Popo Agie Wilderness


Cirque of the Towers
Cirque of the Towers in Popo Agie Wilderness
Pingora Peak at Cirque of the Towers

Popo Agie Wilderness is a 101,870-acre property in Shoshone National Forest on the eastern slopes of the southern Wind River Mountains. To the west (over the crest of the mountains) is Bridger Wilderness, to the north the Wind River Indian Reservation. Popo Agie Wilderness runs along about 25 miles of the crest of the Wind River Range.

The Wind River Mountains are primarily composed of a granitic batholith that solidified in place about one billion years ago. Since that time, the solid chunk of rock has been slowly uplifted with a major push happening during the Laramide Orogeny, about 65 million years ago. Some 500,000 years ago, glaciers started carving the rock, forming the jagged peaks and the wide, U-shaped valleys that we see now. In some areas, small glacial remnants still exist but most are expected to be gone by the year 2020.

With the lowest elevation being around 8,400', Popo Agie Wilderness is primarily a subalpine and alpine region of pines, firs, spruce and aspen. There are more than 300 lakes and ponds on the property, many of them feeding into streams that eventually reach the Wind River. The highest point on the Popo Agie Wilderness is Wind River Peak at 13,255'. There are at least twenty other peaks that surpass 12,000' in the area.

There are many miles of trails in the Popo Agie Wilderness, the most used ones being those that lead to the popular Cirque of the Towers climbing area: a favorite among advanced rock climbers and mountaineers. These trails tend to be very busy in July and August, height of the Wyoming rock climbing season.

Cirque of the Towers lies against the Continental Divide and consequently, is shared a bit with Bridger Wilderness. The primary trail heading in begins at the Big Sandy traihead in Bridger-Teton National Forest and heads east for eight miles to cross the Continental Divide before making a very steep 1/2 mile drop to Lonesome Lake, one of four lakes in the area of the cirque. A problem here is that the climbing areas of Cirque of the Towers rise above Lonesome Lake and Lonesome Lake has severe camping restrictions in place because the lake itself has become polluted from all the careless human visitors. At this point, the lake water has been deemed unfit for human consumption and campers must pitch their tents at least one-quarter mile away from the water's edge.

Typical view in Popo Agie Wilderness
Typical view in the Popo Agie Wilderness
Upper photo courtesy of the United States Geological Survey
Other photos courtesy of the US Forest Service