Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Horseshoe Lake - Challis National Forest, Idaho - Backpacking

Backpacker Magazine published a "Rip and Go" article in their September issue about Loon Creek and Horseshoe Lake in central Idaho. The article caught Jake's attention (probably because of the pre-selected food menu that came along with the complete how-to guide for this hike) and he decided we should do the trip. Despite my constant efforts to drag people across the deserts of Southern Utah, I occasionally give in to these green alpine hikes because they are always better than the other option - no backpacking trip at all. I enjoy exploring new places and since none of my previous outdoor adventures had taken me to Idaho, I agreed it would be a perfect trip for Labor Day weekend.

We left Salt Lake Friday afternoon and headed to a town called Stanley where we planned to camp for the night. The drive was about 6 hours and we passed through some very nice towns as we approached Stanley. Not the typical small podunk towns scattered throughout Idaho - these were high class, high end resort towns in the Sun Valley area. It was immediately decided that this place was worth additional trips to check out the towns. We camped overnight in a developed campground just south of Stanley and awoke the next morning to find ourselves surround by gorgeous jagged mountains (the Sawtooth Range) and Salmon River flowing through the valley.

The Sawtooth Range near Stanley, ID

Taking down the tent in the morning

The Sawtooth Range and the Salmon River

We made a brief stop in Stanley to see the town and get some coffee before making our way to the trailhead. The town had some amazing views of the Salmon River and Sawtooth Range, and seemed to be filled with cabins and homes catering to wealthy people on fishing vacations. I bet it absolutely sucks there in the winter, but it certainly looked like a gorgeous place to spend the summer. The road to the trailhead was rough, winding, and steep. By the time we made it to the ranger station where the trail started it was already early afternoon.

Jake in Stanley, ID

The Salmon River

Ready to start the hike

The hike followed Loon Creek for about 9 miles up to Horseshoe Lake. Several river crossings added to the adventure, and a hot spring along Loon Creek made for a good rest stop. The hot spring was a bit on the shallow side, and not extremely hot. I tried to love it, but it was just OK.

The first river crossing

Trying to love the hot spring

Taking a break

Arriving at Horseshoe Lake at sunset

We spent Saturday night and all of Sunday at Horseshoe Lake. We decided to hang around the lake and relax instead of exploring any farther because the weather seemed a little stormy on Sunday afternoon. It got fairly cold (a hint of winter in the air at 8,000 feet!) but there were just a few passing showers at night. It was decided that Jake and I have very limited knowledge of card games, and Jake's whiskey wasn't the best I've ever had.

Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake

Happy tent near Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake

Jake makes sure the bears don't come looking for dinner

We headed back to the trailhead Monday morning for the journey back to Salt Lake. Between the hiking and the driving, it was a very long day, but very much worth it.

Jake is a big fan of this picture

End of the hike

Heading back to Salt Lake