The Fitzpatrick Wilderness
Wind River Range

The Wind River mountains of Wyoming look like most people's idea of Wilderness -- huge and massive peaks of granite, scores of glaciers, tremendous cliffs, and thundering waterfalls, not to mention about 2000 high mountain lakes and many peaks over 13,000 feet. This includes Gannett Peak, the highest in Wyoming.

The Bridger Wilderness covers most the western side of the range, and the Fitzpatrick and Popo Agie Wilderness cover the NW and SE sides of the Wind Rivers.

Of the three designated Wilderness areas in "the Winds," the Fitzpatrick is the least used. It covers 191-thousand acres of the roughest and highest part of the range, but the lack of good legal access is the main reason for the smaller amount of use. Much of the Fitzpatrick is bounded by the Wind River Indian Reservation, from which access is legally difficult.

The Wind Rivers in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness from the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Formerly reserved administratively by the Forest Service as the Glacier Primitive Area (there are 44 glaciers), the Fitzpatrick Wilderness was established by Congress in 1976 out of that Primitive Area. A small portion of the area was not reclassified -- the north end around Whiskey Mountain where Wyoming's largest bighorn sheep herd winters. This was to allow occasional vehicle and aircraft access to manage the bighorn herd. The Whiskey Mountain area remains wild, however, and in 1998 grizzly bear tracks were found for the first time in 75 years on Whiskey Mountain.

The adjacent Bridger Wilderness was named after legendary mountain man Jim Bridger. Tom Fitzpatrick was Bridger's partner.

Wildlife is varied, but not especially abundant. Elk, mule deer, moose, coyotes, black bear, bighorn sheep, cougar, and bobcat all inhabit the area. In recent years wolves have inhabited the area's fringes. As mentioned, grizzly bears are migrating southward and inhabit the less alpine and rocky places on the  northern end.

Like the rest of the northern Wind Rivers, the Fitzpatrick has numerous peaks over 13,000 feet, the highest being Gannett Peak at 13,804 ft. (4207m), the highest mountain in Wyoming. There are several hundred alpine lakes (60 with fish), uncounted alpine meadows, rocky plateaus flanked by tremendous cliffs, and yawning gorges down which churn silty glacier-fed torrents.

Hope for good weather, but prepare for hail and snow at any time of the year. Don't forget the mosquito netting.

The most common access is to drive south of Dubois, Wyoming on US 287 for about 10 miles. Then turn southwest on the Whiskey Basin access road, an often badly washboarded dirt road that ends after about eight miles at Trail Lake and a major trailhead.

Fitzpatrick Wilderness, Wyoming/ / Updated  Feb. 16, 2004