Backpacking Idaho: From Alpine Peaks to Desert Canyons
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A virtually undiscovered backpacking paradise, Idaho has numerous wilderness areas of mind-boggling size. Backpackers can find complete solitude, wildlife, and some of North America's most outstanding scenery. Idaho's mountains also boast great weather -- fewer thunderstorms than the central Rockies, less rain than Oregon and Washington, and cooler summer temperatures than California.
Backpacking Idaho takes you to what author Doug Lorain calls a "Shangri-la" for backpackers. In the craggy Selkirk Mountains you'll find lush forests, small cirque lakes, and jagged granite peaks. Watch for ospreys, river otters, and belted kingfishers in the swift Selway River. Explore hundreds of miles of trails in the gently rolling forested hills in north-central Idaho, or head to Hell's Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America, where you'll find both alpine tundra and cactus-studded desert.
Turn right (north), following signs to the Seafoam Area and Lola Campground, and go just 30 yards to a junction. If you have two cars, take one of them 1.6 miles down the road to the left to the large trailhead parking lot for the Middle Fork Trail. To reach the recommended starting point, turn right at the junction and drive 0.4 mile to a fork. Bear left, following signs to Seafoam, and proceed 1.7 miles on this smooth, oiled-gravel road to the trailhead parking lot immediately after a bridge
lodgepole pines, to the signed junction with the Beaver-Trail Creek Trail. You go straight, briefly descend to the willow thickets beside Loon Creek, then climb back up to the plain and pass through a mile-wide burn area. After this, the trail does some small ups and downs to a fork and the start of your loop. The trip is easier to navigate if you go counterclockwise, so bear right at the fork and immediately drop to Pioneer Creek. The trail crosses the creek on a log, then heads southwest up
crosses avalanche chutes, and travels over rockslides in the canyon of Cabin Creek. Most of the way is downhill, but there are also a few short, uphill pitches to keep things interesting. About 2.5 miles from Crimson Lake is a junction with the Pioneer-Cabin Creek Trail. You turn left, make two uphill switchbacks, then begin a long, stair-step ascent where short, nearly level stretches are interspersed with moderate-to-steep uphills. This pattern continues all the way to a high pass, where there
open forests and grassy meadows. Not quite 1.5 miles from the North Fork junction, you hop over small Moolack Creek, then walk another 0.5 mile to an excellent campsite beside Baron Creek. In early-to-mid July the open, parklike meadows near this campsite support a wealth of wildflowers, especially spiraea, which features aromatic clusters of tiny pink blossoms. Above this campsite you climb gently past Tohobit Falls, which cascade down the canyon wall on your right, and soon reach your first
Yellowstone National Park, because winter storms, which normally come from the southwest, dump their precipitation here first. The result of all this moisture is a dense forest of large Douglas-firs and Engelmann spruces with a thick understory of mountain ash, buffaloberry, horsetails, and gooseberry. The fern-lined trail also passes many wildflowers, including birchleaf spiraea, coneflower, monkshood, Queen Anne’s lace, grass of parnassus, and a tall, white aster. In the latter half of August