Summit Lake Loop is typically a 4 - 5 day backpacking hike that samples a variety of the terrain of the Wind River Range:
- forested creek valleys
- treeless grass and rock covered high country sprinkled with lakes
- mixed meadow and forest areas
Views of the rugged, highest Wind River Range peaks are seen up close. Two awesome lookout viewpoints are also visited.
This loop provides several opportunities for side trips if one wants an extended trip - Island Lake and Titcomb Basin
, Fremont Lake, and Lost Lake, to name a few.
Except for the trail to Titcomb Basin
(the first 11 miles), the rest of the run is away from the crowds. However, with that said, it is a loop that is regularly used. This loop can be done in either direction, but most choose to do it counter-clockwise, as shown here, so the hardest part, the steep descent and climb through Pine Creek Canyon, is at the end with lightened packs.
The Trail to Titcomb Basin (Mile 0 - 10.7)
Running to Titcomb Basin
is very popular, so expect to have company on this section.
From the first/south trailhead at Elkhart Park, take Pole Creek Trail
. It immediately enters the pine forest and climbs gradually following a creek to the left and below the trail, for the first mile and a half. At the 1.7 mile mark, the trail turns left/north and continues to climb gently in the forest.
After a bend to the east at the 2.8 mile the trail gradually climbs out of the forest and views of the mountains to the north appear. The views get better and better until Photographers Point
, an awesome lookout, is reached at the 4.8 mile mark. After Photographers Point
the trail continues in thin, rocky forest to reach a trail junction with Seneca Lake Trail #7123
at the 5.5 mile mark. Head towards Seneca Lake here.
Now on Seneca Lake Trail #7123
, the trail is relatively flat with some short ups and downs as it winds around rock outcrops sprinkled among the trees. Hobbs Lake is passed at the 6.8 mile mark, followed by Seneca Lake at the 9.0 mile mark. Next comes Little Seneca Lake, and after passing it, the CDT is reached at mile mark 10.0.
On the CDT (Mile 10.7 - 22.0)
Head toward Island Lake for a short ways on the CDT. After about 3/4 mile, the trail to Island Lake splits from the CDT. Go left/north at this trail fork to stay on the CDT. Leaving the crowds bound for Island Lake behind, the trail winds around past trees, lakes, and meadows, and comes to Fremont Creek, crossing it on a sturdy bridge.
After Fremont Creek, the trail climbs gradually to Lower Jean Lake, set in a rocky, grassy basin with scattered trees, runs along the lake high above it for almost a mile, crosses its inlet creek a couple times, and heads to Upper Jean Lake. Continuing to climb gradually, the trail is now in treeless, rocky, grassy terrain for the next four miles. Upper Jean Lake is passed, and then another small lake, as the trail reaches its high point with a view of Shannon Pass ahead, at the 16.9 mile mark.
But instead of going over Shannon Pass, the trail veers left/west and heads to Elbow Lake, the largest lake in a treeless, grassy, rocky basin dotted with many lakes. At the 18.8 mile mark, the trail descends out of the Elbow Lake Basin, winds around, and makes a descent to cross the upper reaches of the forested Pine Creek Valley and Pine Creek.
After crossing Pine Creek, the trail climbs out of its forested valley into the rocky, grassy high lands again. Then a short mile brings one to Summit Lake. The trail follows the Summit Lake shoreline to the first of two trail junctions. Go left/southwest here towards Trapper Lake.
Summit Lake Trail (Mile 22.0 - 29.9)
Leaving Summit Lake behind, descending gradually, the trail goes through rocky, grassy meadows and pine forest for the next eight miles. Along the way trail junctions (stay left at these trail junctions), and many beautiful lakes are passed - Borum lake, Gottfried Lake, Neil Lake, Trapper Lake, Little Trapper Lake, and more. At the 29.9 mile mark a trail junction with a trail sign is reached. Go left here to head toward Elkhart Park.
Pine Creek Canyon (Mile 29.9 - 36.2)
Almost immediately, Crows Nest Lookout
, a rocky bluff overlooking the Pine Creek drainage/valley, with awesome views, is reached. After admiring the views, continue on as the trail begins its descent on Crows Nest Lookout Trail
, down to Pine Creek at the bottom of Pine Creek Canyon. The trail descends, and rather steeply in places, for the next 2.5 miles. The open views at the top are lost as the pine forest is entered as one goes lower. At the bottom of the canyon, Pine Creek is crossed on a sturdy bridge.
Continuing in the pine forest, the trail follows Fremont Creek upstream for the next half mile, to arrive at Long Lake. Passing Long Lake, a final steep climb for 2.3 miles, brings one back to Elkhart Park at the second/north trailhead there, to complete this loop hike.
Variety - pine forests and grassy, rocky high meadows and everything in between. Summer wildflowers. Deer, marmots, and other shy animals live here.