By Michael Lanza

Tucked away deep in the White Cloud Mountains of central Idaho, the Big Boulder Lakes, a cluster of more than a dozen larger lakes and myriad tiny tarns, lie scattered like a handful of seeds cast to the ground in a basin above 9,000 feet, where copses of spruce and fir trees speckle an otherwise barren landscape of rock and dirt. The backdrop to the lakes, the White Cloud Peaks form a long ridge of chalk-like rock rising to well over 11,000 feet, scraping jagged edges against a brilliantly blue sky. I had heard other avid backpackers rave about this area, but when I finally backpacked in there with my son, the place far exceeded any description of it.

My son, Nate, then 12, and I backpacked roughly 22 miles over three days to the Big Boulder Lakes in the White Cloud Mountains, in central Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area. On our annual father-son trip together, we explored the lakes basin, but only looked up in awe at the peaks, resolving to return eventually to climb some of them.


The Big Boulder Lakes basin, White Cloud Mountains, Idaho.

The Big Boulder Lakes basin, White Cloud Mountains, Idaho.

The White Clouds, a cluster of rocky mountains east of the better-known Sawtooths and southeast of the tiny town of Stanley, remain off the radar of most backpackers outside Idaho. But with a bill before Congress that would create a wilderness there, and President Obama supposedly considering designating the area as a national monument if the wilderness bill does not pass, greater attention may eventually come to these beautiful mountains.

Want to learn more about the White Clouds and see more photos and a video? Read my story “Exploring a Wilderness Hopeful: Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains,” and all of my stories about the White Clouds now at The Big Outside, including my story about a 28-mile dayhike two friends and I took through the heart of the range. Read more about the proposal to create a Boulder-White Cloud National Monument.

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