Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
3,720.00 ft (1,133.86 m)
Trail type
14.00 mi (22.53 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Ross Lake is a lesser known but still spectacular day hike that shares a trailhead with one of the most popular hikes in the northern Winds: Lake Louise. Despite that hike’s popularity, Ross Lake is infrequently traveled, being much more strenuous than its trailhead-sharing sister. Since they only share the first 0.5 mile of trail (Glacier Trail 801), they are completely unique.

The trail to Ross Lake is intense right out of the gate, climbing over 2500 feet in just over 3 miles. That’s because the first part of the trail climbs partially up Whiskey Mountain. At 3.8 miles, you’ll come to a fork in the trail on top of a bald knoll. Going right will lead you to the summit of Whiskey Mountain while going straight will take you toward Ross Lake.

Fortunately, the trail gets a bit easier for a while… depending on when you undertake the hike, that is. This guide was written based on a mid-June outing. The summer was unseasonably hot unusually early, so all the snow had melted. However, I did NOT anticipate the trail being quite as boggy as it was, given the elevation and somewhat dry climate. That said, I ended up donning my sandals and quite literally wading through much and mire on and off through the next two miles. One suffering ends to beget another. In the future, my recommendation would be to wait until July at least to attempt this hike to ensure drier trail conditions.

Bog aside, enjoy the reprieve from elevation gain and loss while you can because the final mile of trail is not for the weak-willed (or weak legged). Ross Lake lies nestled in the bottom of a small cirque, to which you must descend steeply down. For those familiar with the heavy stock traffic on trails in the Winds, the “Stock Not Recommended” sign at the top of the hill might tell you what you’re in for.

In reality, only a small chunk of this stretch is that steep, but boy is it ever STEEP (not to mentioned consisting of mostly loose dirt and perfect ankle-rolling sized rocks). At the bottom of the hill, keep meandering through intermittent forest and boulder fields until you see the dark depths of Ross Lake. 

If intending to backpack, your best campsites lie back at the top of the big hill. Descending with backpacking gear aside, Ross Lake doesn’t cultivate the most friendly camping environment. Most of its shores are either a jumble of talus or disappear quickly into the precipitous walls of the eastern shore. Even in mid-June, fractured chunks of ice will likely cover the shady half of the lake. If one really wants to camp nearer to the lakes, better camping on more mellow terrain may be found if one continues all the way to the other end of Ross Lake, to Upper Ross Lake.

Hike out the same way you came in. The first mile may be miserable, but just remember: it’s all downhill from there!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round


Open from

June 01 to October 01


Low traffic. One of few day hikes in the Wind River Mountains. Remote destination. Beautiful vistas.


Strenuous terrain. Poor trail conditions through mid summer. Bugs. Hot and exposed terrain.

Trailhead Elevation

7,595.00 ft (2,314.96 m)

Highest point

10,347.00 ft (3,153.77 m)


Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Bird watching
Big Game Watching
Horseback riding

Typically multi-day


Suitable for


Permit required



Nearby Lodging + Camping


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