Island Lake on a fall afternoon

Fall Backpacking in the Wyoming Wind River Range

Life is better above 10,000 feet – the air is cleaner, the views are breathtaking, and the hiking is harder.

This would be the second annual summer backpacking trip with my old college crew, and we chose the Wind River Range in Wyoming for its remoteness and spectacular scenery. While our adventure had to wait until early fall, we made the best of a perfect weather window as autumn colors began turning in the high alpine.

We left Boise on Wednesday evening, and after a dark, dull drive through southern Idaho and western Wyoming, we made it to the Elkhart Trailhead at 9,300 feet. We slept in Thursday morning, as a 6,000+ foot gain from the drive called for plenty of rest, especially as we would be hiking another 1,000′ feet up the following day.

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Barbara Lake
Passing Barbara Lake on the way to Seneca Lake.
Hiking to Seneca Lake
Looking towards Jackson Peak (far right) and Fremont Peak (right).
Navigating to Photographer's Point along the way to Seneca Lake.
Navigating to Photographer’s Point along the way to Seneca Lake.
Wind River Meadow
On our way through a dry, fall meadow.
Evening light on the trail near Seneca Lake
Evening light on the trail near Seneca Lake in the Wind River Range.

With beautiful evening light filtering through the small, high-elevation trees above 10,000,’ we made it to Seneca Lake just in time for the last rays of sunlight to illuminate Fremont Peak.

At 13,745′ Fremont Peak is the third highest peak in Wyoming after Gannet Peak and the Grand Teton.

In late September one can expect any range of weather at this elevation. We lucked out, and our third day afforded us stunning sunlight with beautiful clouds rolling across the sky.

Day Two’s itinerary included hiking to “The Most Beautiful Place in the Rocky Mountains,” otherwise known as the Titcomb Basin. This hike would encompass a total of 12.5 miles from Seneca Lake roundtrip and pass the many other lakes on the way, including the famous Island Lake.

After a large breakfast, we filled our hydration bladders, packed our lunch of summer sausage, cheese, and gouda, and were on our way.

Seneca Lake Morning
A sunny morning over Seneca Lake.
Shore of Seneca Lake
We traversed a steep, rocky ledge to take on water.
Clouds over Fremont Peak from Seneca Lake.
Clouds over Fremont Peak from Seneca Lake.

On the Way to Titcomb

On our second day, we made a day hike to the Titcomb Basin while keeping our base camp at Seneca due to time constraints.

Hiking to Island Lake
Climbing up one of the many ridges to Island Lake.
Alpine islands.
Alpine islands.
Jackson Peak in Wyoming
Jackson Peak (right) and Fremont Peak (middle) on a beautiful fall day.
Photographing the view on the way to Island Lake.
Photographing the view on the way to Island Lake – how can you resist?
Island Lake on a fall afternoon
Island Lake on a fall afternoon in the Wind River Range.

The Titcomb Basin – our main goal of the trip – was absolutely stunning and unlike anywhere I’ve ever hiked. Surrounded by incredible peaks, glaciers, and lakes, this was an explorer’s paradise that I could have spent an entire summer photographing. Alas, a day hike would have to suffice.

The Wind River Range's Titcomb Basin
The Wind River Range Titcomb Basin on a fall afternoon.
The Most Beautiful Place in the Rocky Mountains.
The Most Beautiful Place in the Rocky Mountains.
Plants tell a story of a tough life in this basin.
Hiking out of the Titcomb Basin
Hiking out of the Titcomb Basin.
Island Lake on a beautiful fall afternoon
Island Lake on a beautiful fall afternoon.
Fall colors in Wyoming's Wind River Range
Fall colors were in full swing in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
Fall backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. (Robby Milo | https://rmilo.com)
Seneca Lake on a beautiful fall afternoon.
Seneca Lake on a beautiful fall afternoon.

Our final night arrived quickly, and was spent listening to howling winds whip across Seneca Lake. Our luck on the weather window had run out, and we ended our trip hiking through a downpour which turned the trail into a creek of horse poop.

Group photo.
Group photo.
Wind River Range Rain
It rained pretty hard the last day.
Muddy trails leaving the Wind River Range.
Muddy trails leaving the Wind River Range.