For our second trip to the Wind River Range, we did a four-day, three-night backpacking loop through the Middle Fork Valley. This took us to Middle Fork Lake, Bewmark Lake, Lee Lake, Lake Donna, and Pronghorn Peak. This route offered stunning landscapes and solitude.
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On our 2020 trip to the Wind River Range, we visited the two best known destinations in the basin: Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers. For this trip, we strove to explore somewhere less well known. After considering several promising routes, we decided to explore the Middle Fork Valley.
From the Tetons, we drove to Pinedale, where we again stayed at the Hampton Inn (Booking.com | Hotels.com). The last part of our Tetons Crest Trail trip had been rainy, so we set about drying and cleaning our gear. For dinner, we went to The Burger Barn for tasty burgers and milkshakes. We turned in early, so we could get up early, eat breakfast, and be on our way.
Day 1 – Scab Creek Trailhead to Middle Fork Lake
Our route started from the Scab Creek Trailhead (8200′). This was an easy drive from Pinedale. From the trailhead, the trail climbs briefly and then settles into an undulating course.
The Scab Creek Trail took us past several small lakes–mostly forested and without views. The route passed above the Toboggan Lakes, on a surprisingly non-linear route for what looked like straightforward terrain. I suppose it was just constantly turning to avoid several small rocky domes? We saw some grouse and nice lily pads. At Little Divide Lake and Divide Lake, we reached a junction with the Low Line Trail. There, we saw some interesting irrigation works and a horse train.
We continued on the Scab Creek Trail, passing the Lightning Lakes. Eventually, we started to get glimpses of peaks–especially Mount Bonneville–over the trees. Before long, we broke out of the forest on a lovely altiplano that paralleled Boulder Creek and then Dream Creek to approach Dream Lake.
Dream Lake, at 9.5 miles, was the first lake I would characterize as “beautiful” on this route. Views all along the Wind River Range across the water tempted us to camp here. With beautiful weather, though, and much of the day still ahead of us, we decide to continue on.
Another 1.5 miles brought us to Sandpoint Lake. Somehow I had gotten it in my head that this was a lovely lake with great views that would make a good camp. There were campsites, the lake was in a depression that obscured views. Even worse, the depression sheltered it from the wind, so the bugs were numerous and tenacious. We decided to keep going.
Shortly after Sandpoint, we reached the junction with with the Middle Fork Trail and turned right, up the Middle Fork Valley. We saw several potential campsites along the middle fork of Boulder Creek or at Lake 10,100′. With Middle Fork Lake so close, though, we continued.
At the south end of Middle Fork Lake, we turned off the trail, ascended slightly, and found a level, sheltered campsite with excellent views of the lake. While we had seen no other backpackers since Dream Lake, we could spot another camp about a quarter mile away.
While watching ospreys and bald eagles hunt, we enjoyed our own relaxing dinner. We also saw deer across the lake. Tired and content after our 15.5 mile, 3071′, first day, we went to bed soon after sunset.
Day 2 – Middle Fork Lake to Bewmark Lake
In contrast to our first day, our second day would be short. After breakfast, we packed up and moved camp just 1.75 miles and 560′ up to Bewmark Lake. We found a spot sheltered by boulders that also offered a commanding view of the entire Middle Fork Valley. From camp, we could see Middle Fork Lake, Lee Lake, Dragon Head Peak, Pronghorn Peak, and Nylon Peak, and Mount Bonneville in one direction. Behind us, Odyssey Peak and Kagevah Peak rose over Bewmark Lake.
Kagevah Pass and Lake (3.4mi, 1265′)
After a rest to take in the views, we set out for the first of two passes we planned to visit from camp. Passing south east, below Bewmark’s outlet, and then climbing, we reached the very windy Kagevah Pass. The pass offered outstanding views.
Below the pass, we also saw an enticing route that led to overlooks of Lake Kagevah and and eventually down to the lake, and decided to follow it.
Our route took us to the north end of Lake Kagevah and a nearby a high point that offered views of Sonnicant Lake. With more time, that would have also made an excellent destination. Instead, we turned around and retraced our steps, as we had one more pass to explore that day. We stopped off in camp to refill water.
Photo Pass (3.5mi, 878′)
To reach Photo Pass, we walked along the southwest shore of Bewmark Lake, past another unnamed lake, and climbed up the obvious pass. At Photo Pass, we took in views to the south–Bewmark Lake, Odyssey Peak, Kagevah Peak, and the entire Middle Fork Valley–as well as to the peaks and valleys of the north. So many more lakes and peaks to visit in time. On the way back to camp, we detoured to visit the unnamed lake.
Dinner overlooking the Middle Fork Valley
After returning to camp, we gathered up our dinner supplies and found a spot overlooking the whole Middle Fork Valley. I loved watching the shadow of Pronghorn Peak reach across the valley, projecting its silhouette onto Nylon Peak and Mount Bonneville.
Day 3 – Bewmark Lake to Rainbow Lake
After breakfast–again looking at the stunning expanse of the Middle Fork Valley and surrounding peaks–we packed up camp and descended to Middle Fork Lake. We followed a booth path around the north and east sides of the lake. Leaving Middle Fork Lake, we ascended next to the outlet from Lee Lake among a collage of beautiful wildflowers and water.
A boot path–or set of intersecting boot paths–followed the eastern shore of Lee Lake. As we moved further up the valley, we gained new perspectives of the peaks.
South of Lee Lake, the way became steeper as we climbed over a boulder field to reach Lake Donna. When we crested the boulder field for our first views of Lake Donna (11,076′), I exclaimed at the beautiful blue water and stark silhouette of Pronghorn Peak above. It took me several seconds to notice that I had emerged immediately adjacent to another pair’s rocky campsite. I finally looked over and said a sheepish “good morning.” They nodded knowingly at my appreciation of the landscape.
We spent at least an hour at Lake Donna, soaking in the view. On our departure, we wandered further up a rocky moraine to an even better vantage point of the valley. The route up and over into Bonneville basin also tempted us, but we decided to conserve our energy and head back the way we came.
We rejoined the boot path at Lee Lake and followed it to the lake’s outlet. There, we turned northwest, crossing the outlet and traversing to the unnamed pass that led to Rainbow Lake. This was a gentle ascent, but we took our time to keep looking back at the views.
At the pass, we passed two tarns before descending to the eastern shore of Rainbow Lake (10,369′). After seven days of backpacking, one of Kyle’s feet was giving him trouble, so we started looking for campsites. Several we passed boasted excellent views, but at the cost of dusty tent sites that promised to coat us and our gear in dust on this breezy day.
We found a better site at the southern end of Rainbow Lake. The tent spots were on solid, not-to-dusty ground. Trees sheltered them and provided spots to hang packs. The lake’s outlet was nearby for views, cleaning up and filtering water. We settled in for a relaxing afternoon of reading by the lake, enjoying that the breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay.
We ate dinner with a view of the lake. After dinner, we were treated a colorful sunset. The mountains first glowed gold, and then the sky glowed pink, orange, red and violet and reflected in the waters of the lake. It was a perfect last evening for our trip.
Day 4 – Rainbow Lake to Scab Creek Trailhead
For our last day, we had a straightforward walk back to Dream Lake (about 3.3 miles), where we would rejoin our route in. We took our time to enjoy the morning light on Rainbow Lake before breaking camp.
On reaching Dream Lake, we took a couple of long breaks to enjoy the views back to the mountains. From Dream Lake, we made good time to the car.
Once there, we rinsed off with leftover water. Once cleaned up and changed, we set out for Idaho Falls. From our previous trip, we found Idaho Falls to be a good driving distance for our last day. If we got off the trail early, we could have a leisurely afternoon and dinner. On the other hand, if we had a slow last day, we could get in after dinner, get a good night’s sleep, and still have an easy drive back to Seattle the next day.
On this trip, we made good time, so we had lots of time. We ate dinner at Copper Rill. There, we enjoyed outdoor seating with a view of the falls, good food, and refreshing beers. It was also an easy walk from our hotel (Hilton Garden Inn Idaho Falls, Booking.com | Hotels.com). After the morning’s miles and afternoon’s car ride, the walk to and from dinner, with a detour to the falls, was just the right leg stretch. The next day, we drove home to Seattle, ending our trip.
Blog posts from Lucas Necessary and 50 Years of Walking inspired us and helped us to plan this trip, along with the excellent trail overviews on Hiking & Walking. We used the Beartooth Publishing Wind River Range map for planning and on the trail.
If you visit this area and its fragile landscape, please practice leave no trace principles, including camping on durable surfaces at least 200′ from water’s edge.