Weekends: Rapid River Loop, Idaho

Low elevation and an arid climate guarantee year-round access to this secluded riverine gem in the Nez Perce.
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Low elevation and an arid climate guarantee year-round access to this secluded riverine gem in the Nez Perce.

As the days shorten and the first blizzards wallop the mountains of central Idaho, most hikers have already stowed their boots and tuned their skis, but here I am, soaking up the rays in a golden hillside meadow. Below me, the Rapid River gushes through a narrow sluice box of granite. Above, imposing peaks with names like Devils Throne and Black Imp guard the valley like gargoyles. A couple hundred yards away, a curious, cinnamon-colored black bear rises on her haunches and gives me an inquisitive look—as if to say, What are you doing here in November?—before sauntering off into a thicket of willow and serviceberry, her cub in tow. Low elevation and an arid climate guarantee year-round access to this secluded riverine gem—which is why I’ll be back again soon. BY PAUL CHISHOLM

Turn-by-turn
From the Rapid River TH

(1) Hike 3.8 miles south on the W. Fk Rapid River Trail No. 113 to a junction overlooking the confluence of the two forks of the Rapid River; stay on Trail No. 113 to the right.
(2) Parallel the West Fork for 3.2 miles to the McCrea Cabin.
(3) Veer north onto the Frank Wurl Trail and climb .5 mile (gaining 500 feet) to an unsigned junction near an old homestead. Leave the Wurl Trail and head northeast (hiker’s right) on narrow singletrack (Trail No. 55), descending to Cannon Creek.
(4) Follow the intermittent trail 6.8 miles through open sagebrush steppe to an unsigned junction on the Rapid River at mile 14.4.
(5) Retrace your steps .5 mile to the trailhead.

Campsite
McCrea Cabin (mile 7)

Set up camp at a lightly used site on a wooded knoll just southeast of the old cabin (not open to the public) with views overlooking the river valley and the jagged Seven Devils Mountains, 4 miles west as the crow flies. As the sun sets, watch the snowcapped peaks turn pink and scan the meadows along the stream for elk and black bears (most active at dawn and dusk). If the knoll site is taken, bed down at any of the handful of other sites in the half-mile-long meadow by the cabin.

Good as gold
During the 1800s, miners and homesteaders discovered deposits of blue-hued copper ore in the Rapid River valley, but they had trouble exporting it due to the area’s remoteness, so the mines shut down and the region quickly depopulated. Explore abandoned cabins, rusted tools, and even a 19th-century grave near Potter Flat at mile 4.5.

Side trip to the Seven Devils
Those 9,000-footers tempting you to the west? Add a night to the itinerary to visit them: Veer west off the route description onto the Wurl Trail at mile 7.5. Head 3.5 miles to the azure Cannon Lakes (pictured), which hide below the Tower of Babel, The Ogre, and The Goblin. Caution: You’ll climb 3,000 feet and parts might be snowy in November. Camping is plentiful (no permits) and monster cutthroat trout patrol the shoreline. Retrace your steps to the Wurl homestead and pick up Trail No. 55 to resume the Rapid River Loop.

DO IT Trailhead 45.352411, -116.398703*; 45 miles north of McCall on Rapid River Rd. Gear up Home Town Sports in McCall; hometownsportsmccall.comSeason Year-round. Fall brings foliage and bugling elk; winter for solitude, spring for flora, summer for Chinook salmon. Permits None Custom-centered mapbit.ly/BPmapRapid ($15) Contact (208) 839-2211; bit.ly/NezPerceTrip datawww.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/2750988

*Plug these lat/long coordinates into Google Maps for turn-by-turn driving directions.

Trail Facts

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