Back on July 3 my brother and I started a four day backpacking trip in the Wind River Range that took us from the Green River Lakes trailhead over Porcupine Pass, to Heart Lake, to Summit Lake, and then back to the trailhead. This will be a quick rundown of my experience.
Day 1: Green River Lakes TH to Dodge Creek
The drive into the trailhead was slow and rough. The last 15 miles or so to the trailhead was a rough dirt road. Having a more off-road type vehicle would have been preferable, but it was doable in a sedan. We were in a Chevrolet Impala and were typically going at most 20mph, so the dirt road portion alone took about an hour.
We arrived at the TH around 10:30 AM. With it being a holiday weekend, I was worried about finding a place to park at the TH, but thankfully there were still several spots available. We registered at the TH and then got to hiking. We took the Lakeside Trail around the west side of the lower lake. There were some good views across the lake in a few spots, and we ran into a few day hikers along that trail. Shortly after getting on the Porcupine Trail we ran into some day hikers on their way out who warned us of a creek crossing and water flowing on the trail. When we got to the crossing we hiked upstream a bit to try and find a dry crossing, but after no luck we headed back to where the trail crossed and put on our creek crossing shoes. The next half mile or so of trail after the crossing was essentially a flowing creek. We stopped shortly after the crossing for lunch and then hiked in our crossing shoes until we reached dry trail at the bottom of the switchbacks.
Shortly before the turnoff to Twin Lakes and Shirley Lake we ran into some backpackers who had stayed at Shirley Lake and highly recommended it. They would be the last people we would see until late on day 3. We continued on up Porcupine Trail. Instead of crossing Porcupine Creek at the next crossing, we followed a faint trail and then did some bushwhacking to meet up with the trail after it crossed back over Porcupine Creek again. It saved us having to change into our crossing shoes again.
The trail up Porcupine Creek after this was often covered in water and/or muddy, particularly in the meadow areas. Once we got into the meadow areas there were some neat views of the west side of the canyon and some great areas for camping. These were the first good scenic views since leaving the lower Green River Lake. I knew going over Porcupine Pass might be sketchy due to snow cover, so when we reached the last crossing of Porcupine Creek I told my brother that if we were going to turn around that was the point to do it so we could make the most the next three days. We decided to continue on. That last crossing of Porcupine Creek was a difficult crossing. It was around knee deep and fairly swift. I was thankful for my trekking poles. We eventually got to the point where we could tell there was snow over the trail switchbacks going up to the pass. However, it looked possible to cross the snow down low where it wasn’t as steep and then climb directly up to the pass where there was no snow cover, so that is what we decided to do.
Once we got close to the top of the pass, it got really steep with lots of loose rock and gravel. We had to be really careful about our steps. Progress became painstakingly slow and it was quite stressful. At that point, though, I felt like it was safer to continue on to the pass instead of trying to go back down. Just below the pass we were finally able to start using the trail. We made it to the top of the pass just before 6:30 PM. It would still have been an exhausting climb with the trail, but it would have been much less stressful. I wouldn’t recommend going up or down the north side of the pass if the trail isn’t available. Lighting for pictures wasn’t great at that point, it was a bit windy, and it was getting late and I wanted to make it down a couple of miles, so we didn’t spend any time at the top of the pass and started our hike down. I was afraid the south side was going to be the same as the north side, but much to my relief it was much better. I believe we reached the crossing of Dale Creek around 7:45 PM and decided to camp just before the crossing. It was a long, tough day.
I was hiking in trail runners, and due to the wet trail conditions, my socks and shoes were still bit damp when we got to camp. Since we were in a bit of a rush to get dinner and chores done, I didn’t take off my shoes and socks, so by the time I got into the tent for bed my feet were quite cold. A bit after getting into my sleeping bag I started getting pain in my toes, which I don’t remember happening before, so I probably let my feet get a bit colder than I should have.
Day 2: Dale Creek to Heart Lake
We started the second day crossing Dale Creek and then had about a mile of downhill hiking before reaching the New Fork River. I had been worried about crossing the New Fork River due to the ongoing snow melt but the crossing wasn’t too bad. The hike up Palmer Canyon was one of the more scenic stretches of the entire trip. There was lots of stopping for pictures in that stretch. We saw a couple deer in the canyon as well. The climb up and out of the canyon was difficult, but thankfully there was a good trail. We started running into some snow patches near the top of the climb.
As we approached Palmer lake a bald eagle took off from a tree. We stopped at the lake for lunch. It was fairly breezy so we found a spot in some trees to try to get out of the sun and wind. After we finished lunch we continued down the trail to the Heart Lake Trail. We turned down that trail and then stopped at Dean Lake so my brother could do some fishing. He caught several small brook trout in that lake. After that we continued on to Heart Lake. We found a good camping spot at Heart Lake around 4:30 and got camp set up. Heart Lake wasn’t particularly scenic, but it was sheltered and had a great spot to camp, so that was nice. My brother tried some fishing (he wasn’t able to catch anything) and I was able to get some reading in. Overall it was a fairly uneventful day with some great scenery.
Day 3: Heart Lake to Green River
To start out we headed toward Gottfried Lake. Once there we turned onto the Pine Creek Canyon Trail towards Borum Lake. Borum Lake was a beautiful lake, although it looked like it would be difficult to find a camp spot that met regulations. We stopped at the outlet to get some water and then hiked a bit farther before stopping so my brother could try some fishing. He wasn’t able to catch anything out of that lake. It was a beautiful spot to take a break though. After spending some time at Borum Lake we continued on to Summit Lake. We reached Summit Lake around 11:45 AM. Summit Lake was a really cool spot. It didn’t have much to offer for shelter, but it was a really a scenic place. My brother went to do some fishing while I spent some time taking pictures. My brother caught at least one decent size cutthroat.
We ate lunch at Summit Lake and then got back on trail around 1:00 PM to head down to the Green River. There were a lot of snow patches and lots of wet/muddy trail on the way down. When we reached our first crossing of Trail Creek my brother realized he had lost one of his creek crossing shoes between there and Summit Lake. He decided to go back and try to find it, so I hung out at the crossing until he got back around 40 minutes later with the shoe. We kept our crossing shoes on since we had to cross the creek a second time just down trail. My brother slipped at that second crossing and dropped one of his hiking boots in the creek. Thankfully he was able to grab it before it went downstream. There was a snow patch on either side of the second crossing, and it wasn’t particularly pleasant walking though the snow in sandals with wet feet after the crossing. I quickly got to a spot where I could sit on a rock and get my feet dry and into my socks and hiking shoes.
After all that we continued on down the trail. The crossing of Trail Creek just above the switchbacks was a little nerve racking. It was about knee deep and moving somewhat swiftly. Not really difficult, but it was one of those crossings where if you fell in it probably wasn’t going to end well. We both made it across and continued on. There were some fantastic views on the way down to the Green River. Shortly after reaching the Green River we saw the first people since early afternoon on Day 1. My goal was to make it to Beaver Park, so we skipped a camp spot in Three Forks Park. We also skipped a camp spot right before Beaver Park. Beaver Park ended up being littered with blow downs and there weren’t any good camping spots, so we continued on. We ended up hiking another 45 minutes or so past Beaver Park before we found a camp spot that wasn’t right next to the river (about 6.5 miles from the trailhead). It wasn’t far enough from the trail per regulations, but at that point my brother and I were both tired and hungry, and it was getting late, so we set up camp there and hurried and got dinner ready. By the time we finished getting camp set up and chores done it was dark.
Day 4: Green River to Green River Lakes TH
Day 4 got off to an early start. We had planned on getting up at 6:30 AM so we could get out in time to meet some CDT hikers at Elkhart Park TH, but we were both awake at 6:00 AM, so we went ahead and got up and hit the trail around 7. Both of my heels had got rubbed raw the prior day, so I got those taped up before hitting the trail. Unfortunately we didn’t see any wildlife along the river. There were several people camped along the river. We stopped at the upper Green River Lake so my brother could do some fishing. He caught a decent size Rainbow Trout out of that lake. After that we continued on down the trail. At the north end of the upper lake we crossed paths with a moose. Thankfully it didn’t seem to mind us, and it allowed for a really cool photo opportunity. At one point along the lower lake my brother made a few casts but didn’t catch any fish. We made it back to the TH around 10:30, which was much more sparse than when we had arrived.
Outside of the stressful climb up Porcupine Pass this was a great trip. A few of my key takeaways:
- I would definitely recommend doing Porcupine Pass after the snow has melted off the trail.
- There was lots of wet/muddy trail, but that wouldn’t be an issue later in the season after the snowmelt has finished.
- Be ready for lots of creek crossings that will get your feet wet, although there may be some that you could cross later in the season without getting your feet wet.
- It ended up being a good combination of lower elevation canyon hiking combined with higher elevation alpine type hiking.