Day Hiking the Cirque of the Towers

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Day Hiking the Cirque of the Towers

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When we came to The Wind River Range, we had one thing on our minds, how could we hike the Cirque of the Towers? This iconic loop is typically done as an overnight backpacking trip. We had one major problem, in prioritizing what to take in the van, backpacking gear did not make the cut. We knew trail runners have done the loop as a day hike but we are not quite on that level. Cue our discovery on AllTrails that it is 18 miles to the overlook of the Cirque of the Towers. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to do the 30 mile loop around the towers, but 18 miles in one day might be doable. We decided to go for it!

Hikers at Cirque of Towers
Cirque of Towers in the background

Where We Stayed in The Wind River Range

The night before The Cirque, we drove our van Casper to The Big Sandy Trailhead. There are no signs posted forbidding overnight camping and many people leave their cars at the trailhead when doing overnight trips. We decided to camp there for the night so we could start on the trail first thing in the morning. We had a big delicious van cooked meal of fajitas and prepared all our gear. We put Leukotape on all of our potential hotspots to save any problems the next day. Our heads hit the pillows just before sundown.

Arrowhead Lake in the Wind River Range, Wyoming
Arrowhead Lake from above

The Trail to Big Sandy

The jingle of our phones went off at 4:30 AM, it wasn’t a dreadful alarm though, we were too excited. We heated up some water and made a big bowl of oatmeal, hoping it would stick to our ribs on the trail. We packed up all our things and stepped foot on trail to start our day hike of The Cirque of the Towers at 5:10 AM. Guided by the light of our headlamps, we hiked in the dark for the first hour. The first 5.5 miles of the trail to Big Sandy Lake is relatively flat and easy. There are a few river crossings but in July, the snowmelt was not deep enough to even get our shoes wet. We have heard that in early summer these rivers can get up to shin deep. We burned through the first stretch to Big Sandy in under 2 hours. The lake was dead calm and we were able to see the reflection of the mountains on the water. We took a short break to camel up on some water and devour a caffeinated Clif Bar (we had skipped coffee to save time in the morning, luckily adrenaline was a solid replacement). With a little rejuvenation and a caffeine buzz going, we set out to tackle the final but hardest 3 miles, the ascent.

Big Sandy Lake in Wind River Range
Big Sandy Lake

The Switchbacks and the Boulders

Immediately after Big Sandy there is a steep section of switchbacks, it was a rude awakening of what was to come. The trail evens out for a bit as you hike on a dirt path. It is a short reprieve as you head into a boulder field along Long Lake. There are cairns here to help you keep the trail. Past the boulder field there are more switchbacks. You will come to a fork in the trail, if you stay to the right, you will hike to the east side of Lonesome Lake. We stayed to the left which is known as The Climbers Route to Arrowhead Lake. This is a more direct route if you are just trying to get to The Cirque of Towers Overlook. On the west side of Arrowhead Lake is another boulder field to scramble through, again, follow the cairns and you won’t get lost. At the north side of the lake is the final push uphill, it is a brutal one. Coming up the top, you are rewarded with your first peak of Warrior Peak and War Bonnet, continuing along the trail you will come into the valley below The Cirque of Towers. It is a sight to behold. We looked down at our Gaia track and saw we had made it there in just 3.5 hours. With this realization, we relaxed and decided to soak up our time at the overlook. We sat there awestruck, gazing at all of the peaks and choosing our favorite ones. We spent about an hour filling our bellies and capturing pictures of the sights.

Hiking through boulders in the Wind River Range
Looking back on the boulder field

The Journey Back

After fully enjoying our destination, it was time to head back to the van. We set off, happy to be headed in a mostly downhill direction. The boulders were tricky headed downhill but we took our time and made it through without event. Headed back, the sections that were a downhill reprieve on the way to the Cirque, were now a nemesis. I was beginning to hate anything uphill. The sections were short lived however, and we were actually feeling surprisingly good (potentially from the Motrin and Rehydration Salts we had before starting our return journey). We made it down to Big Sandy 30 minutes faster than we had made the journey out. From here it was just 5.5 miles of steady gradual downhill. We alternated hiking and jogging and before we knew it, we could see cars at the trailhead. We embraced and high fived at the parking lot, so proud of what we had accomplished. Surprisingly, our Gaia track told us that the hike was only 16.4 miles, we had finished in just under 8 hours! We jumped in the van and headed to The Big Sandy Lodge for the burger and beer we had been dreaming of the entire return journey. We’re not sure if it was the 16.4 miles of hiking talking, but that burger and beer was about the best thing we’ve ever tasted.

Hikers at the Cirque of Towers
Admiring the view at The Cirque of Towers
Hiker with War Bonnett in Wind River Range Wyoming
Ashley with War Bonnett

If you’re wondering if a day hike of the Cirque of Towers is possible for you, be honest with yourself about your hiking experience. The hike to Big Sandy is fairly easy however the hike past there is fairly treacherous. Boulder scramble experience is necessary. If you take your time and start out early, it is definitely doable. Be sure to pack plenty of food and plenty of water! If you liked this post, leave us a comment below and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a post!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Becky J

    I love reading about your travel adventures! For a hike like this I presume Joanie hangs out in the van for the day?

    1. Thanks so much! She does. We always check the forecast and make sure it won’t be getting above 70, cycle the fans, park in the shade, start super early and hike fast. Our insulation is way overboard so climate control is pretty good in the van. She honestly welcomes the rest away from us and is always asleep when we get back 🤣

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