Hiking, camping and sightseeing in Idaho’s White Cloud Peaks is a pleasant way to spend a day or more in the state’s central recreation area. When this unique part of Idaho is on your family vacation itinerary, include this location for a treat.
Traveling northwest between the towns of Ketchum and Stanley, Idaho State Route 75 borders the Sawtooth National Forest to the west and the Salmon-Challis National Forest to the east. To get your bearings, stop by the Sawtooth National Recreation Area office at 5 North Canyon Road in Ketchum and pick up a map or two. A downloadable map and information can be found on the website for the Boulder-White Clouds Council at wildwhiteclouds.org/theplace1.html
Along this route, scores of creeks born in the surrounding mountain ranges add to the flow of the mighty Salmon River, the River of No Return. The mountain pass at over 8,700-foot Galena Summit has an overlook with parking and restrooms. You will want to stop to stretch your legs and to admire the incredible view across the vast valley to the rugged, snow-crowned peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains.
Moving on, you will travel down the mountain highway into the beauty of the Sawtooth Valley between the small towns of Smiley Creek and Obsidian. Just before Obsidian, keep an eye out for Fourth of July Road heading east of the highway toward the ghostly White Cloud Peaks. Appropriately, the road follows Fourth of July Creek for 10 miles to the trailhead near Blackman Peak. This area suffered a severe fire in September 2005, but has recovered fairly well.
The road is a washboard, but careful travel in a high-centered, 2-wheel drive vehicle equipped with backcountry tires will suffice. Four-wheel drive is best. From the trailhead, a series of day hikes and longer excursions can be undertaken. A popular day hike for families and beginners is the mile and one-half trek into Fourth of July Lake.
Campsites are available on each side of the picturesque lake or in more secluded areas nearby. The trout in Fourth of July Lake tend to cruise near the shore, if fishing is on your mind. Head up the inlet of the lake to get a look at deer that usually congregate in the large meadow, and keep an eye out for mountain goats on close-by Patterson Peak.
This area is covered with mountain heather and other wildflowers in the summer months.
You can hike from this point into other areas dotted with alpine lakes and spectacular mountain vistas. Washington Lake is just over a mile from Fourth of July Lake. The trail climbs 200 feet or so and then drops a like amount down to the lake. Fishing is easier and often good at Washington Lake. Try to find camping in a location other than the most popular sites close to the lake outlet.
There are well over 100 alpine lakes scattered throughout the White Cloud Peaks location. Many still lack names. Other named lakes and points of interest include:
- Ants Basin and Ants Basin Divide
- Blackman Peak
- Boulder Chain Lakes
- Born Lakes
- Castle Divide and Castle Peak
- Champion Lakes
- David O’Lee Peak
- Heart Lake
- Phyllis Lake
- Six Lakes Basin
The White Cloud area is a popular hiking spot with easy to moderately difficult hiking trails. It is picturesque, with the alabaster-hued White Cloud Peaks as an ever-present background. Bring your camera, your own water, good camp food and plan to spend a night or more camped along your chosen route.