In September, Matt and I visited Ketchum, Idaho. We were tucked away in the woods, staying at a cozy cabin that belongs to a friend. This friend requested I not reveal any of their secret places. To which I say, I’m flattered that you think my blog has so many readers. Because if they all were to descend on Ketchum, Idaho at the same time, I’m pretty sure no one would even notice. But I’ll only share the hikes, the ones that are printed on maps readily available at the visitors center. Besides, the secret – the rugged beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains – is definitely out.
Ketchum, located in central Idaho, is an outdoor enthusiasts dream. The opportunities for fishing, biking, skiing, and hiking seem endless. Matt and I were there for one week. Each day after breakfast, we’d go for a hike, Matt would fish, then we would sit outside and read until dark, we made dinner, and then we would read again, this time by the fireplace. Our daily hikes venturing into the wilderness barely even gave us a glimpse of the gorgeous scenery. Each hike prompted adding more hikes to the list, a list that would require multiple visits to accomplish.
Our first hike was to Fourth of July Lake in the White Cloud Mountains. (The information for each of these hikes is taken from pamphlets and maps provided by the U.S. Forest Service.) After driving on a lonely dirt road for miles through an area that had a recent forest fire, we were surprised to find so many cars in the parking lot of the trailhead. The hike to 4th of July Lake is pretty easy, about 3.5 miles round trip with a 580′ elevation gain.
On our second day, Matt had procured a fishing license for the week. He wanted to fish the Big Wood River all day long so I walked for miles along the Harriman Trail, around Baker Creek, wishing I had brought my bike. The Harriman Trail is 18 miles long with 1500′ of elevation difference. The trail goes from North Fork (or the Sawtooth National Rec Area Visitors Center) to Galena.
We drove up to the town of Stanley because we really wanted to hike in the Sawtooth Mountains, but smoke from a nearby wildfire made the air quality questionable and the views almost non-existent. We stopped by Redfish Lake, Petit Lake, and then eventually settled on a short hike in to Yellow Belly Lake and McDonald Lake where the air was clear. The hike to Yellow Belly Lake was relatively flat and easy, but the fish were non-existent.
On our way back to the cabin, we stopped at two historic mining sites, Sawtooth City and Vienna. There is not much left in either location, so I wouldn’t recommend making the drive to either one. We did, however, run across a shepherd with his sheep, so that was cool.
Our next hike was to Baker Lake, which is technically not in the SNRA, but it is close enough. The hike is 4 miles round trip with a 850′ elevation gain. Aside from the parking lot at Redfish Lake, and the parking lot at the trailhead of the Alice Lake/Toxaway Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains (Both were packed.), the hike to Baker Lake was the busiest trail we had encountered.
The following day, we hiked to Norton Lakes, they are near Baker Lake so also not in the SNRA. This hike is great, and the lakes are gorgeous. Matt had his best day of fishing here too. The hike to Norton Lakes is 4.4 miles round trip with 1500′ of elevation gain. This one is a bit steep in spots with a few river crossings that were very easy (at this time of year). We encountered several groups on this hike as well, but it wasn’t as busy as Baker Lake.
We had planned to hike to Alice Lake, but the wildfire smoke still remained, so we chose Boulder Basin as our final hike for the week. This one rivals the hike to Norton Lakes as my favorite, despite Boulder Basin being more popular with dirt bikes/ATV’s. We quickly understood why people prefer that mode of transportation here – the trail gets really gnarly. Luckily we only saw two trucks and one dirt bike. The hike is about 10 miles round trip if you can drive in the 1.2 miles to the trailhead. You gain around 1800′ of elevation, and the trail quickly turns to shale, which then turns to large rocks with running water, kind of like walking through a shallow riverbed.
But it’s totally worth it for the scenery, Clint Eastwood filmed scenes from Pale Rider here, and the hike takes you to the ghost town of Boulder City. If you’re used to the well preserved old mining towns in Nevada and California, you might be disappointed, but at least it’s not Sawtooth City or Vienna. There is also a lake you can hike to beyond the historic site, but we ran out of time because the hike heading back down through the slippery rocks takes almost as much time as heading up.
And there you have it. Our first visit to Ketchum, Idaho was amazing. I’d love to visit again. If you go, please don’t all go at once. :)
Have you hiked in this area before? What’s your favorite hike? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear about it!