Sinks Canyon via ferrata, Sunnyside Trail plans move ahead

Pictured above is the proposed route for the Sinks Canyon via ferrata, an assisted climbing route using cables and rungs that allows novice climbers to scale the face of a cliff. The route is subject to change, and the thickness of the lines in the photo are not to scale. The cables themselves would be largely invisible to the naked eye from the highway, according to officials. Photo courtesy of Sinks Canyon State Park.

By: Sarah Elmquist Squires
Managing Editor

In 2019, when the Sinks Canyon State Park Master Plan was being created, the idea of adding a new kind of climbing experience began to take shape. Named from the Italian phrase for “iron path,” via ferratas are becoming more and more popular across the U.S. A via ferrata is an assisted climbing route using cables and rungs that allow novice climbers to scale the faces of cliffs that would otherwise be very difficult or impossible to access.

Planners noted that such a climbing attraction would be well suited for Sinks Canyon, in part because it makes sense to develop the project in a spot where climbing and recreation already have plenty of infrastruture in place, rather than developing one in an area that would require all new paths, roads, and parking. Additionally, Sinks Canyon has a strong commitment from volunteers and community members willing to contribute in-kind labor and their expertise. Once the idea took shape in the master plan, the Wind River Outdoor Recreation Collaborative, a group of local recreation stakeholders, land managers, and elected officials, established a subcommittee to develop a proposal for State Parks and Wyoming Game and Fish for review.

The via ferrata is proposed to be located south of the Rise on the north-facing slope. It’s the only location on the south side of the canyon that is both suitable for climbing and located entirely inside the state park; the Bureau of Land Management had requested that the project not include lands managed by that agency.

Since the project began moving ahead, a variety of studies have been completed, most recently, a cultural survey of the area along the Sandstone Buttress. Staff are currently awaiting results on the study, and next up will be an engineering report on the structural analysis of the sandstone area to determine the integrity of the structure. Once all those reports are completed, park staff will work with installers and seek bids for the project.

A single track trail (footpath only, not for bicyclists) is being routed to provide safe access while protecting critical wildlife habitats.

Peregrine falcons have been known to nest in the area. Although Wyoming Game and Fish have stated the project wouldn’t cause any significant impact on wildlife, including the falcons, temporary mandatory closures would be imposed if nesting raptors were located in the area. Park officals say they know of no mandatory climbing closure in the park in the past, but in the event of nesting raptors near the via ferrata, one would be imposed.

According to organizers, the via ferrata could attract an average of 25 people a day, which would mean a seasonal number of visitors in the thousands. Conservative estimates put the economic impact of the project between $250,000 and $500,000 annually in direct spending and estimated spending on lodging, food and fuel.

Park officials say it’s possible that demand could prompt a second route, potentially on the sunny side of the Sawmill area. A parking area and additional restroom could also be considered in the future, which would be placed on previously developed areas where possible.

Another Sinks Canyon project under consideration is the proposed Sunnyside Trail, a multi-use trail that would start at The Rise and run through the canyon about two miles, and end near the border of Sinks Canyon State Park and the National Forest. It would help connect The Rise, the state park visitor center, the Popo Agie Campground, and the National Forest climbers’ parking lot.

The Sunnyside Trail project has also undergone cultural surveys, along with wildlife impact assessments. Because the trail would run near critical mule deer habitat, leash laws would be in effect, along with potential winter closures, to ensure mule deer are not push from their feeding grounds.

Thinking of taking a visit? the Sawmill and Popo Agie campgrounds are open year round, and four all-weather yurts are available through the state parks reservation system. The water has been turned off for winter, and many of the interpretive graphics have been brought in until spring, but there is plenty to explore in Sinks Canyon, including the Boulder Choke Cave. With water levels receded, cave tours are available, and the caves maintain a balmy 55 degrees all year. Cave tours are available for on-demand group requests, but park officials are planning a weekly cave tour schedule.

Find out more at https://wyoparks.wyo.gov/index.php/places-to-go/sinks-canyon, or follow the park on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.