The Washakie Wilderness, Wyoming

The Washakie Wilderness is a huge (704,000 acre) designated Wilderness that adjoins the southeastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. It also adjoins the Teton Wilderness for many miles. Together, the Teton and Washakie Wildernesses, adjacent wild land in the SE corner of Yellowstone National Park and other (unprotected) roadless lands on the national forests and adjacent Wind River Indian Reservation totals 2.1-million acres! in one big chunk of very wild country.

The Washakie, which was created by Congress in the 1970s out of the old South Absaroka Wilderness and the Stratified Primitive Area, encloses the southern -- the highest portion -- of the extensive Absaroka mountain range that covers the entire eastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

Like the North Absaroka wilderness, which is to its north, the Washakie is a vast country of eroded volcanic flows. These generally flat-bedded volcanics have been carved by water, wind and glaciers, into tremendous cliffs, battlements, spires, and gorges.

The trails are mostly built for horses. They are very long, but not especially abundant. The backpacker will have to worry about difficult fords on many of the trails, such as the Greybull River, the Elk Fork, Fishhawk Creek, Eagle Creek, and the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

Up Piney Creek to Carter Mountain

Piney Creek, with part of Carter Mountain at the head of the canyon.
Washakie Wilderness. Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Except during hunting season, visitors are few, and most ride horses. Fishing is good in places, but many of the streams are braided much like glacial rivers. This is due to extreme erodibility of the volcanic deposits the comprise the mountains. Beautiful lakes are present, but they are not abundant due to the geology of the area.

Wildlife is both abundant and diverse. Basically all of the large animals that were present when Euro-Americans settled the area are still in the Washakie today, including the grey wolf, which was recently reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, and has reinhabited the country around the Park as well, including the Washakie. As of 2005 at least 4 wolf packs use part of the Washakie Wilderness. Grizzly bears are common and have been increasingly filling the area as their population swells toward the southeast. Elk are abundant.

Mule and white-tailed deer are present as well as black bear, moose, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, cougar, bobcats, wolverine, and marten.

The highest point is 13,153 foot Francs Peak which straddles the eastern boundary of the Wilderness. In the southern part of the Wilderness, in the portion that used to be the "Stratified Primitive Area,"  there are vast plateaus at about 11,000 feet that provide the visitor with solitude, great views, and dangerous weather on extensive areas of tundra.

The climate is severe. It tends to be quite wet near the boundary with Yellowstone, but dry and hot at lower elevations on the east side. Afternoon thunderstorms are frequent, with severe lightning and someone killed by it almost every year. Nevertheless, the billowing thunderheads over these ragged peaks and plateaus are hard to forget as they grow in the low humidity and usually clean July and early August atmosphere. In recent years, by mid-August, nearby and distant forest fires have reduced the air quality.

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Eagle Creek Meadows. This area is the wettest part of the Wilderness - near the eastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park.   Copyright © Ralph Maughan


Hidden Basin, deep in the Washakie Wilderness

Hidden Basin, deep in the Washakie.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

The highest peaks and the fewest people are probably in the SE corner of the Wilderness, and adjacent roadless areas. Here is the head of seldom visited Cascade Creek in the SE corner.

At the head of Cascade Creek. Washakie Wilderness. Copyright Lee Mercer
Tundra in the very top of Cascade Creek. Washakie Wilderness, WY
© Lee Mercer 

     Washakie Wilderness/ Email Ralph Maughan/ Revised July 6, 2006

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