Star Wheel over Baptiste Lake on Wind River Reservation

Adventure Beckons on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming

Molly Absolon
7/11/11

The Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming covers 2.2 million acres of land and is home to 2,500 Eastern Shoshone and more than 5,000 Northern Arapaho Indians. The reservation is owned and governed jointly, with the majority of the Shoshone living in the western half, near Fort Washakie, and the majority of the Arapahos living around Ethete and Arapahoe.

The Wind River Roadless Area, a preserve of untamed terrain overseen by the tribes, is one of the premier hiking destinations on the planet, offering peerless landscapes without the gaggle of people that you typically find on trails in places like Yosemite or Yellowstone. The Roadless Area includes 180,387 acres of alpine lakes, sawtooth peaks, remnant glaciers, mountain streams and forested foothills. The reservation in total has more than 1,000 miles of rivers and creeks cutting across its landscape, as well as 265 lakes. The western boundary of the Roadless Area is the Continental Divide, helping to create a remote, rugged area perfect for serious hikers.

The Wind River Roadless Area was established in 1938, 26 years before the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, making it the first national roadless conservation area in the United States.

The man with the plan was Bob Marshall, the chief forester for the Indian Tribal Office. His superiors, Indian Affairs Commissioner John Collier and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, were amenable to the idea of protecting large swaths of land from development, so Marshall proposed a network of roadless areas on tribal lands in the American West. These roadless areas were often created without tribal consultation and were viewed as a hostile transgression on tribal sovereignty. In the 1960s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs granted all tribal requests for declassifying reservations’ roadless areas established under Marshall. The exception to this was the Wind River Roadless Area. Here, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal authorities supported their Roadless Area and saw it as a way to protect the reservation’s water and wildlife resources. As a result, the White Reservation Roadless Area remained and is the oldest national roadless conservation area in the nation.

The Wind River area is accessible by several primary roads, including Cold Springs and Moccasin Lake. Four-wheel drive access can also be made through Washakie Basin, and Bull Lake Road provides access to great lower-elevation fishing.

The trail system in the Wind River Roadless Area was established more than 60 years ago and has received little routine maintenance in the ensuing decades. As a result, trails do not always follow the exact routes marked on maps and may be difficult to detect at times. Hikers should plan well in advance and carry proper provisions, as well as alert others to the route you are planning.

Recommended Routes

Raft Lake Trail

Raft Lake, which is known for its fishing, is easily accessible in one day’s travel and is a good destination for many backcountry visitors. From here, you can do a series of day hikes to surrounding lakes or just stay put and fish at Raft. The Raft Lake trail takes off west of the St. Lawrence Ranger Station, follows the South Fork of St. Lawrence Creek to the Meadows, heads over a small saddle south of Entigo Peak and then heads south along Entigo Creek to Raft Lake. (Note: The trail along Entigo Creek does not show up on the Paradise Basin map, but can be seen on the Roberts Mountain map. A little creativity on the part of route finders will enable you to discern the route on the ground.

For more-ambitious hikers, Moraine and Solitude Lakes near the base of Petroleum Peak are 16 miles in from the St. Lawrence ranger station. These alpine lakes also boast good fishing and awesome scenery. An alternative destination is the glacial cirque beneath the sheer escarpment of Roberts Mountain. Again this area contains lots of lakes, great fishing and beautiful scenery. Roberts Mountain can be ascended by technical rock climbs of varying difficulty. Route descriptions for these climbs can be found in Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains by Joe Kelsey. The trails beyond Raft Lake toward Petroleum and Roberts become a bit harder to follow, so travelers should allow extra time to reach their destinations. The positive side of the difficult travel is that not many people are up to the challenge, allowing those who are to have the place to themselves.

Washakie Trail

(Useful maps: USGS Quads Moccasin Lake, Lizard Head Peak, Mount Bonneville and Washakie Park.)

Historically the Washakie Trail was an important Indian trade route over the Wind River Mountains. Now the name technically only refers to the section of the trail crossing the divide near Mount Washakie. To re-create the route, take off from the Moccasin Lake Trailhead on the Gaylord Lake Trail. The trail divides near Moss Lake, with one path heading northwest to Valentine Lake, the other southwest to the South Fork of the Little Wind River. Follow this branch (Moss Lake Trail). The trail crosses the South Fork and heads up to Washakie Pass.

Overnight visitors may only want to hike as far as Gaylord Lake and its surrounding environs. A great multiday trip can be made by continuing along the Moss Lake Trail to the Washakie Trail, traversing Washakie Pass to the junction with the Pyramid Lake Trail, heading north on the Pyramid Lake Trail then east over Hailey Pass to Grave Lake, and pick up the Onion Meadows trail, which rejoins the Gaylord Lake Trail near Moss Lake, where you’ll retrace your steps out to the Moccasin Lake trailhead.

Camping by the Twin Lakes on Wind River Reservation

The general public, which is defined as anyone who is not an enrolled member of the Shoshone or Arapaho tribes, must have a permit to fish, camp, hike, boat and picnic in open or designated areas of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Permits are sold at the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game Office in Fort Washakie, Wyoming. The office is open Monday through Friday from eight a.m. until four p.m. Permits are also available at a host of Wyoming retail stores. Only outfitters licensed by the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes are authorized to operate within the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation. These outfitters provide a variety of services including transportation to and from trailheads, guides, and stock support. Currently (as of 2011) the following outfitters are licensed to operate on the Wind River Indian Reservation:

• Bull Lake Creek and Wilson Creek Lakes: Darwin Griebel, Star Rte, 2815, Kinnear, WY, 82512, 307.856.2950

• Moccasin Lake and Mosquito Park Lakes: Leo Lajeunesse, P.O. Box 634, Crowheart, WY 82512, 307.486.2220.

• Cold Springs and Dry Creek: Ramona O’Neal, P.O. Box 601, Crowheart, WY 82512, 307.486.2318

Fees

Recreation Stamp: $5 (required for all permits)

Wyoming resident fees:

• Annual Permit–$80

• One-day Permit–$20

• Seven-day Permit–$50

• Senior Citizen (60 and over) Annual Permit–$35

• Youth (15-17 years old) Annual Permit–$25

• Handicap Permit–$20

Non-Resident Fees:

• Annual Permit–$120

• One-day Permit–$25

• Seven-day Permit–$75

• Senior Citizen (60 and over) Annual Permit–$60

• Youth (15-17 years old) Annual Permit–$25

• Handicap Permit–$20

For additional information about permits, write Fish and Game Office, P.O. Box 217, Fort Washakie, Wyoming 82514, call 307-332-7207 or e-mail fishandgame@wyoming.com

Note: Groups of 10 or more interested in visiting the Wind River Roadless Area for the purpose of education of Wind River Indian Reservation resources may be able to secure special-use permits through the Joint Business Council. For additional information, contact the Fish and Game Office. For a list of outfitters licensed by the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes, see our website.

Notable Mentions

Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska - Once inhabited by one of the easternmost groups of Pacific Natives, the Kenai Peninsula is now home to one of the most spectacular hikes in the world.  We suggest a long day hike in the Exit Glacier area of Kenai Fjords National Park to an overlook of the Harding Icefield.  For more information, click here.

Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail, Bar Harbor, Maine - Following old American Indian footpaths, this aggressive hike loops up the 1,532-foot Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic Coast. For more information, click here.

Cave Spring Hike, Canyonlands, Utah - This is great for a leisurely, easy hike and has amazing prehistoric American Indian art rock to view.  For more information, click here.

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