The Winegar Hole Wilderness, Wyoming
Targhee National Forest.
The Winegar Hole Wilderness is a small (only 11,000 acres), but very wild and little-traveled area that occupies the low area sandwiched between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The elevation is about 6300 feet. The actual wilderness quality land, as opposed to the official wilderness, generally encompasses (on the north) a small part of Yellowstone Park -- south of the South Boundary Trail between the Fall River on the west and Cascade Creek on the east. The southern boundary of the Winegar Hole wilderness land is basically the Grassy Lake Road (a.k.a.) the "Ashton to Flagg Ranch" road and (a.k.a.) the Reclamation Road. The total acreage of this wild country is probably over 25,000 acres. Two small road incursions are located at Moose Lake and Loon Lake, both of which always harbor loons and equally wild-sounding call of the sandhill crane.
About 10,000 acres of similar wet, boggy, ponded, willow country extends south of the Grassy Lake Road around the NE base of the Tetons (a part of the range not commonly visited).
A surprisingly dangerous Winegar Hole wet meadow, with tall August grass.
Photo Aug. 2, 2004. © Ralph Maughan
Winegar Hole itself (as opposed to the Winegar Hole Wilderness) is one of several wet depressions (or "holes") set between low basalt ridges (or also ridges composed of glacial debris). This Wilderness area has no real trails. It is damp -- mostly marsh, bog, and willow fields. It is tremendous wildlife and waterfowl habitat, and it is especially notable for grizzly bears. All of the Wilderness is prime grizzly and black bear habitat. There are also numerous moose and elk. Great mosquito habitat too!
One of my first backcountry sightings of a grizzly was in the Winegar Hole near the Fall River (a.k.a Falls River). The bear was throwing surprisingly large logs about, looking for food.
I can tell you from my experiences there, it is a place where things really do go "bump in the night" and the ground trembles when you walk on it.
The Winegar Hole Wilderness is in Wyoming, but it is immediately adjacent to the Idaho border. An additional 2000 acres of similar country in Idaho has been proposed by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and conservation groups as an addition to this incredibly wildlife-rich Wilderness
In August 2004, I returned to the Winegar Hole after a ten year absence and was yet more impressed with its difficult wildness.
400 hundred acre Indian Lake, mostly covered by lilypads guards part of the
south boundary of Winegar Hole country. Copyright © Ralph Maughan
The few dry areas are covered with tall, beautiful perennial flowers that hide treacherous deadfallen pine and fir. The streams are cloaked with seemingly impenetrable thickets of willows. The flat meadows are almost all wet meadows surrounded by deep patches of willows with nearly hidden deep holes here and there among the roots. Floating bogs surround the lakes and in other places pose as wet meadows, making your permanent disappearance through a broken surface (like ice on pond) a real possibility.
In a mordant mood, a friend who knows the place, said, "a good place to stash a body!"
Tall flower meadow along willow-filled South Boone Creek. Photo Aug. 2, 2004. Copyright © Ralph Maughan
A Winegar Hole "bear log." These are a common sight . . . downed logs
moved and broken open by insect seeking bears. Copyright Ralph Maughan
Typical deep willow patch guarding a wet meadow. Copyright Ralph Maughan
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The Winegar Hole Wilderness/ Text and photos by Ralph Maughan/ Ralph Maughan/ Sept. 3, 2004