Trip Report: Titcomb Basin Trail, Wyoming
Backpacking Less Crowded Routes in Bridger-Teton Nat'l Forest
Island Lake: Bridger-Teton National Forest, WY - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
Enjoy another edition of our Trip Report series! This backpacking adventure, tackled in early September 2021, is a great Mountain Western alternative to far more crowded experiences in neighboring Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Check out videos from this and other Pathloom Trip Reports on our Tiktok! If you've gone on an epic backpacking trip recently and want to tell our readers about it, we'd love to feature you on a guest blog! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Trip Type: Backpacking
Season: Early September 2021 (Late Summer) - Note: impassible conditions at least until late July due to snow. Check with a backcountry ranger before starting, and especially if attempting this hike before early August.
Location: Bridger Teton National Forest (Wind River Range), WY
Total Distance: 39 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,400 feet (net gain)
Duration: 3 days / 2 nights
Trail Type: Out-and-Back
Direction: South to North
Permit: Not required for individual / small groups. Permits are required for any formal organizations, those traveling with stock, and commercial uses. Permits for these groups can be acquired at the Pinedale Ranger District.
Approaching Titcomb Basin - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
The journey to Titcomb Basin is a moderate-to-difficult backpacking trip, with mostly moderate terrain. The perfect trip for those looking to beat the competitive permitting process of Grand Teton and Yellowstone just to the North, this epic adventure offers similar terrain with far less bureaucracy.
Since most of this hike is in high alpine terrain (>9,000 feet), you’ll want to be sure you get acclimated to the elevation before beginning your hike. Generally, 4-5 days of increasing activity (depending on your fitness level) should be enough to get you ready for the elevated terrain.
Additionally, the alpine terrain can make for unpredictable weather - so be sure to check in with a backcountry ranger before you begin for the latest forecast, and avoid any exposed areas if you see ominous clouds rolling in. With high-alpine terrain comes a short hiking season - due to snow, you likely won’t be able to safely attempt this hike outside of a short window between early August and mid-September. Finally, this terrain also brings cold nights and mornings - temperatures for both of our backcountry nights in early September fell below 30 degrees (F) - so be sure to bring warm clothes, including a hat and gloves!
There are tons of ways to tackle this hike, and the lack of permitting means your plans on where to sleep along the way can change based on your energy levels, weather, or proper campsite availability. The beauty of this area is it is truly an awe-inspiring backcountry playground with something for everyone. Many people alight into the backcountry here for days to hike, climb, fish, or just take in the solitude.
Meadow Just South of Hobbs Lake - Photo Credit: Nicole Quinn
Unlike Grand Teton or Yellowstone, permits are not required for individual or small group backcountry forays into Bridger-Teton National Forest. Permits are required for any formal organizations, those traveling with stock, and commercial uses. Permits for these groups can be acquired at the Pinedale Ranger District.
Permits for camping are also not required, but be sure to follow all Leave No Trace principles when selecting a site. Most importantly, do not camp within 200 feet of the trail or any bodies of water, and be sure to camp in a site where somebody has clearly been before so as to minimize your footprint upon the land.
Photographer's Point - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
Day 1: Elkhart Park Trailhead → Little Seneca Lake
Head North from Pinedale for 14 miles via the Skyline Drive to the Elkhart Park area and park your car at the trailhead. While you’re still at your vehicle, make sure you have all your backpacking essentials: food, water, shelter, ample layers of clothing, fire starting equipment, bear spray, bear-proof storage, and sun/insect protection.
The trail begins with a steady (but manageable) climb through the forest over the first 5+ miles, until you reach Photographer’s Point. This is a seemingly never-ending wall of rock - which reminded me a lot of Yosemite. Stop for a minute to take this incredible vantage point in - you’ll be heading into the core of the Wind River Range in the coming days and won’t have another ‘zoomed out’ view like this again.
After this initial peaceful walk in the woods, the real fun starts. This hike is unique in that you are rewarded with truly exceptional, breathtaking views for the entirety of your adventure.
Continue beyond Photographer’s Point and take a left (North) at the junction toward Seneca Lake. After the junction, you’ll start a significant downhill stretch, which will eventually be the only seriously taxing climb you’ll face on your way back out. Pass by Barbara Lake, your first of many pristine alpine lakes to come, as you head towards your next significant destination: Hobbs Lake.
Barbara Lake - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
After a significant descent covering approximately one mile, you’ll make a short ascent through a peaceful meadow to reach Hobbs Lake.
Hobbs Lake is the first spot where you’ll begin to see a significant number of people camping for the night. A pretty and peaceful destination located about 7 miles from the Trailhead, this ultimately is where we decided to set up shop on our way out. On day one, however, we motored beyond Hobbs towards our next alpine water body, the much larger Seneca Lake.
Continue beyond Hobbs Lake and once again dip back into a more heavily wooded section of trail. After a river crossing (the water level was low enough when we did our trip to step across a few rocks to reach the other bank), you’ll begin a significant uphill stretch immediately before you reach your next milestone location. While the lakes you’ve seen so far are surely pretty in their own right, you’ll be floored (and out of breath) when you reach Seneca Lake.
Seneca Lake - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
After you relax for a while at Seneca Lake, you’ll hike along almost its entire length before trudging through some quaint meadows on your way to Little Seneca Lake. After a short climb, Little Seneca soon comes into view. While there are not many legal camping options here, there are a few on the East side of the Lake (continue on your trail until you’re almost beyond the Lake to find these sites). We were able to secure a nicely sheltered site overlooking the Lake to serve as a pleasant home base for the next 24-hours.
Total Distance: 15.9 miles
Day 2: Little Seneca Lake → Hobbs Lake (with out-and-back day hike to Titcomb Basin)
Since this is an out-and-back hike, (and in order to minimize your time carrying a full overnight pack) this day’s itinerary involves day hiking from your night one campsite into the Titcomb Basin, before working your way back out the same way you came in. It was a relief to not have to pack up our entire camp in the freezing cold on the morning of day two. Instead, we had breakfast, emptied our overnight packs of all non-essential items into our tents and bear storage containers, and then set out for another day of surreal hiking.
You’ll start your day with a “cat ears” elevation profile (steep uphill, steep down hill, flat section, steep uphill, steep downhill), but each section is relatively short - and some of the best alpine views I’ve ever encountered await. After around 2 miles worth of this stretch, you’ll encounter what I believe to be the highlight of this hike: the spectacular Island Lake.
Island Lake - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
It doesn’t get much better than this. As serene and dramatic of a destination as I’ve seen, stop and enjoy Island Lake and the surrounding views of the core Wind River Peaks. We found ourselves relaxing by the water on one of the small sandy beaches that line the Lake, but you can’t go wrong anywhere in this area.
After soaking in all that Island Lake has to offer, you’ll start on another (brief) steep incline as you work your way towards Titcomb Basin. Next, you’ll pass a large unnamed lake where we saw several people fishing and walk along a briskly flowing river that suggests the basin is near. One more slight uphill reveals what you think to be your final destination, but continue walking as the terrain clearly shifts and make a final ascent to reach the real Basin.
When you enter The Basin, stop to identify some of Wyoming’s most miraculous peaks while you have your lunch. Featuring Gannett Peak - Wyoming’s tallest mountain at 13,804 feet which hosts the largest glacier in the Rocky Mountains - and Fremont Peak, another 13,500+ peak which is a popular destination for climbers - you’ll feel tiny resting in the shadow of these dramatic summits.
Arriving in Titcomb Basin - Photo Credit: Nicole Quinn
After spending ample time soaking in Titcomb Basin, work your way back to your camp at Little Seneca to pack up your belongings, before beginning your most strenuous stretch of hiking of the entire trip.
Going from a day pack back to your backpacking weight after already putting nearly 10 miles on your legs for the day won’t be much fun - so you can expect slow going from Little Seneca to your second night’s camp back at Hobbs Lake.
Total Distance: 16.7 miles
Hobbs Lake - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
Day 3: Hobbs Lake → Elkhart Park Trailhead
Our rationale for pushing to make it to Hobbs Lake (rather than stopping at Seneca Lake or somewhere else along the way) is we wanted to have a relaxed third day of hiking. From Hobbs, you’ll start your day with a major ascent for about a mile before an additional mile with an uphill bias to return to Photographer’s Point, but it is all smooth sailing after that, as the final 5 or so miles are all downhill back to the trailhead.
After completing your hike, I recommend driving about an hour and a half north to Jackson, WY for the all-important post-hike meal. While you can find a few good bites to eat in Pinedale, you’ll be hard-pressed to beat some of my favorite spots (and the overall Western experience) in Jackson. Check out The Snake River Brewery, Merry Piglets, Glorietta Trattoria, or Hatch for a post-backcountry splurge - you won’t regret it!
Total Distance: 6.9 miles
Approaching Island Lake - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
Backpack & Storage:
Backpack: Osprey Aether 55L Pack
Backpack Rain Cover: Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Fanny Pack: Trailmix Plus Insulated Hydration Belt
Dry/Stuff Sacks: Osprey Ultralight Dry Sack
Bear Canister (Required) - Backpacker’s Cache Bear-Resistant Container
Gaiters: Black Diamond Talus Gaiter
Mask: Face Mask with Vent
Tent with Rainfly: NEMO Ultralight 2-Person Backpacking Tent (Shared)
Tent Footprint: NEMO Dragonfly Footprint
Sleeping Bag: Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag (No Longer Made)
Sleeping Pad: NEMO Tensor Alpine Mummy Insulated Sleeping Pad
Fuel: MSR Fuel (Isopropane)
Cookpot: Stanley 24oz Kettle
Lighter: BIC Lighter
Cup: Sea to Summit X Cup
Breakfast: Quaker Instant Oatmeal, and Green Tea
Snacks: Clif Bars, Honey Stinger Waffles, Fritos
Electrolyte/Energy Refreshment: Honey Organic Stinger Energy Chews
PBJ+F(T) (Trademarked delicacy 😉 don’t knock til’ you try it!): Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Fritos in a Tortilla
Dinner: Ramen, Freeze Dried Vegan Pesto Mushroom Farfelle (amazing!)
Purification/Taste Neutralization Tablets: Potable Aqua Iodine and Potable Aqua Plus
Rain Pants: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
Rain Jacket: Patagonia Calcite Jacket
Jacket: Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
Gloves: The North Face Etip Recycled Glove
Hat: Filson Watch Cap
Tools, Electronics and Miscellaneous:
Headlamp: Vont LED Headlamp
Phone: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
Power Bank: Solar Power Bank
Watch: Garmin Instinct GPS Watch
View from camp site at Little Seneca Lake - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
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