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Ask Me: What Backpacking Trip Do You Recommend in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains?

Ask Me: What Backpacking Trip Do You Recommend in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains?

[Note: This is a combined response to two similar questions from readers.]

Michael,

Your spectacular photos of Castle Peak and the White Cloud Mountains have inspired us to take a backpacking trip there this August or September. Do you have any suggestions for a loop hike? We have backpacked out West—Maroon Bells, Teton Crest Trail, all over the canyons of Utah. We can easily do 8 to 10 miles a day, as we like to go slow and admire the beautiful Western scenery, and probably 5 to 6 days on trail. Thank you for any advice, I love looking at your pictures. Your Mount St. Helens pictures brought back many wonderful memories of our Pacific Northwest trip.

Helen
West Chester, PA
(via Facebook)

Michael,

Saw your earlier post “Ask Me: What Are the Best Hikes in Idaho’s Sawtooths?” We did the Alice-Toxaway Lakes loop in the Sawtooth Mountains last summer and loved it. Would you consider doing a similar post on the nearby White Cloud Mountains and the best backpacking trips there?

Thank you,

Greg
Kennewick, WA

 

Idaho's White Cloud Mountains, with Castle Peak on the right, seen from the Sawtooth Mountains.

Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains, with Castle Peak on the right, seen from the Sawtooth Mountains.

Hi Helen and Greg,

Thanks for writing and following The Big Outside. I have posted two stories about the White Cloud Mountains, one about a three-day backpacking trip to the Big Boulder Lakes (lead photo at top of story), the other about a 28-mile dayhike loop around Castle Peak which would be a fabulous three- or four-day backpacking trip, though you’ll see there’s one very steep and loose off-trail section that some people might want to avoid (and it is avoidable; see my note below).

The White Clouds don’t offer loops that are entirely on trail—only if you’re willing to hike a bit off-trail. I will suggest at the bottom of this note how to turn the trip I’m about to describe into a loop, but it would require some class 2 off-trail hiking and navigating cross-country (described here: idahoalpinezone.com/index.php?p=2_58).

Short of doing a loop hike, though, the classic trip that’s entirely on trail and most convenient to access coming from either Boise, or from points west or south of the White Clouds, is to start from the Fourth of July Trailhead, at the end of Fourth of July Creek Road (which is off ID 75 south of Stanley). Hike about 1.5 miles to Fourth of July Lake. From there, hike south on Trail 109 past Washington Lake (good campsites), then turn onto Trail 203, and follow it to Trail 47, which crests at Chamberlain Divide, a spectacular overlook of the Chamberlain Basin and Castle Peak. You could make Chamberlain Basin on your first day and camp at one of the lakes there.

 

Chamberlain Basin below Castle Peak, White Cloud Mountains, Idaho.

Chamberlain Basin below Castle Peak, White Cloud Mountains, Idaho.

Day two, continue north (around the east side of the range) on Trail 47 to the Boulder Chain Lakes and pick a lake to camp at; lots of options, but the uppermost lakes get far fewer visitors. If you camp at one of the lower lakes, you could spend two nights there and take a dayhike to the upper Boulder Chain Lakes on day three. Then backtrack your route to Fourth of July Trailhead.

Another option, if you have time: From Fourth of July Lake, hike north on Trail 219 over a pass and down into Ants Basin, which is beautiful; there’s good camping at Born Lakes. See my story with more photos about a 28-mile dayhike; it describes how to get over the serrated ridge separating the Born Lakes from the Boulder Chain Lakes by ascending several hundred feet up a steep and loose gully.

Above Scoop Lake in the Boulder Chain Lakes, White Cloud Mountains.

Above Scoop Lake in the Boulder Chain Lakes, White Cloud Mountains.

To avoid that gully and take an easier, off-trail route: From the pass on Trail 219 between Fourth of July Lake and Ants Basin, hike east along the ridge to the summit of 10,877-foot Patterson Peak, descend into Four Lakes Basin, then continue to Quiet Lake, Noisy Lake, and past Shallow Lake to Windy Devil, where you’ll pick up a trail descending into the Boulder Chain Lakes. I’ve been to the top of Patterson and saw that it’s not a steep descent into the Four Lakes Basin; and a friend has backpacked the cross-country route I just described and told me it’s all hiking, no real scrambling.

Good luck.

Best,
Michael

Michael,

Absolutely wonderful info, thanks so much. I love planning trips and this will give me a great head start. I can’t wait to see Idaho!

Helen

Michael,

These are all great! Thanks so much.

Greg

In Ask Me, I share my response to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly. Scroll through my Ask Me page and All Trips pagesskills stories, and gear reviews for answers to your questions before writing to me.

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About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

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