Thursday, August 4, 2016

Avoid the smoke: Five classic backpacking trips to consider near McCall in Payette NF

Drew catches a brook trout at Snowslide Lake 
Drew at Snowslide Lake 
Drew and Huck at Snowslide Lake 
20 Mile Lakes (courtesy Quinn Stuebner)

20 Mile Lakes (courtesy Quinn Stuebner)

20 Mile Lakes (courtesy Quinn Stuebner)
Box Lake from the north side of the lake 
Wendy on top of Beaver Dam Peak near Box Lake 

Box Lake as you approach it on the trail. 
Steve at Blackmare Lake 
Hi all,

It's a bummer to watch the Pioneer Fire burning up valuable resources in the Boise National Forest northeast of Idaho City. The fire had burned approximately 50,500 acres as of today's report on Inciweb, and it's continuing to run toward the northeast toward Lowman, sending big smoke plumes into the Garden Valley area, Stanley area, the Sawtooths and points east from there. The Whispering Pines yurt, accessible from the popular Gold Fork Park n' Ski Area, has been destroyed by the fire, and the status of two other yurts is questionable. KTVB-TV did a good report on the situation.

Because of the fire and smoke impacts in that area, I'm recommending five classic hiking and backpacking trips in the McCall area in the Payette National Forest for my outdoor tip of the week.
The McCall area should be clear of smoke this weekend, being well west of the Pioneer Fire. Check the Mile High Marina web cam to make sure.

As many of you know, the McCall area is surrounded by many high mountain lakes, some of them accessible by 4WD. See a previous blog post about kid-friendly lakes in the McCall area accessible by vehicle.

All of the hikes listed below could be done as a day trip or overnight backpack trip. Bear in mind that it's always a higher quality experience to take your backpack and stay overnight, if you can.

1. Snowslide Lake - It's a steep two-mile hike on a rocky trail to Snowslide Lake, but it's a lovely forested lake with a bunch of small brook trout available for kid fishing. My son Drew and I had a great day up there with Huck and Wendy recently. Saw a large group of families backpacking there for the weekend. Once at the lake, it's possible to hike farther up the trail to a pass and climb Snowslide Peak (elevation 8,522). It took us about an hour to reach the lake at a swift pace. Take Lick Creek Road out of McCall to reach the trailhead for Snowslide on the right side of the road. Pick up a Payette National Forest map or look it up online on navigation.

2. Upper Hazard Lake - It's slightly less than two miles to Upper Hazard from the main Hazard Lake campground and trailhead. By walking to Upper Hazard, you'll leave most of the people behind, and you can enjoy a pretty spot ringed by rugged peaks. Hard Creek Lake is nearby if you'd like to try fishing another lake while you're in the 'hood. This hike is considerably easier than the steep hike to Snowslide. Hazard Lake is accessed via the Goose Lake Road on the way to Brundage Mountain.

3. Box Lake - It's about 3.5 miles to Box Lake from the trailhead on the left side of Lick Creek Road. It's a steep hike for several miles and then you hike across a flower-filled an Edelweiss-like meadow and see the lake in a hanging valley below. Gorgeous spot! Good fishing, too, and possible side hike to the top of Beaver Dam Peak (8,600 feet).

4. 20 Mile Lakes - There are four nice lakes to explore in the 20 Miles Lakes area. It's a 5-plus mile hike into the lakes. The last couple of miles off the 20-mile Trail are very steep to take you up to the lakes basin. Because of the distance, it's best to backpack into 20 Mile Lakes and stay overnight. There is good fishing up there. Pick a lake for your base camp and then day hike to the other lakes and see how the fishing is. The trailhead is accessed from Warren Wagon Road in McCall. The trailhead is located directly across from Upper Payette Lake. It's all pavement to the trailhead, which is a nice feature.

5. Blackmare Lake - This is more off-the-beaten path than the rest. Blackmare is accessed from the Kennally Creek Trailhead in the southern end of the Payette forest. Take Paddy Flat Road east from Idaho 55 to the end of the road. It's possible to car-camp at the trailhead, and there's an outhouse located there. It's about five miles one-way to the lake via the Needles Trail. We hiked a loop going up by Square Top at the Needles Summit and then dropped into the beautiful basin where Blackmare Lake sits. I caught some fish. We stayed overnight and then climbed to a saddle above Blackmare, where there are a couple of small ponds, crossed the ridge, and then bushwacked back to the trail, shortening the hike considerably back to the Kennally Creek trailhead.

There you have it! Consider these trips for future reference as well!
- SS

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