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→ In This overlooked locals-only jewel across the Salmon River Valley from the more-famous Sawtooth Mountains
← Out Camera toters and RV gridlock in Yellowstone National Park
Named for the snow-white rock of several peaks, the range was part of a failed national-park proposal 40 years ago. The result instead was the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area—an outcome that, ironically, helped preserve the obscurity of the White Clouds. The upshot is that you can have mountains that evoke Yellowstone’s Gallatin Range or Absarokas, with elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, and even gray wolves—almost to yourself. Our choice route: a 32.5-mile, partly off-trail (hiking, no scrambling) loop from Fourth of July Creek trailhead on the west side of the range. Follow Trails 109 and 219 for 2.1 miles to the saddle between Blackman and Patterson Peaks, then head off-trail over 10,872-foot Patterson Peak—with an amazing 360 of the White Clouds. Descend into Four Lakes Basin and camp at the northern tip of Quiet Lake or the outlet of Noisy Lake. Day two, ascend off-trail past Shallow Lake, cross Windy Devil Ridge, and drop into the valley of the trout-rich Boulder Chain Lakes, ringed by craggy, white peaks. Find good camping at Hatchet or Baker Lake. Day three, hoof southwest via Trails 47 and 110 to Chamberlain Basin, a lake-dotted cirque below the 2,500-foot-tall south face of Castle Peak, the range’s highpoint at 11,815 feet. Pack a bear canister— bruins here raid hangs. Local knowledge En route to Chamberlain Basin on day three, make the 1.5-mile round-trip, off-trail side trip to visit secluded Castle Lake. It sits at 9,419 feet in a small cirque bounded by the sheer cliffs of Merriam and Castle Peaks.
Do it From ID 75, 15 miles south of Stanley, turn east onto Fourth of July Creek Rd.; go 10.2 miles to the trailhead.
Map Sawtooth & White Cloud Mountains ($11, adventuremaps.net)
Contact (208) 774-3000; fs.fed.us/r4/sawtooth/recreation