Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Now that mountain snow has melted, it's time to go backpacking! Try Red Mountain Lakes!

Steve and Quinn on top of Red Mountain 

Huck loves to swim in the lakes 

He likes to help catch fish, too! 

Fish on! 

Here's an Idaho home-grown boy enjoying the wild country ... 
Hi all,

I've been wanting to go backpacking with my son, Quinn, who's 17 and a senior at Boise High this fall, but it's been tough to schedule considering his busy schedule as a student-athlete and worker bee. Finally, last weekend, the stars aligned and we blasted off to backpack into the Red Mountain Lakes with my friend Norm Nelson, who loves to go backpacking anywhere, anytime.

I chose Red Mountain Lakes because it was the 4th of July weekend, and I knew the well-known trails and high mountain lakes in the Sawtooths and White Clouds would be likely over-run with people. And by god, we made the right call! We never saw another human until the 2nd day when we scaled Red Mountain (elev. 8,722') to enjoy the vast views in all directions, and we ran into a nice couple who were on a day-hike to the peak and lakes.
Trip map. It's 3.5 miles one-way and 1,600 feet of climbing
to get into the Red Mountain Lakes. 

In all honesty, I hadn't been to the Red Mountain Lakes for probably 20 years. I remembered that when I had been there before, I had caught fish continuously in one of the lakes. Plus, the area has appeal because it's one of the closest high lakes basins close to Boise. It's maybe a 2-hour drive to the trailhead, northeast of Lowman on the road to Bear Valley. Forest Road 515 takes you right to the trailhead along Clear Creek.

It's a 3.5-mile hike to the first lake. Once you get into the lakes basin, you can fish 4-5 different lakes by Red Mountain, plus, you're super close to the little-known Cat Lakes. Norm swears that he caught two big trout in one of the Cat Lakes, but he failed to take a picture as proof ... I also recommend climbing up to the top of Red Mountain to enjoy the spectacular views of the rooftop of the Boise National Forest

Right now, the wildflowers are peaking on the trail leading to Red Mountain Lakes. We saw an incredible kaleidoscope of colors in the knee-high flowers thriving in the openings below the semi-burned timber ... I could identify red Indian paintbrush, purple lupine, Sego lilies, scarlet gilia, yarrow and yellow daisies. Seems like the elk have an abundance of feed this summer!

Steve enjoying the flowers

Ah the simplicity of backpacking ... After pulling together a week-long trip on the Salmon River with 18 people, 6 rafts and two kayaks in June, it was so nice to get back to the basics of backpacking. All you need are a few clothing items, your sleeping bag, tent, food, backpacking stove, fishing stuff, water, and a water purifyier of some kind. Quinn borrowed a super light pack from a friend that worked great for him. I used my old Kelty XL internal frame pack, but that thing is due to be replaced. Seems like it weighs 5 pounds before you put anything in it!

Norm and I brought fly rods, and I put together a spin cast set up for Quinn. I brought a bunch of Thomas lures for him to try, and he slayed the fish. Thomas lures work great for catching trout in rivers, and I figured they'd do well in the lake. Quinn couldn't get enough of the fishing. He found a hot spot in the lake, and fished it all day long! Wo-hoo!

Now that the snow has melted, there's an endless number of places to go backpacking in Idaho right now. Pore over your maps of the Boise National Forest, Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Payette National Forest and look for high lakes basins. Another good resource is There are literally hundreds of lakes to choose from. My next trip is going to be in the Pioneers, which are another off-the-beaten-path destination with good fishing and 12,000 spectacular peaks. Maybe you saw my blog about hiking into Betty Lake and Goat Lake last year?

Here's another popular post about three classic bucket-list backpacking trips in Idaho.

If at all possible, take your kids with you. It's super cool to share the wonders of the Idaho backcountry with your kids. They can't help but to be impressed with the beauty of the mountains and the awesome sights of the endless sea of mountains in Central Idaho. Plus, if the fish are biting, they won't want to leave!

Don't forgot your bug stuff ... the mosquitoes were an issue in camp, and the horseflies were out in force as well. Good bug stuff will keep them at bay. Bring lightweight long pants and a long shirt to help protect yourself.

And if you can't get out of town this weekend, go watch the Twilight Criterium in downtown Boise on Saturday. The kids ride with Kristin Armstrong starts at 2 p.m., and a whole slew of races follow throughout the day and evening.  

Have fun!
- SS

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