Lizard Head Loop: Big Sandy to Cirque of the Towers

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My mother spent her formidable years in Wyoming, between Riverton and Dubois. If you’ve ever been to that part of the state you know how utterly gorgeous it is- rivers and buttes and peaks and grizzlies. Mom’s parents had a cabin built on the east side of the Wind River Range, with a picture window looking up to the mountains. They sold it after only two years when my Grandpa decided he couldn’t handle another winter stuck in the house with my Grandma and five of their eight kids, so they moved from Wyoming to Missouri. Why, Grandpa Dan, wwwwhhhhhyyyyyy wouldn’t you just have sent those six brats to MO and kept the cabin? While I’d driven past the Winds plenty of times and on all sides, long had I yearned to get all up in them mountains. Lucky for me, they’re home to Wyoming’s highest mountain, Gannett Peak at 13,809 ft.

Greg and I got all geared up to climb her last summer after the Teton Crest Trail, but after calling multiple climbing guides and gear stores, and ranger stations on both sides of the range, we decided melting glacier travel wasn’t in the cards for our first snow/ice climb. We decided instead to make our trip into the Winds a leisurely loop hike out out of Pinedale, Wyo, starting from the Big Sandy trailhead. Join us as we hike 50 miles through some of the prettiest country in the country.


Day 1: Big Sandy Trailhead to Big Sandy Lake, 6.22 miles

The road to the trailhead is not an easy one- miles and miles and miles of pot-holed, wash-boarded dirt. It didn’t require a 4wd or anything- the van handled it just fine; it was just so damn long. We drove in from Jackson that morning so we wanted to sleep a night before hiking in. Once the road hits National Forest there are plenty of spots to pull over and camp.

Why, this is a fine free site, with plenty of firewood.

We planned to be hiking by 08:00 but thanks to a gentle rain we didn’t wake up until 07:45. We drove straight to the trailhead to start breakfast and throw our packs together, and the place was already packed. Get there early if you don’t want to add an extra mile or two to your hike. We accidentally didn’t start hiking until 11:45- oops. We shared the trail with plenty of others, especially climbers. We packed enough for 10 days, and my pack was killing me about three flat miles in. It was a hot and sunny day until we made it to camp, then the storm clouds started rolling in as we were looking for a place to pitch the tent.


Day 2: Big Sandy Lake to Lonesome Lake Outlet, 5.31 miles

I didn’t sleep much that first night, as I heard some rustling around outside the tent and I tossed and turned, tossed and turned, imagining my life was about to end by way of a grizzly’s canines. Obviously I survived. It was raining again when the alarm went off so we just kept on snoozing. With a shared sleeping bag it is very easy to justify staying in bed a while longer if things aren’t ideal outside the tent. I made bacon and eggs for breakfast and managed to spill the pan a bit. Uh oh, things were lining up for Lady Campfire to rear her lack-of-sleeped, spilled eggs head.

There was a family group camped right next to us who didn’t seem to have the first clue about being in the backcountry. When we were scouting tent sites we went through theirs and their four tents were at half-mast and there were dishes on the ground. That’s the trouble with backpacking in Wilderness areas- there aren’t always rangers to keep the peace and cleanliness. After breakfast I watched our other neighbors walk past the dirty neighbors’ site and the dirty neighbors sent their young son out to ask if they could borrow fuel from them, as they were almost out. The clean neighbor was a real straight shooter and yelled past the kid “Nice of you to send a kid out to do your dirty work.” The dirty parents replied with something like, “Hey, whatever works!” and the nice neighbor gave the dirty neighbors a can of fuel and he proceeded to hike out. The dirty neighbors, mind you, did not hike out, even though they were so low on fuel they were borrowing from other hikers. They proceeded to finish up breakfast and go traipsing off on a day hike, I’m sure with a keen plan to borrow more fuel for dinner. Oh no, not from these Warckens. You run out of fuel for six people, you hike out, plain and simple. When we hiked past their site on our way out it was even more disheveled and dirty than the day before, more dishes and now fuel strewn about. They were far ahead of us or else I would have sassed them about putting us all in  bear danger.

The rainy morning turned into a downright swell day, and terrifically hot by the end. We headed out for Jackass Pass and as we started up the switchbacks I found a nearly full jar of peanut butter just sitting next to the trail. WTF?! WE DON’T FEED WILDLIFE, PEOPLE!!! Not even ducks at a public park, or pigeons, gulls, or squirrels, and certainly never under any circumstances ever ever ever, a predator. They’re wild animals, and when they start to associate food with people, they become aggressive when people don’t give it to them. DON’T DO IT. Side note: Greg and I feed the hell out of songbirds, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers. I picked it up of course and stopped the next group of hikers we saw and asked if they were hiking out and if they would mind taking the pb with them. They were, and they didn’t.

The trail to Jackass Pass is a burly one.
North Lake and Warbonnet Peak

The trail over Jackass was real tough on old Lady Campfire. It was rocky and steep at times, and of course all uphill. I took to counting off 100 steps the whole way up. 100 steps. Stop and rest. 100 steps. Stop and rest. It was windy as hell at the top and we didn’t waste any time there, but the trail down the other side of Jackass was as pretty as we ever saw.

The plan was to hike past the lake and continue to Lizard Head Meadows, but Lady Campfire decided Lonesome Lake and the Cirque were too pretty to just hike on past, so after a short discussion (I sat on a log and cried and refused to go any further) we found a nice site along the North Popo River. We spent the rest of the day in camp, lazing about in the sunshine and eating, and Greg chopped a bunch of wood and started us a raging fire. A gorgeous clear night, and cold.

Someone had built a nice tall wind block for the fire. We quickly found out why.
The Wind River and Range are aptly named.

p.s. I’m only Lady Campfire when I’m having a hard day, otherwise I’m Highpoint Heidi. Stay tuned for more!

See our other Lizard Head posts:

Cirque of the Towers to Valentine Lake

Valentine Lake to Big Sandy Trailhead


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