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Backpack - White Clouds Wilderness Loop

Visit more than 25 alpine lakes and the high alpine terrain of Idaho’s spectacular Sawtooth Mountains and White Clouds Wilderness Area. The hiking is strenuous and challenging, but the scenery and views are breathtaking!

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  • Very Strenuous
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 56.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 13,000 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 10,300 ft
  • Pace: 2.0 mph

The Fourth of July Trailhead, near Stanley Idaho which is 620 miles and roughly a 12-hour drive from Seattle.

July 28, 2022, at a time TBD.

Overnight options include

  • Stanley Idaho, ~1 hour from the trailhead.
  • Bellevue, Hailey or Sun Valley Idaho. ~2 hours from the trailhead.
  • At the trailhead, first-come, first-served primitive camping may be available at the trailhead. There is a vault toilet but no potable water. Fourth of July Creek is nearby.

In 7 days, visit more than 25 alpine lakes and high alpine terrain in Idaho’s spectacular Idaho’s White Cloud Wilderness Area.  We will combine into a single loop 2 trips described in Douglas Lorain’s Backpacking Idaho guidebook; each trip is rated 10 out of 10 for scenery.

Though it would be difficult to pick a single favorite from among the dozens of mountain ranges that draw the admiration of Idaho hikers, you could make a strong case for the White Cloud Peaks as the best of the lot. All of the trails in this range take you through scenery that is so spectacular it simply defies description.  (White Clouds Peak Loop)

Put simply, alpine scenery just doesn’t get much (or, perhaps, any) better than what you will find in the upper basin of the Big Boulder Lakes. Here, there is the perfect mix of deep-blue alpine lakes, wildflower-covered meadows, small waterfalls, rock-garden wildflowers, and, most of all, dramatic peaks in every direction.  (Big Boulder Lakes)

Backpacking Idaho: From Alpine Lakes to Desert Canyons, 2nd ed by Douglas Lorain

This very strenuous 56-mile, 7 day (6 night) loop trip includes more than 13,000’ total of ascent and descent and the longest day of about 10 miles at elevations ranging from 7,800’ to 10,300.’   

The tentative plan:

Day 1: (July 28, 2022). Meet at the Fourth of July Trailhead and hike to Born Lakes. 4.5 miles, 1,500’ gain (the first 1.3 miles is open to motorcycles).

From our cars, the route follows the Lake Washington Lake Trail east to the Antz Basin Trail where we turn north. A well-established, but unnamed trail, heads east from the meadow of Antz Basin to Born Lakes (also called Boorn Lakes), where we will camp, probably at Lower Born Lake.

Day 2: Hike to Hatchet Lake. 9 miles, 1,800’ gain. This day includes a steep, rocky, off-trail section over the ridge between Born Lakes and the dramatic Four Lakes Basin. According to Lorain:

“Reaching the Four Lakes Basin requires a careful descent of a steep slope. At the top of this slope is a large snowfield with overhanging cornices that are often present well into August. It is usually possible, however, to work your way around this snowfield by going farther to the right. Once around the snowfield, the rest of the downhill isn’t particularly dangerous, but it is very steep and does require steady nerves and maybe using your hands once or twice to balance yourself.”

From Four Lakes Basin, we will follow a way trail to Quiet Lake, then Scree Lake and Shallow Lake before joining an established trail. This trail leads us past more lakes: Scoop, Hammock, Tiny, Hourglass, Lodgepole, Sliderock, and Shelf Lakes to our camp at Hatchet Lake. 15 lakes in one day!

Day 3: Hike to Walker Lake. 9.8 miles, 2,600’ gain.
From our camp at Hatchet Lake, we will pass Willow Lake, before reaching an intersection to which we will return on Day 5. Today, we head north along the Livingston Mill/Castle Divide Trail which is also open to motorcycles, to the Big Boulder Trail, which is closed to motorcycles, where we turn west. We continue to the intersection with the Walker Creek Trail and turn right (north) and hike to our camp on Walker Lake.

Day 4: From Walker Lake, we will leave our overnight gear and explore off-trail through the Upper Big Boulder Lakes area, possibly visiting Hook, Cove, Sapphire, and Cirque Lakes before returning to our camp at Walker Lake. 5.5 miles, 1,300’ gain.

Day 5: From Walker Lake, we will retrace our route to Hatchet Lake. 9.8 miles, 2,300’ gain. A possible sidetrip to Island Lake adds about 1.0 miles and 300’ of gain.

Day 6: From Hatchet Lake, we hike to Upper Chamberlain Lake. 7.5 miles, 2,050’ gain.
Our route follows the Livingston Mill/Castle Divide Trail, and provides views of Castle and Merriam Peaks, with a possible off-trail sidetrip to Castle Lake, and then over Castle Divide to a junction where we join the Chamberlain Creek Trail and follow it to Lower Chamberlain Lake. We will climb to more-scenic Upper Chamberlain Lake to camp, directly below Castle Peak.

Day 7: From Upper Chamberlain Lake we will return to our cars at the Fourth of July Trailhead, for the end of the trip. 10 miles, 1,500’ gain.
Our route first retraces our route to Lower Chamberlain Lake, before heading south on the Livingston Mill/Castle Divide Trail to the intersection with the Washington Lake Creek Trail which we follow north, past Washington and Fourth of July Lakes to our cars.

Caltopo GPS route at this link.

Leader permission: Leader permission is required, which you can obtain by sending an email to the leader. When you request leader permission, please accompany your request with the answers to the questions available at this link. You can download these questions, type in your responses below each question, save and email to me; or copy and paste into an email and put your responses there.

Permission requests will not be accepted before the registration opening date, and successful applications will be based on the group that is most compatible with the participant requirements, not based on the date when applications are received

Weather: I expect low overnight temperatures will be in the 30s. You should check the current weather report shortly before departure: (this forecast is for Quiet Lake, near the midpoint of our trip). Rain should be expected, and you should bring a raincoat, rain pants, and pack cover and clothes that will keep you warm when wet (no cotton!). The trip is subject to change or cancellation if the predicted weather is unusually poor or there is substantial smoke or nearby fires.  

Maps:  Sawtooth & White Cloud Mountains Trail Map Map (July 1, 2020) by Adventure Maps

USGS maps: Boulder Chain Lakes, Washington Peak, and Livingston Creek

Guide books:  Backpacking Idaho, From Alpine Lakes to Desert Canyons (2nd edition), Douglas Lorain 

Trails of the Sawtooth and Boulder-White Cloud Mountains (6th edition), Margaret Fuller

Conditioning:  This trip requires excellent conditioning.  We will average about 2 mph on the trail, including breaks.  You should be able to climb Mt. Si with a full backpack in 3 hours or less, and be able to repeat the climb the next day.  

This trip is also at high elevation, so you should have successfully completed backpacking trips above 8,000’.   

Full vaccination and booster are required.


White Clouds Wilderness Loop

  • Adventure Maps Sawtooth & White Cloud Mountains Trail Map

    Trails Illustrated Sawtooth National Recreation Area

    USGS Boulder Chain Lakes, ID

    USGS Washington Peak, ID

    USGS Livingston Creek, ID
  • See full route/place details.
Required Equipment

Required Equipment

The Ten Essentials plus overnight gear which may include:

  •  Bear canisters are not required.  We will hang our food each night. I plan to bring my Ursack. 
  • You should bring some method of water purification.
  • Bugs are certainly possible; bring bug repellent.
  • Toilet paper and shovel or blue bag to deal with waste
  • Additional gear requirements listed in the trip application
    Trip Reports