titcomb is less crowded, but camping anywhere in Titcomb is pretty open. You might be able to do it as a day hike basing from the small meadow near the Wall/Island route, near Fremont Crossing or even Lost Lake. Also, make sure you're comfortable with stream crossings as Pole Ck can run high late July/Aug. (Alternatively, look into the Monument Creek cutoff- though that's a use-trail, so you also need to be comfortable with that.)

The parking lot at Big Sandy is smaller and it's a "bear" to get to. Dad's is likely pretty crowded, but you could make Shadow L in a day to go over Texas Pass the next (or follow Jackson's ideas for longer loops - those are spectacular). But, camping anywhere in the Cirque is likely to be crowded. I had a great time in East Fork this year, but I had the entire canyon to myself in late September! You can also access the Cirque via North Fk trail. That is much less used but still an official, maintained trail. Avoids Big Sandy TH completely. Just base camp a few miles short of the Cirque.

Don't worry even if none of these fits your criteria. To have a great trip in the Winds, all you have to do is just go. You'll be back.
Super helpful - thanks so much!
 

Janice

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for Titcomb, we just slept in the car at the trailhead parking lot.
We were not the only ones doing that. I would do it again
I'm not sure I understand the benefit of doing that - please explain!
 

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Bob

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Bypass Sandy trailheads... Go to Sweetwater trailhead
 

RyanP

Formerly bob32
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Janice---you mentioned that you wanted to stick to the trails. In my limited experience in the Winds (just two trips that each incorporated some easy off-trail travel), the line is often blurry between "off-trail" vs. "on-trail" segments. Some of the "trails" become difficult to follow and I would recommend treating it as if it were off-trail in terms of navigation (bring a map and compass, get a GPS app on your phone, play around on Google Earth beforehand, read trip reports for the area, etc). Many of the on-trail routes also have poor signage, streams to cross with no bridge, etc. On the flip side, some of the supposedly "off-trail" routes have nice use trails that aren't too hard to follow. The only time I ever took a wrong turn in the Winds was when I was on-trail, but ended up following a side trail for a ways before I realized that I was heading the wrong direction and into the wrong basin---if I wasn't paying attention to map/compass, who knows how long I would have gone the wrong way. My point is, I would prepare mentally for off-trail (unless you stick to only the very most popular trails like the trail to Island Lake or the trail to the Cirque from Big Sandy, but I would highly recommend NOT sticking to those trails!), even if your route is completely on-trail. But I would also recommend trying out an off-trail route! Nancy Pallister's book provides detailed info (including maps, description of difficulty levels, etc.) for a number of partially-off-trail routes, and this book plus the Winds has really made me fall in love with venturing off-trail. Some of the off-trail routes there are not hard to navigate and are not overly difficult or dangerous as long as you allocate more time per mile hiked.

As far as where to go---on my first trip there I did a loop that included Titcomb basin (which was the must-see for me), and it was not my favorite part of the trip. I'm not sure if it was even in my top 3 for that trip. On my 2nd trip I did a loop that included the Cirque of Towers (which was a must-see for me), and I don't even know if that was in my top 5 of places on that trip. So I agree with those that recommend visiting some of the less-traveled areas. It's all spectacular up there once you get a handful of miles from those trailheads.
 

Janice

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Janice---you mentioned that you wanted to stick to the trails. In my limited experience in the Winds (just two trips that each incorporated some easy off-trail travel), the line is often blurry between "off-trail" vs. "on-trail" segments. Some of the "trails" become difficult to follow and I would recommend treating it as if it were off-trail in terms of navigation (bring a map and compass, get a GPS app on your phone, play around on Google Earth beforehand, read trip reports for the area, etc). Many of the on-trail routes also have poor signage, streams to cross with no bridge, etc. On the flip side, some of the supposedly "off-trail" routes have nice use trails that aren't too hard to follow. The only time I ever took a wrong turn in the Winds was when I was on-trail, but ended up following a side trail for a ways before I realized that I was heading the wrong direction and into the wrong basin---if I wasn't paying attention to map/compass, who knows how long I would have gone the wrong way. My point is, I would prepare mentally for off-trail (unless you stick to only the very most popular trails like the trail to Island Lake or the trail to the Cirque from Big Sandy, but I would highly recommend NOT sticking to those trails!), even if your route is completely on-trail. But I would also recommend trying out an off-trail route! Nancy Pallister's book provides detailed info (including maps, description of difficulty levels, etc.) for a number of partially-off-trail routes, and this book plus the Winds has really made me fall in love with venturing off-trail. Some of the off-trail routes there are not hard to navigate and are not overly difficult or dangerous as long as you allocate more time per mile hiked.

As far as where to go---on my first trip there I did a loop that included Titcomb basin (which was the must-see for me), and it was not my favorite part of the trip. I'm not sure if it was even in my top 3 for that trip. On my 2nd trip I did a loop that included the Cirque of Towers (which was a must-see for me), and I don't even know if that was in my top 5 of places on that trip. So I agree with those that recommend visiting some of the less-traveled areas. It's all spectacular up there once you get a handful of miles from those trailheads.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this detailed reply. This is very helpful, and I will share your recommendations with my husband and friends so we can discuss going off-trail while planning our trip. If you're willing to write more, I would really appreciate your suggestion for a route since going to Titcomb and Cirque ended up not being as pleasing for you as expected and I had originally assumed we would try to include one or the other.
 

hikeer

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Thank you so much for taking the time to write this detailed reply. This is very helpful, and I will share your recommendations with my husband and friends so we can discuss going off-trail while planning our trip. If you're willing to write more, I would really appreciate your suggestion for a route since going to Titcomb and Cirque ended up not being as pleasing for you as expected and I had originally assumed we would try to include one or the other.
I'll chime in here with my two cents on Ryan's observations - while I don't know exactly what he meant, my impressions are very similar in regard to the Cirque. First, it is very scenic but it is also relatively crowded. There are other areas that are just as, if not more spectacular and you can have them completely to yourself. On one 6 day trip, I can think of three areas that I found just as scenic and completely (or nearly) free of any other people. That's what I look for on a trip - solitude and views are 1A and 1B in order of importance to me. I can go to scenic vistas in my car if I want to share them with 100 other people. :) Definitely pick up a copy of Nancy Pallister's excellent book. Lots of good ideas there. I can personally recommend route #16 in her book.
 

LarryBoy

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I've been through the Cirque three (?) times and have never run into crowds. One of those times was Labor Day weekend. Sure, I saw people on each occasion, but no more than one or two parties. Crowded at Big Sandy yeah, but almosy nobody beyond Big Sandy Lake. Perhaps I've just gotten lucky.
 

Janice

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I'll chime in here with my two cents on Ryan's observations - while I don't know exactly what he meant, my impressions are very similar in regard to the Cirque. First, it is very scenic but it is also relatively crowded. There are other areas that are just as, if not more spectacular and you can have them completely to yourself. On one 6 day trip, I can think of three areas that I found just as scenic and completely (or nearly) free of any other people. That's what I look for on a trip - solitude and views are 1A and 1B in order of importance to me. I can go to scenic vistas in my car if I want to share them with 100 other people. :) Definitely pick up a copy of Nancy Pallister's excellent book. Lots of good ideas there. I can personally recommend route #16 in her book.
Thanks so much. One of the people in our group has the book, and I'm checking out #16. We appreciate your help!
 

Bob

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I've been through the Cirque three (?) times and have never run into crowds. One of those times was Labor Day weekend. Sure, I saw people on each occasion, but no more than one or two parties. Crowded at Big Sandy yeah, but almosy nobody beyond Big Sandy Lake. Perhaps I've just gotten lucky.
Seeing more than one is crowded
 

RyanP

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Janice---to clarify my last post, I'm not saying the Cirque or Titcomb were overrated or mob scenes or anything; both were awesome and worth visiting and uncrowded compared to many popular areas elsewhere. I just liked a number of the other nearby basins at least as much, and had them completely to myself. For example, on my last trip to the Winds, I had a 3.5 day stretch in which I saw exactly one group of three people, and I visited a handful of spots that I liked just as much as the Cirque from a scenery perspective. I think my route was the same one that hikeer recommends---I was inspired by his trip report on another site---but that route does not appear in my version of the Pallister book. I guess I have the outdated version of the book? I seriously can't recommend Pallister's book enough; it's my favorite guide book and will give you all sorts of ideas for trips to do there.

Anyway, my point was, both the Cirque and Titcomb are great, but if you're driving all the way out there and hiking all the way in to one of those, you may as well see some of the other nearby basins while you're there because many of them are just as good in my opinion, and much less crowded. However, once you get off the "highway" paths to Titcomb or the Cirque, be warned that the trails can be primitive and hard to follow at times, and I would prepare for it as if it were off-trail. If you just stick to the very most popular trails/areas like Titcomb and the Cirque, then the trails are easy to follow but if that's your plan, I would personally head to somewhere like the Tetons instead. It takes a while to hike in to these destinations in the Winds, and in my opinion is only worth it if you have a long trip (at least 5 days) and plan on seeing multiple basins. Good luck!
 

Janice

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Janice---to clarify my last post, I'm not saying the Cirque or Titcomb were overrated or mob scenes or anything; both were awesome and worth visiting and uncrowded compared to many popular areas elsewhere. I just liked a number of the other nearby basins at least as much, and had them completely to myself. For example, on my last trip to the Winds, I had a 3.5 day stretch in which I saw exactly one group of three people, and I visited a handful of spots that I liked just as much as the Cirque from a scenery perspective. I think my route was the same one that hikeer recommends---I was inspired by his trip report on another site---but that route does not appear in my version of the Pallister book. I guess I have the outdated version of the book? I seriously can't recommend Pallister's book enough; it's my favorite guide book and will give you all sorts of ideas for trips to do there.

Anyway, my point was, both the Cirque and Titcomb are great, but if you're driving all the way out there and hiking all the way in to one of those, you may as well see some of the other nearby basins while you're there because many of them are just as good in my opinion, and much less crowded. However, once you get off the "highway" paths to Titcomb or the Cirque, be warned that the trails can be primitive and hard to follow at times, and I would prepare for it as if it were off-trail. If you just stick to the very most popular trails/areas like Titcomb and the Cirque, then the trails are easy to follow but if that's your plan, I would personally head to somewhere like the Tetons instead. It takes a while to hike in to these destinations in the Winds, and in my opinion is only worth it if you have a long trip (at least 5 days) and plan on seeing multiple basins. Good luck!
This all makes sense - thanks so much. We're planning 6 days 5 nights, and it will be great to get further into the backcountry. One member of our group has experience in the Winds and has shared Pallister's 2010 book with me. I'm excited to explore this great place!
 

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