Dusty Klein worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.
After a late spring and a long thawing season in the mountains, backpacking season finally made its way onto the calendar. Our group of four (Ethan, Jerrod, Nick, and myself) chose a destination none of us had ventured to before: Trail Creek Lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains of central Idaho. We had heard about the lakes from a friend who guaranteed we’d be stoked on it. Spoiler alert: we weren’t disappointed.
We caravanned up after work on Friday and car camped in a dispersed camping area about two miles from the turn-off to Grandjean. We spent the evening cooking brats on the stove and swapping stories before a light rain put us to bed early. The next morning, we finished the short drive to the trailhead after stopping to take pictures of the majestic Sawtooth Mountains.
The backpacker parking lot at Grandjean Campground acts as the trailhead for a variety of excursions. From here you can enjoy a day hike or overnight trip to Trail Creek Lakes or extend for multi-day through-treks all the way to the Stanley area. We set off knowing we’d have about 5.5 miles on the trail with enough elevation gain to blow the dust off the legs.
There are four creek crossings of varying difficulty on the trek up to the lakes. Most of the “bridges” are logs laid across the water and balance is key in order to make it across with dry boots. The climb is fairly mellow for the first four miles with the occasional switchback and log obstacle. It isn’t until the final creek crossing that the trail steepens and climbing over deadwood becomes a considerable challenge. On this trip, wildflowers were in full bloom and the trail felt almost overgrown compared to some of the more popular hikes in the Sawtooths.
The name Trail Creek Lakes refers to the handful of scattered alpine lakes at the destination. The beauty about having more than one lake in the area is that backpacking groups can disperse to find their own private area. We were fortunate enough to hike up on a Saturday and score with a premier lakeside camping spot at the lower, main lake. Although a few day hikers came through and another backpacking group was at the lake, we felt as if we had the place to ourselves. We set up camp with incredible views of the surrounding mountain peaks.
Nick didn’t waste any time before putting his fishing rod in the water and the fish didn’t waste time biting. Over the course of the evening and next morning, Nick and Jerrod continued to pull trout out of the lake.
Right before sunset, the four of us gathered on a boulder looking out at the lake. We took pictures of the waning sunlight while Jerrod strummed a guitar he hauled all the way up. We crawled into our tents one by one and fell asleep to the sound of the waterfall across the water.
With gravity on our side, we made the return hike in significantly less time than the previous day and enjoyed a cold beverage in the parking lot. We stopped at Sacajawea Hot Springs to soak the sore muscles and plan the next trip. Our itinerary was something we all agreed we’d like to do again. By driving up on a Friday and camping near the trailhead we felt like we didn’t spread ourselves too thin so weren’t rushed during any leg of the adventure. Although it was our first time to the lakes, the sheer beauty and tranquility of the area will surely bring us back to explore the upper lakes and beyond.
As Idaho’s population grows, it’s more important than ever to respect our state and to practice Leave No Trace principles. Please pack out what you pack in, follow appropriate fire regulations, and consider wildlife and environment impact. Have fun and recreate responsibly.
Feature image credited to Dusty Klein.
Oregon-born, Idaho forged. Dusty is a weekend warrior with a passion and respect for the mountains. Follow along with @dustykleiner as he explores every corner of gorgeous Idaho.
Published on August 2, 2018