Backpacking The Wind Rivers — Stough Creek Basin

Dallen hiking into Stough Creek Basin with Alps Red Tail backpack

Dallen paused to notice the 5 more miles to go sign while we were hiking into the Stough Creek Basin.

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to backpack into the Stough Creek basin of the Wind Rivers that is in the Popo Agie Wilderness of the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. The trailhead is at Worthen Meadows Reservoir that is at 20 miles west of Lander Wyoming.

It has been probably 20 years since I last stepped foot into the Wind Rivers and I was excited with the opportunity to go with Dallen my oldest son and other young men his age on their scouting High Adventure trip for this summer.

It didn't take long to study the map that I knew fishing could be really good in this basin. There are many, many lakes in the basin all within roughly 2 miles from one end to the other. Dallen and I made plans and equipped ourselves with plenty of lures and fishing equipment for the trip. Also in preparation for the trip, we needed to upgrade some of our gear from the camo hunting packs and bivy shelters. We picked up a couple of nice backpacks and a tent from Alps Mountaineering for the adventure.

Dallen wearing a Alps Red Tail pack looking at a stream coming out of the Stough Creek Basin

Dallen stopped to look at a stream coming out of the Stough Creek Basin.

The drive from Morgan, Utah took a good four plus hours. With stops for food, gas, and fishing licensees our group made it into the Worthen Meadows Reservoir campground just before dusk. We camped there for the night and early the next morning set out up the trail leading to the Stough Creek Basin.

Dallen and I took our time hiking in taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. The trail steadily climbs up many, many switchbacks until you reach the pass looking across at Wind River Peak (13,192 ft.), Lizard Head and other awesome looking peaks of the Southern portion of the Wind Rivers. The pass is at an elevation of 10,600 feet giving a healthy 1,700 feet of vertical climbing from the trail head.

After crossing the peak you drop roughly 400 feet before climbing pack up to around 10,400 where we camped at the first Stough Creek Basin Lake. I believe our total hiking distance to where we camped was right at 7 miles.

Alps Red Tail Day Pack with Fishing Rod at one of the Stough Creek Lakes

Here is a view of one of the Stough Creek Basin Lakes with the Alps Red Tail day pack.

We caught a lot of Brook Trout in this lake.

For two solid days Dallen and I explored the many lakes in the basin looking for fish. We didn't make it to all of the lakes. This basin is just loaded with lakes all within roughly a two mile radius. Most of the lakes we hiked to where loaded with Brook trout and some of the lakes also had a few Cutthroat trout. Each lake was a little different. Some lake's average fish size was around eight inches, others around 10 inches while a couple lakes had some really nice Cutthroat trout in them. The largest I caught I would guess was 15 inches long.

The lures that worked best where Jake's and Super Dupers in various colors. Dallen really liked a black Jake's with yellow dots however he only had one and lost that lure fairly quick. I was able to catch a few fish with silver and gold Panther Martin spinners but the silver and gold Jake's and Super Dupers worked better. I also had a lot of luck getting strikes with black marabou jigs. It was just hard to hook them as the fish would not hold the lure in their mouths very long.

The best lure that we found to catch fish was with a fly. I caught a few with a fly rod and we both both caught a bunch with a fly a couple feet behind an A-Just-A Bubble water bubble on our spinning rods.

Alps Chaos 3 Tent at Sunset in the Stough Creek Basin

Sunset showing the Alps Chaos 3 tent while backpacking in the Stough Creek Basin of the Wind Rivers.

The boys had themselves a friendly competition on the number of fish that they could catch. Dallen, never one to pass up a challenge, finished the trip with an even 100 fish to win the bragging rights. He really started pulling away from the competition when he decided to fish with what his old man was catching fish with — a bubble and a fly. Upon return my avid backpacking neighbor recommended using two flies behind the bubble. Hmmm... I'm going to have to try that next time out.

For the trip we decided to upgrade some of our backpacking gear. We decided to go with an Alps Mountaineering Zion External frame backpack and an Alps Mountaineering Red Tail internal frame backpack. We also switched using packs for our return trip back to the trail head so we could each get a feel for the two different packs. I took the Zion Pack on the way in and the Red Tail pack on the way out and vice versa for Dallen. Both packs where great, however push come to shove both Dallen and I would be fighting for the internal frame Red Tail pack on our next backpacking trip.

Dallen with a Brook Trout he caught out of a stream in Stough Creek Basin.

A beautiful dark colored Brook trout Dallen caught on a fly in a stream between lakes in the Stough Creek Basin.

A beautiful Cuthroat Trout in Stough Creek Basin.

I had filled Dallen's head full of stories of catching Golden Trout in the Wind Rivers in my youth near the Valentine Lakes. He thought he had one when he caught this beautiful golden colored Cutthroat Trout.

Although the external frame Zion backpack was still a nice pack. Where the external frame Zion pack really shines for me is on my Pack Wheel hiking cart. This backpack is sized very nicely to strap it to the top of the Pack Wheel and wheel my gear along the trail. Unfortunately on our Wind River trip we could not use the Pack Wheel because of the restrictions for the use of a wheel in a Wilderness Area.

I have always been a external frame pack user and I have to admit this Red Tail internal frame won me over for backpacking with a internal frame, they are very comfortable. The pack is wonderfully comfortable and I had no trouble with it working with my large 6' 7" height and my long torso length. Some of the coolest features of the Red Tail pack was the removable external pouches on the pack that convert into a small day pack and a large fanny pack. These smaller removable packs worked great for our day excursions to go out and fish the many lakes and streams in the Stough Creek basin.

Another piece of equipment that made our life more comfortable on the trip was our Alps Mountaineering Chaos 3 tent. It rained on us a couple of times during the nights and I was amazed and how breathable the tent was. I fully expected when I woke in the morning to have oodles of built up condensation on the top and sides of the tent. Come morning I found no condensation. I also didn't have a wet toe area of my sleeping bag from rubbing against the side of the tent like I normally would with a lot of moisture in the air. I like the dual doors and dual vestibules to place our gear safely out of the rain. Not only is it a cool looking tent it also was light and very functional for us.

We took two ThermaCELL mosquito repellant devices. I love these things. Although many of the boys received a many mosquito bites trying to keep up with deet, I don't think I received a single bite for the trip. I did have a ThermaCELL with me and running most of the time. Unfortunately one of the ThermaCELLs would not run at this high altitude but it works fine back at 5,000 ft area where I live. This is the only complaint that I have with ThermaCELLs, I wished they worked better at higher altitudes and I have thrown away probably around four of them that would not work at even 5,000 ft in elevation.

One thing that was somewhat of a disappointment was that we saw several other groups of people in the basin. From stories of the area we heard from others, we thought that we might have the basin to ourselves. It wasn't a problem as there was plenty of room and lakes to choose from to fish at. It just wasn't as "secret" as we thought it might be.

Dallen and I had a great trip. Lots of great fishing, beautiful scenery and great exercise. We were also able to get some much needed exercise to help us prepare for my Utah Limited Entry Wasatch Archery Elk tag that I have coming up next month.

Panorama of going over the pass with the Wind River Peak in the background.

Dallen sitting in the sitting on a rock looking out at Wind River peak as we reach the 10,600 foot mark in elevation and start dropping off into the Stough Creek Basin on the other side.

Panorama of Stough Creek Basin in the Wind Rivers

Here is a panorama showing a fair amount of the Stough Creek Basin and some of the many lakes that are found in this basin.

Panorama of Stough Creek Lake in the Wind Rivers

This is the lake that we camped at in the Stough Creek Basin. If you look real close you can see a blue tent in the cliffs above the lake. This is Patterson's tent, one of the other leaders in our group of young men going in on this trip. Our Chaos 3 tent is out of view to the right of this blue tent.

Dallen hiking with a Alps Mountaineering Zion backpack

Dallen and I getting ready to hike out of the Stough Creek Basin.

Dallen with a Brook Trout he caught with a Jake's lure.

Dallen hiking through the pines with an Alps Zion backpack. Dallen and I getting ready to hike out of the basin. Dallen showing off a Brook Trout he caught with a Jake's lure.

Sunset in Stough Creek of the Wind Rivers

Wildflowers with a Stough Creek Basin Lake in the basin.

Mule Deer doe in the Stough Creek Basin

A sunset over one of the Stough Creek lakes. Wildflowers with one of the Stough Creek lakes in the background. No adventure of mine is complete without finding a big game animal like this Mule Deer doe we found while out fishing.

Dallen looking across at Wind River Peak

Black Rosy Finch in Stough Creek Basin

Alps Mountaineering Zion External Frame Backpack

After making it to the 10,600 foot pass Dallen stops to take a breather and admire the amazing landscape of the Wind Rivers. I found a bird I have never seen before, a Black Rosy Finch. Apparently they like to live above timberline in the Wind Rivers. Dropping the pack for a breather on the way off the mountain.


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