Review: 22 Miles Hiking Three Waters Mountain, Native Lake, & Roaring Fork

Review: 22 Miles Hiking Three Waters Mountain, Native Lake, & Roaring Fork

Reading Time: 51 minutes

This hike is one for those who like solitude, stunning views, and horrible deadfall. Not for the easily lost. Status: Not yet proofread.

➤Quick Facts

Information at a Glance

  • Date of Visit: August 27th-29th
  • Notable Features: Three Waters Mountain, Trail 832 Pass AKA Simpson Lake Pass, Lake 11318, Dads Lake (Northern Wind River Range Dads Lake), Roaring Fork, Crescent Lake, Faler Lake Pass, Native Lake, Alexander Park, Osborn Mountain, Roaring Fork River, Roaring Fork Trail 146, Gunsight Pass CDT Trail 094 Gunsight Pass CDT Trail 094
  • Total Miles: ~21.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-5894′
  • Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 8913, 10296, 11594
  • General Route: 
    OFF TRAIL Gunsight Pass Parking Spot ►Three Waters Mountain ►Lake 10971 ► Simpson Lake Pass ► Dads Lake ►Crescent Lake ► Faler Lake Pass ►Native Lake ►Utter Hell ►ON TRAIL ►Roaring Fork Trail 146 ►Gunsight Pass CDT Trail 094
  • GPS Track Download Download the file after getting a free Gaia account (I love them!) or direct download for Google Earth/phone viewing here.

Interactive Map


Elevation Profile


When the days are long and the hiking season is just beginning, I’m always in pit performance, which as you might have guessed, is the opposite of peak performance. This always puts me in the position of having the longest days when I can hike the least total distance/day. With the end of August approaching, I was in better shape, but the days were getting pretty short. By this point I’d hiked most of the nearby, overnight hikes I could accommodate with such little time off, so I was looking for something close by which would be new to me. After some consideration, I wrote off Ross Lake and elected to shoot for Three Waters Mountain, Crescent Lake, Native Lake, and the Roaring Fork trail. Three Waters Mountain is the triple point for the Colombia, Mississippi, and Colorado watersheds, but more importantly, it hosts forest road/FR 649, which terminates at (there are many named this) Gunsight Pass. If FR 649 was drivable, I could shave off some hiking distance and only hike around 20 miles or so.

Google Earth said leaving work, driving up to Dunoir, and ingressing that way would save me time vs going from Jackson to Cora and the Green River entry point, so I planned on it. Looking at satellite imagery, I saw a horse trailer that was about 2 miles from the terminus of the forest road, so I thought I might be able to drag my Cheap Patriot at least that far, at least if rains hadn’t washed out the road, given that we’d had a few, severe storms.

⤑Day 1: The Forest Roads

I was done controlling at 4:45 PM and hit the road. The drive up and over Togwotee Pass was uneventful, and I found myself hoping that the drive over Dunoir and to Gunsight Pass would be as well. I took road 263 quite a long way, finally crossing a creek where I then made a left and took road 370640, which was very rough. Though there were many ways I could get to where I wanted, I decided to stick with Google Maps as long as I could. 370640 never became a great road, and I’d recommend it only for higher-clearance vehicles. Eventually I took another left on FR 647, which was worse than 370640. I stopped by a couple of ponds just below the 9400 contour lines, but the ponds were stagnant cow watering holes. There were infinite, ripe Rocky Mountain gooseberries, which I rather enjoy, so I ate a few handfuls. I debated for some time on whether or not I should camp in my Jeep there, but the place was somewhat smelly. I went back to my Jeep and continued along the road until I found a dirt track that broke right and toward the nearby ridgeline, which overlooks the Green River.

Below: Three Waters Mountain from 370640, then everything around the cow ponds.

I parked just off the road and took a quick jog up the road/OTV trail, thinking that I would likely not get much closer to the overlooking ridgeline, and wanting to watch what I hoped would be a pretty sunset. Upon reaching the ridge, the wind was a wee bit nippy, leaving my skin numb on my hands. I was shocked to have cell service, but also delighted, as it allowed me to call my wife and child, and to text my family my plan, so they’d be able to view it after we got off the phone. This also saved some data with my satcom, which is a precious resource. The chat really buoyed my spirits—I wished my little one and my wife were with me—and the gorgeous views of the Tetons, the Gros Ventre, and the Winds only made it better.

Below: The track to the ridgeline and views from it.

With sunset completed, I ran back down to my Jeep and drove on for a while more until I found a nice place to park along a side trail. It also smelled of cows, but it was getting late, so I closed all the windows and called it good enough. Dinner was a homemade chicken/bacon wrap, and bedtime came after. I didn’t set an alarm, instead deciding to let the sun wake me up.

⤑Day 2: Gunsight Pass to Upper Roaring Fork

I woke up at 0634 which was earlier than I wanted, given how cold it was. The frost on the vehicle windows did make for a pretty sight, at least. I decided to go on an early morning jog up to the ridgeline and see if I could let my family know of my plans, once again aiming to save a satcom message. The morning was crisp and a bit windy once I got to the ridge, but the views were unbeatable. Once at the top, I let my family know that my planned route was on Gaia’s website, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to go down Gunsight Pass and up to Crescent, or along Three Waters Mountain to Crescent. Regardless, I planned on ending the night in the general vicinity of Crescent Lake if I could.

An outfitter’s camp—or something like it—was nestled up on the ridge. Was it for some of the Mexican sheep herders? Were there sheep here? I didn’t know, but the camp was a true outdoor mansion. I looked down on Roaring Fork where it entered the Green River, a place I’ve kayaked often.

Chats done, I jogged back to my Jeep, packed it up, and started the drive to Gunsight Pass. The road was pretty dadgum awful, and my Jeep Patriot only handled it well as it’s more of a go-kart than a real vehicle. I was surprised to find myself driving up a bald hill all the way to the end of the road. A video of the entire drive from the highway to the terminus is below, with rock-moving segments taken out to save you some boring viewing.

I parked and got out in rather breezy conditions. The air was really chilly for the time of year, and despite the moisture being sucked from me, there appeared to be moisture, as haze added depth to the landscape. I set out my solar shower and had a little breakfast/lunch before throwing on my pack. I was blessed to have an extra buff that my wife had purchased for me, as well as my Stio shirt and military gloves. The temperatures were low enough that I’d be just warm enough wearing all of them.

Before leaving, I took pictures of some memorials/graves.

At 1043 I started a steep walk down to the low point at Gunsight Pass, where the Continental Divide Trail cuts through and then meanders through the alti-fields. Looking down the trail, I decided it was going to be miserable to walk up, but overall more of a known entity than Three Waters Mountain, so frontloading the risk was the best option.

Below: Gunsight Pass, south and north.

An animal trail meandered near the fenceline,. I followed it up into a small meadow, then back into the trees, popping out into an expansive section of bald hillside; there were intermittent OTV trails here and there. Using my map, I pegged a nice route up, which was really just pressing straight on and using a lone tree to orient myself.

Below: cow trails to bald hills.

After about 400 feet of climb the mountainside flattened out, and although I’d only gone a mile, the views behind me of the Tetons were rather flattering to Wyoming. There were also a number of rather cool rock formations which I was drawn to, and which reminded me of Wyoming’s Vedauwoo. (VEE-duh-voo) A plane’s contrail also cast a cool shadow in the somewhat hazy air.

Below: OTV trails, shadows, rock formations, and more.

I had to stop and do some unexpected work on my phone; the views around me were however quite grand, as in order to get cell service I’d been forced to walk toward the canyon walls. Getting work done proved difficult as the security measures for remote access had changed both without warning and overnight. The beloved Ms. Necessary saved me by helping with the login. Note: had the work issue not have arisen, I would probably not have climbed straight up the bald hill. My original plan had been to follow a nearby drainage to the east to avoid the hill, but that was when I was considering the route in reverse, and when I had no plans of going up to find cell service. You can see what I mean in the picture below, where my GPS track is in green, and the red dots are the route I’d planned:

After completing my work, I wandered around and looked at some of the more interesting rock formations, then looked at my map. A slight northern bow along the side of the mountain was less direct but avoided going steeply downhill through possible cliffs and saved me a lot of return climb. It was worth the extra distance.

Below: View from a bald flat of Three Waters Mountain, panorama of the area I was heading to, the direct path that lost and gained too much elevation, and a nice view of the Tetons.

Wind whipping. Guess the name of the range makes sense.

Picking my path toward the wider spaced contour lines wasn’t very difficult; animal trails also helped guide the way. Soon I was out of the scrub forest and following the game trail across numerous, small rivulets but kept pressing on; the trail had some gradual undulations but nothing serious. A Challenger zipped by overhead on its way to Jackson. From the heading, it was going direct to DNW.

By 1230 I reached a creek of decent size and got water while listening to Dr. James Lindsays’ New Discourses podcast. On this one, he discussed the philosophy of many in the World Economic Forum and their views of transhumanism, as well as implementing enforced scarcity on plebians. Not nice people, if you ask me.

I filled my entire Sawyer bag and drank almost all of it, which surprised even me, as it’s a full gallon. The water itself was very cold, much like the air, but I wasn’t certain when I’d find water again. The Sawyer gravity system has been perhaps my favorite investment in improving my quality of life while camping. It’s light, easy to use, and makes drinking water an easy pleasure instead of a chore. In this case, I used a large boulder to set the bag on, and let it gravity filter into my smaller bag water pouch below. When I hike, I typically bring at least two pouches, and reserve one of them for electrolytes and energy mixes. At night, I like to keep the pouches in my tent so that I can have an energy drink right when I wake up, and so that I don’t have to freeze myself getting water.

Below: Sidehilling until I found an animal trail, which I then followed (next two pictures) between small ponds and puddles. Final picture: The surprisingly large creek where I got water.

With the watering complete, I climbed just under 200 feet up a gradual hillside, where I stopped to download another podcast and take in views of the Tetons. The large, bald flat where I’d stopped for far too long to do work was also in view, adding to the vastness of the scene.

Below: Vast scenes. The large field is the place I did work on my phone, while the less jagged peaks are the Gros Ventre Range.

At first I made a sharp left and started heading up the hill, wondering if I should perhaps aim for the 11400 contour line and follow it out. If Three Waters Mountain were similar to Union Peak, this could save me willow-based misery which I’d endured when hiking around Seven Lakes. That particularly poor decision truly haunted me, but my map and satellite imagery indicated a lot less vegetation than Union Peak. The other factors were obvious: if I could follow lower contour lines, I’d save a lot of climbing and also be able to take a more direct track. On the other hand, the contours were tight, and I could find myself cliffed out or having to do a lot of scurrying up and down and backtracking, which always makes me…I dunno, but anxious+surly is a good description.

After deliberating for far too long, I walked to the edge of a small saddle where I could look somewhat along the mountainside and see what was coming. Or at least I wished I could see more, but the bend in the mountainside meant I could only see about a mile or so. I did get some nice views of Downs Mountain, at least.

Feeling very fickle, I finally decided to take the lower contour route, as it allowed me to track toward water bodies (nothing indicated water at the top of the mountain), and I also saw a very well-worn game trail going down to a larger pond about 150 feet lower and a quarter mile distant. You’ll see those in the picture below.

I descended down to the game trail and followed it toward the pond I previously mentioned. While the low-angle granite slabs were tempting, I decided to stick to the west of the pond to avoid a marshy area. To the southeast I made out the game trail steeply climbing through some small trees. After circumnavigating more marsh, I reached the trail and started climbing. The pictures I have of it make it seem benign, but it was scrabbly with loose rock and, in a couple of areas, marshy springs. Gross. The views of the Tetons remained fabulous.

Below: The pond, the trail that felt steep and uninviting though it was actually benign, and the Tetons peeking at me.

Thankfully it was only about 100 vertical feet (I swear it felt worse for some reason), after which I broke out into a flat looking at yet another pond. Beyond the pond was slabby hillside, leading me to wonder which way this modern man should go. I could follow the pond’s presumed outlet down to a large, somewhat flat, forested area around the 10400 mark, or I could climb the slabs up to 11,200. In the end, I decided to attempt to look around an outcropping and perhaps follow a vertical gash in the land up, or if it looked better from that point, to continue side-hilling. As you might be able to tell, I prefer to avoid going up and down.

Below: the pond near the slabby mountainside.

As I listened to Joe Rogan talk with Seth Dillon about abortion, I moved on past the pond and down a gnarly rockpile. There was no way to side-hill along the area, so I carefully picked my way down while wondering if I’d break a leg, or two legs, or two legs and an arm, or two legs and two arms, or two legs, two arms and a neck. That would be embarrassing. I got a great and first view of Native Lake, as well as a nice look at the road to Green River Lakes, both of which are pictured below. The mountain with ears is Doubletop Peak, which I hiked near previously. As a side note, I really wish that Seth and his brother had not had such a falling out with the wonderful Ethan Nicole, and I hope that they make up prior to passing away. Holding to Christian convictions, it is my belief that it’s better to be friends prior to death, as otherwise the heavenly reunion seems a bit awkward. Regardless, I hope God blesses them all with fruitful spiritual lives, and I miss submitting stuff to the Babylon Bee.

11 minutes after leaving the pond, I’d only traversed 1400 feet (+50/-75), but was invigorated by the sight of the gash in the side of the mountain, which was my mentally-marked place to make an ascent. In retrospect, I probably should have made the climb up to about 11,100, but I instead elected to keep sidehilling, which meant crossing the scar in the hillside. It was deeper than it looked, but I found a good way to hop down into it and cross. On the other side I passed through a quick forest and back into the open, which then brought me into pathfinding through rocks and sections of grass. Across Roaring Fork Canyon, an awesome rockslide was present.

Below: the gash, Osborn Mountain, and the rock slide.

At 10,950 feet I ran into a cliff and chute which prevented me from sidehilling. I guess I didn’t take pictures of it, but it’s completely impassable, and I recall it vividly in my memory. Avoidance advised.

A quick climb to 11,100 helped me clear the chasm, and from there I shot mostly sideways, until I stopped to take in the view at 11,200. I also checked in with family and explained that I’d be off-grid soon. Before departing the little crest I was on, I obviously had to take some pictures. Osborn Mountain and Roaring Fork were nothing if not spectacular. The rugged, rock-strewn terrain capping yellow fields above dark forests simply blew me away, and Native Lake stood out as a jewel. Across Three Waters Mountain, I saw a large rock outcropping with a low point which provided me with some orientation: I’d head for it, then down the slopes toward the next ponds and lakes on the map.

Below: Zooming out. The low point is observed in both the standalone photo and the panorama.

Upon reaching the gap, I stopped and had a lengthy lunch, or at least it felt that way as I shoved Snowballs, lentil loops, and chips into my face—I was only carrying a little water with me at this point, so it was a risky affair. In actuality, the stop was only about 15 minutes. I had unstrapped my Canon to get some pictures, and the process always makes things feel longer, mostly because it’s irritating.

Leaving the rocky gap, I climbed a little bit around some outcroppings and soon rounded a bend in the mountain, which gave me views of the small lake I’d been heading to on my map. Downs Mountain was well in view by this point, showing just how far I’d come. The framing of the scenery here is stunning, and seems larger than I’d even thought to hope it could. Despite not having the soaring towers seen in the Cirque, or the scraped walls of Titcomb Basin, the sheer rugged might of the land made me praise the Lord out loud. I was truly blessed by such a gorgeous vista, and at this point determined that the walk would be worth it for my friends Peggy and Hank, as well as my wife, and my mother.

Below: Views from just beyond the rocky gap. Can you spot the game trail?

Looking for the Fellowship.

While the view was well worth it, being high enough to see the lake was unfortunate, as there was no way to get to it without losing and then retaking a great deal of elevation. Sidehilling would run me into a massive boulder field of, well, massive boulders. I looked and realized I could shoot a line toward the grassy, flat top of Three Waters Mountain, which would perhaps offer me nice views for the large climb, and then descend the neck of the mountain to the pass overlooking Simpson Lake. It was tempting.

In the end I decided to straight-line it toward the lake, as it was nearly 4PM and probably time for me to desist from my leisurely pace and constant picture-taking. Route finding was easy and I hopped over a couple of creeks which were flowing very well. As I crossed them, I looked over toward Native Lake and wondered how steep the creeks would become while heading toward Roaring Fork. From the topo map, some of Three Waters Mountain seemed to be a sheer cliff, but by this point, it seemed like I’d left that section behind.

Trekking toward the lake brought me to a section of cliffy hillside which drove me lower. I tried to beeline as much as possible and avoided traversing down into a forest of scrub pines. In doing so, I ended up finding three creeks within 500 feet of each other. Oddly enough, two of the creeks joined together about 200 feet from where I crossed them. Had I gone lower into the forest, I would have seen the first 2 creeks form into a nice waterfall, but I missed that…guess that’s a reason to go back!

My path took me across one final creek some 475′ lower than the rocky gap I’d left before reaching a (get this) creek at the base o the massive field of boulders I had spied earlier and chosen to avoid. Deep pools of water enticed me, but I decided to quench my thirst later. I hopped some huge boulders, and followed a gully southeast in the general direction of the lake I’d spied earlier. The game trail from one of the photos above was nearby, but I avoided it in favor of saving a little distance—the trail seemed intermittent and not really heading where I was, anyway.

Below: A nice creek, a look back toward the rock gap (note the small stature of the trees), a view up toward the top of Three Waters Mountain, and where the creek was underground.

The creek I was following vanished underground, so I continued up the gully until I reached a tiny meltpond. This wasn’t the water I’d seen earlier, which I realized must be more off to my right. Following a quick course correction, the lake popped into view. More properly, it was a set of connected ponds surrounded by alti-marshes. The western edge had a large outcropping and wasn’t as flat as the east, so I went east for the ease of the stroll. Although I was thirsty, the ponds didn’t appeal to me, so I pressed on. In the distance a well-worn trail descended Faler Pass. It looked so close, and yet the circuitous loop to get there meant it was really quite a ways away. To my south, I looked into the rock-laden landscape that would take me into upper Roaring Fork. It appeared desolate and treeless. Hopefully I’d find a good place to camp.

Below: Leaving the meltpond and looking at the grassy slopes I could have climbed. The larger pond which I didn’t stop at for water–what an amazing color. Speaking of amazing, look at my hair in that wind!

Around 4:20PM, I got my first view of lake 10,791 (ish). Common for the area, a creek ran into it from the north and a small cascade presented a great opportunity to collect and filter some water. I once again drank an enormous amount of water, which took me about 15 minutes. I arrived at the lake at 4:44, so it was getting a little late for me to still not be in the upper Roaring Fork area. You know what that meant? Yep! More pictures. Once I was level with the lake, the view of Osborn Mountain was just flat-out impressive. While it’s nothing to give a second thought to when viewed from the Green River side (unless you’re my friend Tom Ruppenthal, who has climbed it with his bride), from Three Waters Mountain it’s rather impressive. I was also presented with an amazing view of Faler Pass, which had an incredibly prominent trail going down it. This trail seemed to descend even further, though I wasn’t sure where. You’d think it was going to Native Lake, as that would seem to be attractive, but that didn’t appear to be the case.

Below: Lake 10791 with the creek to the left, a view of the pass to Faler Lake, and Osborn Mountain.

As I made my way around the lake, it became evident that heading east was better than south due to a large, marshy area. A gradual, 150 foot climb following a game trail across a grassy rise brought a large waterfall into prominence. I knew that I’d end up near it, but I wasn’t sure what getting there would be like.

Below: the game trail, looking back on Lake 10791, and the waterfall.

As the pass into Simpson Lake was very close, I marched up the unnamed trail to it and took a look at things. I’ve hiked the area around Simpson Lake, so getting to see it from the pass near Marion Lake, as well as from the pass into Roaring Fork, was quite a treat for me. Sandra and Pinto Lake were both visible, and Pinto looked worth a trip in the future. We plan on renting quads one year and going back to Granite Lake, so maybe we’ll do a quick hike over and hit up Pinto and Divide Lakes.

Below: Simpson Lake, Sandra Lake, Union Peak, looking into Yellowstone, Pinto Lake wide and zoomed in. In the wide panorama, I’ve hidden a green X which shows a place I camped during another hike…and that place has significant historical value.