Review: Easy as Cake, Hiking Atlantic Canyon and Windy Lake

Review: Easy as Cake, Hiking Atlantic Canyon and Windy Lake

Reading Time: 17 minutes

This area of the Winds is underrated. My 1/2 pregnant wife, my 8 year-old daughter, and the rest of us enjoyed this hike, but we found out a way to do it far more efficiently at the end. Status: not yet proofread, because Teresadoro Necessary, my wonderful sister, is a busy and spiteful woman!

➤Quick Facts

Information at a Glance

  • Time of Year: First Week of August
  • Notable Features: Gustave Lake, Christina Lake, Atlantic Canyon, Atlantic Peak, Atlantic Lake, Windy Lake, Calvert Lakes, Tomahawk Lake, Atlantic Creek, Little Popo Agie (Puh-POE-Zha) River, Fiddlers Lake
  • Total Miles: ~19 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-3235′
  • Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 9397, 10129, 11284
  • General Route: 
    Silas Lake Trail 721 ► Christina Lake Trail ►Atlantic Lake Trail 723 ► Off trail to Windy Lake ► Off trail to Calvert Lakes ► Use trail to Tomahawk Lake ► Silas Lake Trail 722 ►Silas Lake Trail 721
  • GPS Track Download 

Interactive Map


I was planning a hike for the weekend with my daughter, aged 8, and my wife, 1/2 pregnant unexpectedly told me she wanted to go, too. My mom, as well as our engineer (nuclear and mechanical, respectively) friends Hank and Peggy Hill, also wanted to go, and requested something easy. Given how much I’ve already done, that pretty much limited us to Atlantic Canyon, at the southern end of the Winds. The southern portion doesn’t get as much attention, but is largely higher in elevation than the northern section, and requires far less elevation gain. We all agreed that it was a good plan.

The Friday night before we left, my family and I went to Pinedale and stayed at the Quality Inn. The bad reviews are mostly very outdated, and now it’s rather modern and a great place to crash. The weather was supposed to be heavy rain, as well as snow in the upper elevations, and the week had been torrentially rainy. The rivers going up Hoback on the way to Pinedale were swollen, and the convergence of rivers at Granite was a sight to behold, with one river being dark, and the other roiling and red from runoff.

⤑Day 1: To Atlantic Lake

We arrived at the Christina Lake trailhead and got saddled up. My toenail was giving me troubles as it tried to come off. Our party set off at 1PM. We had arrived second, but mom, Hank, and Peggy had talked to a very happy guy from CA who was heading in to Windy Lake. My original plan was to go there, but with him also heading all the way in, and us being time limited and slowed by a child and preggo gal, I reassessed and decided internally that we’d best just aim for Atlantic Lake.

The trail starts out near Fiddlers Lake and climbs gradually, and then it descends gradually as well to a creek crossing. Along the way we met an older couple with binoculars, then a family who were southern and realized that my mom was southern. The patriarch recently got hired as a wildlife biologist in Lander…what a dream! He told us of a nearby owl, but we never saw it.

Due to the geology of the area, there are infinite crossings of small creeks. At mile 1.75 (ish), we reached the divergence of trails. Yue Little wanted to collect sticks, but at the same time was disturbed by the weight of her Osprey pack. As she explained it, Donkey Face (a trip leader at Teton Science Schools…who is in fact a human, but goes by Donkey Face for whatever insane reason) typically carried all the food, so her backpack usually only had rocks and sticks she liked in it. Too bad for her, because she was carrying some of her own food for this trip!

Crossing the creek below Lower Silas Lake was easy using some downed logs, but right after that, Atlantic Creek was much deeper. While there was a place that athletic adults could hop (and some opposite direction, 20-something fishermen did), Yue Little couldn’t. Hank and Peggy loaned her a magic stick, y mama y abuelita helped her across. As they were doing so, abuelita had a flip-flop go *pop* right off of her foot and sailing downstream. “It’s lost,” she yelled, as I took off hobbling as fast as I could in my slides trying to catch it.

Below: Numerous creek crossings.

Thankfully Peggy Hill had already crossed and saw me running. She was able to catch the flip-flop about 100′ downstream using a magic stick, saving me from having to wade crotch-deep into the river. What a blessing. Not sure why my mom has flip-flops made of aerogel.

On the other side we could see Atlantic Canyon beyond a great park, and my wife was overwhelmed by a sense of futility, not be accustomed to longer hikes. She complained of back pain, but would not let me carry her pack, claiming that this would invalidate the hike. I didn’t concur and almost demanded that she let me carry the thing, but one must keep in mind that she is Latina, and that her chanclas were still close at hand, so any impertinence would be truly foolish of me indeed.

Just over a mile of forest travel, mostly flat and easy, brought us to Gustave Lake, which featured the sounds of OHVs. The Christina Lake OHV trail would save you 5 miles of hiking if you have access to a quad, Polaris, or whatnot. We didn’t, so we got the beauty of the hike. We followed the OHV trail up to Christina Lake and stopped at the dam for pictures. While I wouldn’t hike there just for the lake, it would be nice to visit with a vehicle. Shockingly, we found that people had managed to get their trucks up there, and less shockingly, some had brought Jeeps. I would not take my vehicle or any road vehicle on such a track, but these folks were all happy.

Below: Looking up at Atlantic Canyon, an unknown trail on the left, and the OHV road, followed by Gustave Lake and Christina Lake.

After passing by many camps, we continued uphill on the proper Atlantic Canyon trail. My poor wife was dying from the hike, and her negativity infected our daughter to a degree. Although it was only 1.75 miles between Christina Lake and Atlantic Lake, I decided just past halfway that we should stop and eat some snacks. Beef jerky and fruit gummies cheered my two ladies up and made the next 3/4ths of a mile to Atlantic Lake rather pleasant.

It was 1830 when we arrived at Atlantic Lake and immediate discussion began as to where we might wish to camp. The south side of the lake has little in the way of open areas, and the spots that exist are marshy, so we made our way toward the outlet, where we might cross and find a more suitable spot. We were blessed to find boulders we could hop along with trees we could walk, which meant that I was able to help my daughter across, and no one got wet feet. Peggy Hill found a magic stick in the water and gave it to Yue Little, and boy was she happy.

Below: The outlet of Atlantic Lake; the crew.

Across the outlet was a nice, flat, open, grassy area with plenty of places to put our tents. On the way over we’d heard a shout or two from the northwest, so we knew that there were other people somewhat nearby. (A group of outfitters exited the next day, explaining the noise.) We chose not to disturb them and settled down near the outlet, pacing off the correct number of feet from the lake and river. I always try to stay the correct distance away, not so much due to fear of reprisal from the pinecone pigs, but more in an effort let others enjoy the outdoors without my time-limited abode ruining the scenery. In this case, there was no more official trail, but it also didn’t seem as if we were in a highly-trafficked area.

Our chosen spot seemed to have been an agreeable location to many people who had come before us, as it had a site for a fire and logs which had been made into a sitting area. I handled most of the camp setup while Yurena rested and Yue Little zoomed around at speeds approaching the sound barrier. Apparently my child found that she was not in fact tired as she had claimed.

A couple of deer, which were also apparently a deer couple, were very bold in approaching us, often coming within 20 feet. I imagine that they’re somewhat habituated to humans due to the presence of outfitters.

Below: The things I described above.

Intermittent rain showers and occasional graupel passed through, and in between we made dinner. Yurena had Peak Refuel’s Pesto Pasta and PackIt Gourmet Mom’s Banana Pudding, Yue Little ate her customary Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings, and I had a simple Peak Refuel Pasta Marinara. After a camp bath, Yue Little and Yurena went to bed, and my mom crawled into her tent (AKA my tent which she was borrowing, as she wanted to check out my Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 1 while my familia inhabited our UL 3 version of the same). I stayed up and talked with Hank and Peggy well into the darkness.

⤑Day 2: Day Hike to Windy Lake and Above

It rained overnight and my toenail pretty much dislodged after getting caught numerous times on my Enlightened Equipment Revelation Down. I certainly didn’t sleep well. My girls were finally awake at 0900, and Yue Little woke up, heard Hank’s loud voice, and started yelling, “Hank? HANK!” She would repeat this action again the next day, being rather delighted to be hiking with other, fully-grown people.

After some amount of work, I popped my toenail all the way off and sealed up the area with some synthetic skin I’d brought along. It stung, but my toe felt much better with the nail gone. Losing a nail is about as close to losing a tooth as you can get. It was actually rather pleasant to remove.

I don’t care to eat breakfast or lunch as a habit, but everyone else does. I made Yurena some Pinnacle (best hiking food on the market, but always sold out!) Foods’ Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuits and Herbed Sausage Gravy while Yue Little ate Next Mile Meals’ Steak Omelette with Green Peppers. Although Yue Little prefers NMM’s Sausage Scramble, she found this to be rather decent.

Yurena and Yue Little decided that it would be a rest day, given the gloom and vertical climb the rest of us had planned. Hank, Peggy, mom, and I left them at noon and headed up the slabby granite toward the upper Atlantic Lakes. At first I was dismayed not to have brought my wife and child as the walk was so easy, but as we kept going up and up, that feeling abated.

It was only 0.8 miles from our tents to the upper Atlantic Lakes; we saw a large moose at full tilt immediately prior to them. At the upper lakes (ponds?) we rested and the sun came out, much to my irritation. I kept my sun gloves on and caught some rather large brook trout. Typically I don’t care for the creatures, as they’re effectively just dinner items at a buffet, but these ones were big and full of fight.

Below: The climb to the upper Atlantic Lakes/ponds.

Just beyond the lakes, we had a choice of crossing the creek or going up a small, cliffy area. I chose to go up, while the others crossed the creek and ascended via the continuous, granite spine. Their path was probably better as I had to make my way through a marshy area or two, but I beat them to the waterfall below Windy Lake.

Windy Lake itself was windy indeed. I was glad that we camped at Atlantic. Although Windy was prettier, it was far less welcoming in terms of places to camp and trees to cut down on the wind. Plus, the extra effort wouldn’t have been warranted for a trip as short as ours, with a pregnant wife and small child along. I ended up not fishing for golden trout as the wind was absolutely roaring, and the only place to cast a fly was at the far side, and from a granite slab. It wasn’t worth it; I’ve caught plenty of goldens in the past, and today they would receive only peace from me.

Below: Around and about Windy Lake.

I managed to cross the outlet and we made our way toward the upper lakes. Along the way I found a fly box. We ended up seeing three tents on the south shore of the lake…they had chosen as decent a place as possible in the area, but their site was crammed between gnarled, stunted little trees and the water, and it didn’t seem the flattest spot.

As we made our way up toward the upper lakes, the rest of my party talked about how much prettier this was than Thumb Lake/Silas Canyon to the north. I had hoped to hop over the Calvert Lakes pass to see the area, but the kind folks with me were harshin’ on it something fierce, making it seem that Atlantic Canyon was overwhelmingly prettier. Could it be? I don’t know.

We climbed up to Lake 10950 or so and along the way passed a fly fisherman descending, then we made the further ascent to the Saddlebag Lakes some 500 feet above Windy. Though there is a further, tiny pond right below West Atlantic Lake, we weren’t really interested in seeing it. I wanted to hop up the small, scrabbly slope to the north to look down on a glacial pond at the top of Stough’s drainage, but it seemed an improper thing to do when it would mean that my poor wife would have to wait even longer.

At the Saddlebag Lakes, we met the friendly man from CA again. He was having the time of his life! What a blessing to meet someone so happy. As a unit, we elected to look down on the middle lake; we all found it pretty. We also spied another tent at the inlet from the middle lake’s creek to Windy Lake. The lake there is very shallow, but the place the tent was at seemed ideal—well, for Windy Lake, at least.

Below: Views around the Saddlebags.

We headed back, and at Lake 10950, we kept right and headed directly for Atlantic Lake. This path was quite easy to hike down, and numerous large snowfields helped us make good time. The creek was quite strange in this area, pooling up in spots and then simply going straight down into holes, erupting later on.

As we neared Atlantic Lake, storms stacked up above us. I wanted to cross the creek and go back along the north shore, but Hank preferred the steeper, southern shore. Hank’s choice ended up being better, with a nice use trail that quickly brought up back to Atlantic’s outlet. As we crossed, it began to rain. I stowed my pack under the trees and put the rainfly on it, then talked to my girls, who were in the tent. I told them to hang out there so I could make them dinner.

Below: Down to a cold camp. Note the bald eagle.

I shared Pinnacle’s Roasted Chicken and White Cheddar Biscuit Dumplings with Yurena; she had Pinnacle’s Creamy Tuscan Chicken, which she described as “really, really good, yummy yummy yummy yum,” punctuated exactly as she said it. Dessert was PackIt’s Strawberry Cheesecake. We both loved it. Yue Little had her customary chicken and dumplings.

Eventually the sun came back out. The bugs didn’t really attack us, I think due to the cold.

Below: Dinner and sun. It was a Kühl evening.

⤑Day 3: Egress

I slept better that night, but it was rainy for quite some time. My nail being gone helped immensely with my pain. I got out before my family, but our tent was in a shadow, so it was cold. The girls finally got out as breakfast was about ready for them, and as the sun started to hit the tent, around 925 or so.

Yurena had PackIt Gourmet’s Mango Curry Chicken Salad, which I prepared for her in a tortilla. She described it as being of an overpowering flavor. She liked it, but said it needed to be tamed with rice. Yue Little loved Next Mile Meal’s Sausage Scramble and ate it all. I shared PackIt’s All American Works Burger with Yurena; it was yummy, though I don’t care the most for breakfast.

Below: The aforementioned breakfasts, minus the curry.

After packing we set off around 1140 for Calvert Lakes. Though there wasn’t a use trail that we saw, it was an easy, mostly flat walk. We arrived in about 25 minutes to the lower of the Calvert lakes and saw that it had plenty of trout. A nearby memorial plaque on a rock (hard to miss) was dedicated to a Mr. Calvert, who apparently was a forest law enforcement official. He died young while starting a snowmobile from an apparent heart attack.

Below: Hiking to Calvert Lake and looking at the memorial.

A large boulder field rises above lower Calvert, and I helped my wife and child navigate it. Yue Little decided that she loves boulder fields; apparently she sees them as a type of obstacle course. As we climbed toward the nearest forested area, the storms moved in with more rain. There was little to be done, and soon the trees protected us somewhat, so we pressed on.

Below: Between Lower and Upper Calvert Lakes.

Upper Calvert Lake was less beautiful and very constricted, being in the lower area of the pass. After re-hydrating, we deliberated on the next move. The pass seemed like it might be difficult for my daughter, as it was choked with brush taller than her and boulders of varying sizes, but mostly rather large. Yurena asked if we could go back to the trail we came in on, and I explained that to do so would be infinitely worse than our other options.

Below: Upper Calvert Lake.

After Hank and I looked at the contours, we decided that my plan to avoid boulder fields while heading round-mountain to Tomahawk Lake was doable. We set off and soon were past the remaining piles of boulders and into forest which was easily walked. Soon thereafter a well-used use trail appeared, marked by an infinite number of cairns. This was the best use trail that any of us had ever seen; it would be far better to get to Windy Lake by using it than by the official trails.

Below: Between Upper Calvert and Tomahawk.

Before we knew it, we were down at Tomahawk Lake, where Yue Little caught a fish. Tomahawk was prettier than Silas Lake and had far better areas to camp. My mother decided that it would be a great place to visit if you had limited time and just wanted a relaxed, peaceful overnight hike. The lake didn’t seem to have any use trails to it, and we were the only ones there, unlike our experiences with adjacent areas.

Below: At Tomahawk Lake.

We left the lake and arrived at the trail, taking it back to the trail junction from two days prior. Yue Little and Yurena played some strange call-and-response song in Spanish about lobos apparently preparing to eat unwary children:

Mientras que viene el lobo
Jugaremos en el bosque
Mientras que viene el lobo
Jugaremos en el bosque
Porque si viene el lobo
Enteros nos comerá.
¿Qué hace el lobo?

The wolf, being Yurena, had to bathe, dry her hair, put her clothes on, etc., and then attack my poor daughter, who was far too fast to be caught and eaten.

On the way out, we found funny writings on the trail, which my daughter loved. After we hit the trail juncture, Yue Little wanted to hold hands while we walked the rest of the way, proclaiming that when we had to let go of hands due to obstacles, I would say “banana,” and she would say, “split!” This slowed us down some, which was fine with Yurena. The others went ahead. Along the way we met an older man and a few younger men and women heading up toward Silas. The men were carrying insane amounts of gear; one had a military webbed pack on his chest, even!

We arrived back at the vehicles and parted ways. On the way back, we went via the Sinks and the Rise, which Yurena had never seen, then home via Dubois, getting in around 11PM.

Below: Back at the trailhead, the Sinks, and the Rise.

➤Conclusion and Rating

Atlantic Canyon was far prettier than I had expected; to be frank, the southern Winds are underrated for what you get, especially given the meager elevation gain. I would say that anyone considering this hike skip Christina and Gustave and use the use trail between Tomahawk and Calvert, as it saves a lot of miles. I would also camp at Atlantic Lake unless you plan on spending multiple days up at Windy.

My 1/2 pregnant wife rated it “um, 8, 9, 10?” out of 10.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

  • My scientific rating system.  Exceptional fishing and beauty for the miles.
  • Beauty. Gawjus if not awesome.
  • Camping spots. Plenty.
  • Crowds. Mostly just at Windy.
  • Difficulty. Not a neature walk, but a 1/2 pregnant woman and 8-year old child can do it.
  • Fishing. Tons.

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