Backpack: Big Sandy to Elkhart Park via Fremont and Highline Trails
Side Trip: Island Lake Waterfall Hike

Distance: 2.7 miles (loop)

Bridger Wilderness, Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Big Sandy in Wyoming's Wind River Range

Titcomb Basin view

Titcomb Basin view


  • Distance: 2.7 miles
  • Elevation: 10,410-ft. at Island Lake
    10,560-ft. at Top of the Knoll
    10,467-ft. at Lake 10467
    10,450-ft. at Top of the Falls
    10,365-ft. at Bottom of the Falls
    10,410-ft. at Island Lake
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Basecamp: Big Sandy
  • Region: Wyoming's Wind River Range


Island Lake Waterfall Hike Description

This is a great little hike to explore the Island Lake environs. The hike starts from at the unmarked junction at the southeast end of Island Lake (10,346-ft.). The trail to the left (northwest) leads to campsites along the lake’s southwestern shore. The path straight ahead (northeast) is the Indian Pass trail.

Follow the Indian Pass trail as it skirts the eastern shore of Island Lake. Along the way enjoy fine views of the summits towering above Titcomb Basin to the north. Elbow (11,948-ft.) and Sky Pilot (12,129-ft.) peaks rise in the distance to the northwest.

Pass an unmarked trail/route at 0.3 miles climbing to Pass 11,120, a saddle on the ridge between the Island and Wall Lake basins. Soon our trail curves to the left (north/northwest) around the northeast end of the lake and starts climbing.

At 0.7 miles the path curves to the right northeast and ascends the north side of a draw to a saddle on a low ridge at 0.9 miles. Atop the ridge are more great views of the summits of Titcomb Basin.

The trail now descends through meadows into the pretty basin cradling Lake 10,467. As you descend look for a use trail traveling along the lake’s southeastern shore. At 1.1 miles bear left on a spur trail that descends toward the lake shore and then turn left on the use trail skirting the lakes southeastern shore. Soon views open to a waterfall on the inlet stream on the north side of the lake. This is the stream draining Titcomb Basin.

Reach the south end of Lake 10,467 at 1.4 miles. Here a waterslide spills over polished slabs into a small unnamed lake. A brief descent leads to the lake shore. The trail now continues heading southwest, leaving the lake shore to circumvent rock outcroppings. Island Lake is now in view.

At 1.5 miles the trail reaches to top of a waterfall that plunges 60-feet down a rocky slope into the northeastern side of Island Lake. The trail now descends steeply through meadows along the east side of the falls to a viewpoint at the bottom of the beautiful cascade.

When you are done admiring the falls you have two options. Retrace your steps on continue along the loop, which involves some route finding. To continue the loop, follow a use trail that heads southeast along the lake shore. Views open to Mt. Lester (12,342-ft.) and a number of unnamed peaks rising above the eastern end of Island Lake.

Soon you will reach a low rocky knoll with steep cliffs blocking further travel along the shore. Here the trail climbs through willows and then brushy foliage to a saddle atop a knoll. The use trail fades and is difficult to follow as it travels through the thick foliage.

Atop the knoll you will see a cliff rising to the east. A talus field extends along the base of the cliff to the lakeshore. You have two options for completing the loop. From the saddle head due east, cross the rock pile and then descends to the lakeshore along the cliff on a trail of sorts. The other option is to descend from the saddle to the lakeshore through meadows to the west of the talus slope and then traverse the boulder field along the lakeshore to the edge of the cliff.

Where the cliff meets that lakeshore you will find a trail traveling through a willow thicket and then emerges on a meadow. After a short traverse through the meadow along the lakeshore the trail curves to the left (east) away from the lake and crosses a small drainage.

On the east side of the drainage the path fades as it climbs through willows. Ahead you will see the continuation of the trail climbing a low hill. Walk cross-country to the continuation of the trail and climb the hill. As you crest the hill the trail again fades but the way is now obvious. Descend through meadows, staying to the north of three small tarns, to the Indian Basin trail at 2.0 miles. Turn right (southeast on the trail) and retrace your steps back to southwest side of Island Lake.

Return to Segment 9: Little Seneca Lake to Island Lake

Go To Segment 10: Island Lake to Elkhart Park

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile - Island Lake Waterfall Loop

Backpack Segments


Driving Directions to Elkhart Park Trailhead

Big Sandy Trailhead: This popular trailhead is located in the southern Wind River Range next to the Big Sandy River.

Directions from Pinedale: From the intersection of Pine Street (US 191) and North Tyler Ave (the Pinedale Tourism office is located on the northeast corner) in Pinedale, WY, drive south on Highway 191 for 11.7 miles and then turn left (east) on WY-353. After 15.5 miles you will notice signs referring to the road as the Big Sandy-Elkhorn Road and after 18 miles the paved road will change to a good packed dirt/gravel surface.

Shortly after the pavement ends go straight through a junction, and drive south crossing the Big Sandy River (Buckskin Crossing). Follow the road for a total of 27.3 miles. Shortly after crossing the Big Sandy River you will reach a junction with the Lander Cutoff Road (the next junction). Turn left on the Lander Cutoff Road. There is a wood sign at the intersection pointing toward the Big Sandy trailhead.

Drive 7.0 miles on the Lander Cutoff Road and then turn left on the Big Sandy Opening Road. Here you will see a sign for the Big Sandy Campground and trailhead. The road now deteriorates and narrows. Blind corners and lush foliage along the road make it hard to see ahead. Drive carefully, following the rocky, rutted road for 9.8 miles to a "Y" intersection. Bear right at the intersection to continue along the Big Sandy Opening Road (Forest Service Road 850). (The road branching to the left leads to the Big Sandy Lodge and Mud Lake.) Follow the road for 0.8 miles to the trailhead parking area, equipped with an outhouse.

Allow an hour and a half to reach the trailhead from Pinedale. The parking area is too small for the number of backpackers visiting the area during the height of the summer. If the parking area is full, find a safe place to park off the access road.

I recommend a high clearance vehicle to reach the trailhead. Passenger cars can make it OK if driven carefully. Check at the Pinedale ranger station before starting your trip to learn about current road and trail conditions. The Ranger Station is located to the east of the Ridleys Grocery Store on US 191 (Pine Street in Pinedale). The entrance to the ranger station is on the Fremont Lake Road. (You can also reach the parking area for the ranger station by driving east through the Ridley’s parking lot.)

This trailhead is remote, so be sure to have a full tank of gas. The dirt road become slippery when wet. The campground at the parking area is tiny, with only 4 sites. I would not plan on camping at the trailhead before starting your backpack.

Elkhart Park Trailhead: From the intersection of Pine Street (US 191) and North Tyler Ave (the Pinedale Tourism office is located on the northeast corner) in Pinedale, WY, drive east on Highway 191 (East Pine Street) for 0.3 miles and bear left onto Fremont Lake Road. Follow this road for 14.3 miles and turn right into the large parking area for the Elkhart Park/Pole Creek Trailhead. After the first 3.0 miles the road will turn into Skyline Drive/Forest Service Road 370740. The trailhead is located at the northeast end of the parking lot between the outhouse and the trailhead kiosk. It should take about 25 minutes to drive the trailhead. The last section of the road has some holes and uneven spots.


Trail Resources