There are few places in the world where in a single day you can travel from the desert to the cool reprieve of the mountains in just a few hours. Wind River Country offers these extremes, and with them a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities. You can hike through the labyrinthine maze of the Dubois Badlands before lunch and afterwards be above 9,000 feet on Union Pass riding your mountain bike through fields of flowers. You can watch wild horses racing through the sagebrush on the Red Desert in the morning and then drive to Wild Iris to climb in the shade and cool of aspen and pine forests.
All of these places are public land, and, therefore, freely accessible. You can hike, bike, climb, ride, ski or drive through thousands of acres at no cost and with very few people to crowd your experience. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, these lands are variable, beautiful and within easy reach of your car. The Wind River Indian Reservation also boasts of beautiful wilderness, alpine lakes and world-class fishing within its boundaries, however, to access these lands, visitors need a reservation permit.
The high peaks and forested foothills of Wind River Country are part of the Shoshone National Forest. Originally set aside as the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve in 1891, the Shoshone is the nation’s first national forest and includes part of both the Wind River and the Absaroka Mountain Ranges. The forest consists of 2.4 million acres and includes deeply incised canyons, steep limestone crags, rugged granite peaks over 13,000 feet, hundreds of alpine lakes, tumbling trout streams, and miles of hiking and riding trails to take you away from your car and into the wilderness in a matter of minutes, hours or even days.
One of the forests’ most famous destinations is the Cirque of the Towers, which lies on the border between the Shoshone and the Bridger-Teton National Forests. The Cirque is an easy day’s hike from Big Sandy Opening on the southern end of the Wind Rivers and attracts climbers from around the world to scale its clean granite walls and jagged towers. Even if you don’t climb, the Cirque is a beautiful destination with great fishing and spectacular scenery.Closer to the road, climbers flock to Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris in Wind River Country to test their skills on world-class limestone cliffs. But climbing is only one of the many activities popular on the national forest. Four-wheeling, snow machining, mountain biking, hiking, camping, horseback riding, and scenic driving and picnicking are just a few of the many other recreational activities enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. As you move down in elevation, the land ownership changes from the U.S. Forest Service to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM lands used to be considered the leftovers: too dry for farming with few trees for timbering. Today, however, many people have grown to love the austere desert landscape found on Wind River Country’s BLM lands. The Red Desert is one of the area’s popular destinations. Known for its herds of wild horses and desert elk, the Red Desert features unique landforms and outstanding opportunities for everything from rock hounding and birdwatching, to four-wheeling and hiking.