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Backpacker Magazine – September 2001

Hiking Idaho's White Cloud Mountains

Head to the White Cloud Mountains for a crowd-free taste of Idaho high country.

by: Amanda Breen

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Expedition Planner: White Cloud Mountains, ID

DRIVE TIME: The White Cloud Peaks are in central Idaho, about 2 1/2 hours (140 miles) east of Boise.

THE WAY: From Boise, take ID 21 east to the town of Stanley. Then take ID 75 south for about 15 miles to Fourth of July Creek Road (Forest Service Road 209) and go east for 5 miles to the signed trailhead for Champion Lakes.

TRAILS: The 8-mile Champion Creek Trail is the best way to reach the lakes (don't be tempted by the apparent shortcut via Pole Creek). The Champion Creek Trail connects with the Washington Creek Trail. Add 5 miles to the hike by continuing over the shoulder of Washington Peak and into Washington Basin.

DAYHIKE: For a 3 1/2-mile hike to Fourth of July Lake, continue on Fourth of July Creek Road about 5 miles to the trailhead. Other dayhikes include Boulder Chain Lakes and Castle Peak.

ELEVATION: The Champion Lakes trailhead lies at 8,250 feet and Washington Peak tops out at 10,519 feet.

CAN'T MISS: The view of Castle Peak from most high ridges and peaks in the area.

CROWD CONTROL: This area is a proposed wilderness and closed to mechanized vehicles. Go in early fall for the best chance of complete solitude and good weather. Avoid Champion Lakes in the summer, when it's a popular destination for Boy Scout troops.

GUIDES: Idaho: A Climbing Guide: Climbs, Scrambles, and Hikes, by Tom Lopez (The Mountaineers, 800-553-4453;; $35), has good information on nontechnical ascents of peaks in the White Clouds. USGS 7.5-minute topo maps Washington Peak and Horton Peak (888-ASK-USGS;; $4 each).

WALK SOFTLY: On the high ridges and peaks in the White Clouds, the rock can be fragile.

CONTACT: Sawtooth National Recreation Area, (208) 727-5000;

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Lynne Stone
Oct 04, 2009

I'd say that any time is a good time to visit Champion Lakes. You might run into Boy Scouts, you might run into the outfitter that has a camp and sometimes a lot of horses or mules there. But, there are plenty of places to get away from people. Going in the fall means the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting really cold, and you miss out on all the wildflowers.

Backpacker Mag - you might contact me about writing of places to go in the White Clouds. See our website:

Thanks - Lynne K. Stone, Director, Boulder-White Clouds Council.

Lynne Stone
Oct 04, 2009

The USFS has not removed the shorter, steep trail into Champion Lakes basin from Pole Creek road. It's still the preferred route, because the trail up Champion Creek drainage is a long slog for hikers. The 2005 Valley Road fire burned much of the Champion Creek canyon.


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