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Temple Basin is probably the easiest hike in the Winds for an overnight, and it’s also one of the downright prettiest!

➤ Quick Facts

Info at a Glance
  • Date of Visit: 26-27 August
  • Notable Features: Big Sandy Trail, Big Sandy Lake, Haystack Mountain, Clear Lake, Deep Lake, East Temple Peak
  • Total Miles: ~15.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-2237′
  • Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 9096, 9615, 10,521′
  • General Route: Big Sandy Trailhead ▶ Big Sandy Trail 099 ▶ Deep Lake ▶ Trail Return
  • GPS Track Download Download the KML file to use on your phone or Google Earth; sometimes I make the GPX full-track data available. Gaia is free, just register. (No spam from them at all.)
  • Housekeeping: Feel free to contact me for uncompressed images. I optimize pictures for the web and then have a CDN display them to save data. 🙂
Interactive GPS Map (Click to See)

Elevation Profile


Although I’ve done Big Sandy and its associated trails a billion times, I often return to it toward the end of the season just because it’s attractive enough and a very easy walk in. Mom and I had a free night, and Big Sandy is close to her house (about 6.5 hours from mine), so we decided to hit it up toward the end of August, when I’d be getting back from Missouri where I was seeing a woman. This typically keeps the crowds down, although going in September, when things are likely to be cold and snowy, is much more of a surefire way of not being inundated with people.

The night before we were supposed to hike in the forecast became ominous, with snow, thunderstorms, and winds in excess of 60 knots predicted. Due to this, we canceled the trip. Just kidding. We did make sure to have more winter gear packed, though.

⤑Day 1: Big Sandy Trailhead to Deep Lake

I arrived the night before the trip to sleep at my mom’s house in Rock Springs, and we got up early in the morning to get to the trailhead. The drive from Rock Springs is a bit tedious and ugly, though the dirt road from Farson on up is pretty dang good for the Winds. Before we even got to the trailhead, we realized that this place has become way too popular, or something like that, I suppose. Vehicles lined the road  on both sides! When I first started hiking here some years ago, even at peak season it was pretty mellow. I think that instagram might be responsible for many of the people who flood the area—influencers, otherwise known as people who are sexually attractive, seem to drive crowds. I have sometimes debated putting up my little digital scrapbook as I’m doing right now, but my traffic is weighted about 400-1 in favor of the articles I post about science, religion, and humor. Some of the hikes I post may only get one or two views per month, if that, which I’m fine with—they’re just for me, for the most part.

Anyway, with that said, I might not drive traffic, but something certainly has. I typically don’t bother with Titcomb or the Cirque during the summer anymore, as it’s just too busy. I imagine that it will become permit-only or lottery-entry at some point.

We parked close to the trailhead (blessed!) and got ready with throngs of people all around. After registering (the books were in disarray and falling apart, with some left over from the previous year…?), we started the hike up. The trail in is very gradual, often running beside a river, and features intermittent parks. I’d say that it’s the easiest trail that the Winds have, at least until Big Sandy Lake, and also isn’t too rocky. I have a great dislike for dirt trails with lots of rocks which hurt my feet. The entire hike from the trailhead was packed with people, and most of them seemed to have dogs. So many of them were wearing red clothes that I thought there must be some sort of festival (rock climbing?) or other even going on that I hadn’t heard of. We’d just never seen so many people before!

  • So many dadgum cars!

At 1145 we were walking up trail 099 toward Big Sandy Lake. This is the easiest trail in the Winds, in my opinion. It’s utterly docile and won’t harm a fly. It starts off in the woods by the river, hits a big meadow, crosses a creek, and is then intermittent parks until just about 2.9 miles in, where it starts uphill into the forest and leaves the river for good. By mile 3.4, it’s climbed to 9500 feet and intersects V-Lake trail, which I’ve done before and which isn’t worth it. We reached the intersection in an hour and ten minutes, which wasn’t too bad. The number of people we passed…sheesh.

  • I took that photo on a different hike, but it’s an example of one of the parks on the way up. Since I’ve hiked this trail so many times, I don’t usually take pictures of it.

Around mile 3.75 we crossed “the notable creek” and got water. You can leave the trail near here if you’d like to climb up to Blue Lake, which is a nice little area that has no official trails, and only intermittent spots of use trail at best. My family liked it when we went, and it seems to get no visitors. It also has a bunch of fish!

At Big Sandy, we decided to cross the outlet (going right, as you’re going in), rather than follow the main trail along the side of the lake, mostly to get away from the crowds. Just so many people. Sometimes the outlet can be a pain to cross, but this time we were across it in a jiffy. The use trail on this side of the lake isn’t hard to follow, with only one spot where it ascends some rocks that can be a pain. When you get to the creek inlet, aim off to your right and cross a little, elevated section of forest, following use trails. The other side becomes very easy to follow, opening back up into a meadow.

  • Big Sandy Lake and the use trail that we used.

We crossed the meadow but didn’t fish at the bridges over the creek that spills down from Rapid and Clear Lakes. On the other side of the braided channels, you have to backtrack a tiny bit, and then hit the trail that goes up the hill. If you make an immediate right after the bridges, you’ll be on a trail, but it’s the CDT/Loop Trail going up to Rapid and the associated lakes there. I’ve done that loop a number of times (I call it the Temple Basin loop) and it’s basically my favorite. Today, however, we decided to go up the reverse way so that we could walk the granite ramps that descend down out of Deep Lake.

After briefly leveling out after 100 feet of climb (there is a braided area off through the trees), the trail begins its main ascent to Clear Lake, which is a further 250 feet uphill. It’s fairly easy, but steeper than any of the previous sections. One man ahead of us pulled over as he was a bit winded, and we said hello. He was from Wisconsin and told us that this was his second time hiking to Clear Lake…his second time this day! He’d been in the Cirque the previous night and made his way to Temple Basin earlier in the day, only to realize that his keys were missing. After hiking all the way back to the Cirque, he found his keys where his tent had previously been. Horrible! I either leave my keys behind or use the key-holder in my pack.

  • Clear Lake and Haystack.

By 3:18 we’d arrived at Clear Lake, and man if there weren’t a lot of people camping. Typically only the Cirque has campers…this was just horrible! So many humans. We continued around the northern shore and then climbed in somewhat hazy weather, which made Haystack look nice. As we started climbing the stunning, marvelous, gorgeous, amazing granite spillway up toward Deep Lake, people were just everywhere. Camped everywhere. Not camping far enough from the creek, either, inclusive of two mean ol’ hippies that we saw.

In about 30 minutes we were to Deep Lake (it’s only +450′ over .85 miles) and decided that we’d just camp near it, since the views are so spectacular and we’d never done it before. East Temple Peak looks like the bow of an amazing ship, and towers over Deep Lake. To the northwest, the Cirque is visible in its majesty. Other than Bewmark and some camp locations in Titcomb, there’s probably not a better vista in the Winds.

We talked to a couple of young guys from Jackson who had come down for the evening. They weren’t aware that a terrible storm was supposed to happen. 😛 We decided to stay on the eastern side of the lake in some trees (there were many nice spots), while the two friends went to the west side.

We had the tent up before 5PM and ate dinner, enjoying the view. Just before 7 the wind started to pick up, so I secured the tent with boulders and we climbed inside to see if it would pass over.

It was terrible! I was safe inside my bag, but dirt was being forced in past our rock wall; we both ended up covered in loose material. It was in our eyes, hair, and all over our faces and sleeping bags. After less than an hour the wind started dying down, and we got out and took some pictures and to try and clean up the tent.

The Cirque looked marvelous, though it had an ominous quality to it. The overcast ceiling brought an early night to the land, but with it also came thunder and lightning. Soon the wind was howling, and the only light came from the rapid strikes of lightning. On the wide of Pingora Peak, numerous lights turned on—rock climbers caught on the side of the mountain. It was an unexpected sight, and we hoped that they’d be ok.

Mom and I both got back in the tent as the wind started to TRULY pick up. It was terrible! Despite our rock walls, the thing wanted to blow over. The temperature began to plummet, too, so we both put on our cold-weather gear. The night was windy, but eventually it calmed…and with the calm came snow.

⤑Day 2: Hike Out

When we woke up it was snowing and our tent was encased in ice. We beat at it to get things to loosen up. It was still snowing at 0915 and we couldn’t see the mountains at all. That made two times in a row I’d been snowed on here, though this time had much less of the white garbage. We wondered what had happened to the folks on Pingora.

We stayed inside until 1030, but it became clear that warm weather wasn’t going to show its face. Adding insult to hypothermia, our shoes were filled with dirt. At least it wasn’t windy. I got us both bags to wear in our shoes, since we didn’t have waterpoof ones, and we packed up and headed out at 1100. Getting water was a miserable experience. So dang cold! I let mom use my underarmor balaclava to protect her face, while I used my inferior military one.

  • Haystack and Temple Basin wrapped in clouds.

We saw far fewer people on the way down to Big Sandy Lake, but we did meet the two friends. The one had lost his tent overnight! The wind had ripped it apart, and as he tried to get out to fix it, it became unmoored from the ground and flew off into the night. He ended up getting inside his friend’s tent and sharing his gear with them. They both seemed miserable, and they said that they looked and looked but couldn’t find any sign of the tent. It could have been lofted into the lake. Glad they weren’t alone!

There are actually fish in this creek, as wild as that seems.
  • The creek on the granite slabs between Deep and Clear Lakes.

We walked back basically the way we’d ingressed, but chose to go to the Jackass Pass side of Big Sandy Lake on the way out. We could have spent time in Temple Basin, as we’d planned, but it was intermittently raining and snowing, so we’d felt no need for that.

  • The logs cross Black Joe Creek.

We did eat some yummy berries on the march down, and had one couple comment on our bags, which we took off at the bottom of Big Sandy Lake, as it was getting warmer. They thought that it was an ingenious idea, and were worried about their feet being soaked and getting frostbite.

The walk out was uneventful, and we got out at 4:29 with fewer vehicles at the trailhead. I stayed the night at my mom’s, then drove back to my residence some 4ish hours away. Mom left me a very sweet note, and when I got back in to my house, I went flying.

➤Conclusion and Rating

I love Temple Basin! It’s much cooler than the Cirque of the Towers and has less people, usually. This hike was a bit worse than some, given the weather, but I always rate Temple 5 stars, as it’s so easy and gorgeous.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

  •  My scientific rating system. I absolutely loved this hike. Temple is the best, entry-level hike in the range, but just good all around, period!
  • Camping spots. It’s getting more populated these days, but you’ll still be able to find something nice if you look.
  • Crowds. Heavily hiked. It might be worse than Titcomb anymore.
  • Difficulty. Easy! (If you hike at all.)
  • Fishing. I didn’t fish but the fishing in the area is fine.
  • History. Not really!

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