Scenic Drive in the Wind Rivers

The route around the stunning Wind River Range passes through a near-desert and two national forests, touches Grand Teton National Park, and twice crosses the Continental Divide.

From Rock Springs, a historic coal-mining town along Interstate 80, shoot straight north on U.S. 191 through arid high country whose beauty is more subtle than stunning. Then, somewhere around Farson, the southwest edge of the Wind River Range comes into view. These mountains are a paradise of glaciated peaks, lakes, trout streams and abundant wildlife.

If you stop in Pinedale (84 miles), visit the Museum of the Mountain Man, honoring early 19th-century fur traders in this area. You can detour north on Hwy. 352 for 50 miles through the Green River Lakes deep into the Green River Range, a subrange of the Wind Rivers. The last stretch of the winding road into the scenic heart of this spectacular mountain group is unpaved. The reward for a challenging drive is one stunning view after another. The most spectacular features are Squaretop Mountain, Dinwoody Glacier and 13,785-foot Gannet Peak, Wyoming’s highest mountain set deep in the Bridger Wilderness. Take in the view, vow to return and backtrack to US 191. A monument just east of Daniel honors Father Pierre De Smet, a notable Jesuit missionary in the 1840s.

The 65 miles from Daniel through Bondurant to Hoback Junction comprise one leg of the Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway along the Gros Ventre Range. Arrive in fabulous Jackson with time for the National Museum of Wildlife Art, shopping and dining before overnighting in one of many lodgings.

The next morning, continue to Moran Junction, gateway to Grand Teton National Park, but to stay on course, turn right onto U.S. 287/26, the other leg of the scenic byway. It's 55 miles across the Divide at Togwotee Pass (pronounced "TOE-gwet-tee") to Dubois. The Dubois Museum documents Upper Wind River Valley inhabitants, from pre-historic indigenous "sheep-eaters" to Scandinavian loggers. America's largest bighorn sheep herd lives in the nearby Whiskey Mountain area. Learn about the animals at National Bighorn Sheep Center.

The route through the sprawling Wind River Reservation is also called the Chief Washakie Trail, after the most famous Shoshone tribal chief. If a powwow is scheduled, be sure to attend. Where the highway splits, take the right fork, continuing on U.S. 287 to Lander (70 miles from Dubois).

Dubbed the City of Bronze for its many statues cast in a local foundry, Lander is an outdoorsy community. Find a place to stay, and either that evening or the next morning, head out on Hwy. 131 to scenic Sinks Canyon State Park, so named because the Popo Agie ("Po-po-zsha") River sinks into a canyon wall and reappears a quarter-mile downstream.

Leave Lander on U.S. 287 and, after nine miles, bear right onto Hwy. 28 through redrock country. Take the short detour to the South Pass City/Atlantic City historic area, an open-air museum composed of a pair of restored gold-rush boomtowns.

Cross the Divide again at South Pass, a key part of the Oregon Trail, enabling settlers to travel through the mountains at a relatively moderate 7,660 feet. To the south is the stunningly lonely Red Desert Basin. At Farson, turn left onto U.S. 191 and complete the circuit back to Rock Springs.

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