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summer 2001 : recreation

hiking the Castle Divide. photo courtesy Lynne Stone

Summer in the Mountains

Local picks for hiking and biking trails

by Greg Stahl

Taking a walk and riding a bike are simple joys learned early in life. Take those simple pleasures and infuse them with the sights and sounds of the pristine, Sun Valley backcountry and the experience becomes sublime.

The Sun Valley backcountry playground contains close to 1,100 miles of maintained trails, all of which are part of the Sawtooth National Forest. From rugged, above timberline rock-littered obstacle courses to smooth rollercoaster paths meandering through shimmering aspen groves, chances are the Sun Valley area has the trail you’re looking for. 

Trails immediately surrounding Sun Valley include the Harriman Trail, which travels 18 miles of the Big Wood River corridor between the SNRA headquarters and Galena Lodge. Also nearby are the Adams Gulch, Oregon Gulch and Fox Creek loops, which are popular with local mountain bikers, trail runners and day hikers. Sun Valley Co. even provides lift rides to adventurous mountain bikers seeking 3,400 vertical- foot, hair raising descents down Bald Mountain, the wintertime ski area.

But there’s much more nearby. This spring, the Sun Valley Guide asked local backcountry travelers what trails they’re excited about getting out on this summer. Among them, the following local hikers have well over 100 years of local hiking experience. What follows is a summary of their picks.

So beyond whittling away all the options, there’s really only one thing left to do. Grab your bike or lace up your boots and get outside. The Sun Valley backcountry is waiting.

White Cloud Mountains
Ants Basin Divide
Fourth of July Lake Trails

hiking maps | full-size map (large)

“This is really a wonderful hike, and it’s a nice moderate hike you can do into real backcountry,” says Linn Kincannon of the short but steep climb to Ants Basin Divide in the heart of the White Cloud Mountains.

Kincannon has lived in the Wood River Valley since 1975 and has worked for the Idaho Conservation League for 11 years. “I’ve been hiking everywhere I can all of that time,” she says.

Kincannon and fellow conservationist Lynne Stone both pick Ants Basin Divide as an excellent introduction to central Idaho’s ample wilderness. Stone is the executive director of The Boulder White Cloud Council and is the author of a hiking guide, “Idaho’s Sawtooth Country.”

Ants Basin Divide is a short, 1.3-mile climb from Fourth of July Lake, which is easily accessible from the Fourth of July trailhead.

“The trail up to Ants Basin Divide, though steep, is short and provides a great view of Alabaster Peak and a great view into remote Warm Springs Canyon,” Kincannon says.
The hike to Fourth of July Lake is much easier, about 1.9 miles, and provides equally magnificent, though lower elevation, views. 

Sawtooth Mountains
Toxaway Canyon Trails

hiking maps | full-size map (large)

Toxaway Canyon trails, which begin at the glacial Pettit or Yellow Belly lakes, can be an easy 6-mile day hike or a moderate 15.3 mile loop that travels through the heart of the Sawtooth Mountains and Sawtooth Wilderness Area. This sometimes busy canyon has been many a local’s introduction to Sawtooth Mountain hiking.

“It’s beautiful; it’s gorgeous,” says Hailey resident Molly Goodyear. “It’s got everything you want in a day hike or an overnight.”

Goodyear, who’s made a career working for various conservation groups, has lived and hiked in the Sun Valley area for over a dozen years. She says she prefers to hike out one of the loop’s spurs and come back, making an easy afternoon out of this trail.

The trail can be crowded near the trailhead, but the crowds thin the farther one travels from his or her car.
Toxaway canyon is reached either from Pettit Lake Tin Cup hiker trailhead or Yellow Belly Lake trailhead.

Beginning at Yellow Belly rather than Tin Cup reduces the hiking distance to several of the mountain lakes and saves 930 feet in elevation change. Yellow Belly Lake Road is rough, however, and many hikers choose to begin at Tin Cup.

Boulder Mountains
Rainbow Creek Trail

hiking maps | full-size map (large)

Ed Cannady has been hiking in the local mountains for 28 years, 14 of those years as a recreation manager for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

“I have categories of favorite trails,” he says as he ponders the miles he’s logged in local mountain ranges.

For the intermediate mountain bike ride category, Cannady picks Rainbow Creek trail, which accesses the northern Boulder Mountains from Pole Creek in the Sawtooth Valley. Pole Creek is the dividing line between the Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

“It has some fun climbing. I like to climb,” Cannady says. “It’s not super steep. It’s got good scenery, and there’s a good chance of seeing some wildlife.”

The trail would be okay for hiking, he adds, but “the real value in this trail is as a mountain bike ride.”

Additionally, Cannady says the trail is sparsely traveled and in good shape, meaning bikers don’t have to fight the crowds that are sometimes common on Wood River Valley trails.

Smoky Mountains
Norton Lakes
Big Lost Lake Trail

hiking maps | full-size map (large)

This moderate climb “makes for a great day hike for all abilities,” says the Sawtooth National Forest’s Ketchum District ranger Kurt Nelson.

“It’s got nice scenery with peaks and drop offs,” he says. “You’ve got high lakes against big, rocky cliffy areas near the ridgeline between two drainages, and you could have a chance encounter with a mountain goat.”

At upper Norton Lake, take in the view of 10,336-foot Norton Peak or relax at the lake’s lush edge.

From lower Norton Lake cross the saddle to Big Lost Lake, then down to Smoky Lake and make the loop back to Norton Lakes trail on an easily-discernible horse and foot path.

Pioneer Mountains
North Fork of Hyndman Creek
the Pioneer Cabin Trails
and Hyndman Peak

hiking maps | full-size map (large)

Idaho Department of Fish and Game conservation officer and Hailey resident Lee Frost has been hiking Sun Valley area trails for 29 years, and the North Fork Hyndman Creek Trail is his clear favorite. 

“I would classify it as a moderately strenuous climb. You gain a lot of elevation, but it’s over a lot of distance.” Frost says the trail’s appeal is in its sparse crowds. “This one, at least to date, is one that doesn’t attract a lot of people. You can kill a day up there and have a good time, and usually, up in that high basin, you’ll run into a fair number of elk.” 

The North Fork Hyndman Creek trail is one of several that access Pioneer Cabin, which is nestled high in the Pioneer Mountains. Hikers can sleep over at the cabin, built in 1937 by the Union Pacific Railroad, or just take advantage of its splendid photo opportunities.

The trailhead also serves the Hydman Peak trail. Hyndman Peak is one of the highest in the state, towering 12,009 feet above sea level. It provides a tough day or a more relaxed two-day climb. The 8.5-mile loop winds through 2,500 vertical feet of forested and mountainous terrain.