STANLEY, Idaho (AP) - A couple of years ago, a group of us hiked to Kane Lake in the Pioneer Mountains in early October. It was a perfect fall hike, as the aspens were turning a vibrant shade of yellow. Our tents had frost on them in the morning, but the afternoon was warm in the sharp fall sunlight.
The main drawback was that it was kind of a difficult hike. It was about 4 miles, but the elevation gain was pretty steep, going from about 7,000 feet to over 9,000 feet. There were some downed trees on the trail and a rocky portion that made for tricky footing. When we got to Kane Lake, I could feel the effects of the altitude, with the beginnings of a “headband headache” and shortness of breath. In the end, it was worth it, as Kane Lake is beautiful and secluded, and the fishing was great.
But if you’re looking for a similar hike that’s not quite as challenging, I would recommend Washington Lake in the White Clouds, just north of Sun Valley and just south of Stanley.
You can get there either by going through Sun Valley on State Highway 75 or take the Banks-Lowman Highway over to Stanley. The turnoff for the Forest Road 209 to the Fourth of July Lake trailhead is well-marked about 14 miles south of Stanley on the east side of Highway 75. From there, it’s a bumpy 10 miles to the trailhead.
When we went in early September, some of the aspens were already turning yellow, highlighted among the evergreens. October should be even better. As with many backcountry areas in Idaho anymore, it seems, this area had its share of fire-damaged stretches. But once you get on the trail, burned areas are few.
The trailhead has a sizable parking area, a sign-in sheet and a vault toilet. Before you head out on the trail, take a few minutes to walk up the road a little farther and check out a couple of abandoned mines and equipment. If you piece together the old mining road, mine shafts and equipment, you can begin to imagine what the operation of workers and assembly line must have looked like back in the day.
As for the hike itself, the sign at the trailhead says Washington Lake is 2 miles away. We measured more than 3 miles, but it is a relatively easy 3 miles. Washington Lake is at 9,367 feet, but the 1,080-foot elevation gain is gradual and spread out throughout the hike. A friend and I hiked it together, and we were chatting the whole time, getting out of breath only a couple of times. Before we knew it, an hour had passed, we were topping a ridge, and Washington Lake came into view.
Along the way, you’ll stumble upon Fourth of July Lake at about the 1.7-mile point. As with many of these alpine lakes in Idaho, they’re more like ponds than lakes, but the effect of sitting next to the water and listening to the water lapping on the shore is the same.
We encountered several day hikers along the way but only one other group camping for the night at Washington Lake. There are a couple of nice established campsites on the south shore of the lake and plenty of other durable surfaces around the lake to pitch a tent. The established campsites definitely have the nicest views and mix of wooded and open areas, but the wind tends to funnel across the lake and right into camp.
A word of caution: Check weather ahead of time. The area got a few inches of snow the weekend before we went in early September. It had mostly melted when we went (we found a couple of small patches of snow), but I would have hated to get caught in a snowstorm like that.
Even though the fish were jumping, particularly right around dusk, our expert fishermen weren’t able to snag one, either spin casting or flyfishing.
If you’re looking for an easy hike to take in some beautiful fall colors, Washington Lake is a good bet.
The original story can be found on the Idaho Press-Tribune’s website: https://bit.ly/2dpHLVm
Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, https://www.idahopress.com
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