Hikes in Payette National Forest
A trip to the Payette National Forest is a staple when visiting Idaho. Encompassing over 2.3 million acres of beautiful, untouched backcountry, this wilderness area in west-central Idaho boasts boundless adventure opportunities. Explore deep river valleys, soaring granite crests, lush coniferous woodlands, hot desert grasslands, montane meadows, and crystalline alpine lakes. The topographical diversity and abundance of flora and fauna warrant incredible scenery and unrivaled outdoor pursuits.
Bound by two of the deepest canyons in North America—the Salmon River Canyon and Hells Canyon. The Payette National Forest encompasses the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and peaks in the West Mountains, Lick Creek Mountains, Salmon River Mountains, Cuddy Mountains, and the Bitterroot Mountains. Indulge your recreational interests in the Payette National Forest and revel in the beauty of the backcountry. While there are countless ways to explore the wilderness, hiking is undoubtedly the most popular activity, and it’s our favorite way to discover this natural sanctuary.
10 Spectacular Hiking Routes in the Payette National Forest
As self-proclaimed adventure experts, we took it upon ourselves to curate a list of the ten greatest hikes in the Payette National Forest, from easy-going adventures to demanding day hikes and everything in between—enjoy!
- Loon Lake Loop Hike - The Loon Lake Loop Hike is one of the best adventures in the Payette National Forest. This impressive adventure showcases the beauty of Idaho’s Mountains from the shoreline of a beautiful alpine pool and boasts the opportunity to explore a historic plane wreck.
- Brundage Mountain Lookout Tower Loop Hike - Indulge in mesmerizing views of the West Mountains and complimenting woodlands on the Brundage Mountain Lookout Tower Loop Hike. Accessible only in the summer, this hike explores the Brundage Mountain Ski resort, boasting incredible views of the mountainous landscape.
- Snowslide Lake Trail - The Snowslide Lake Trail is a demanding adventure into the high country. Short but strenuous, this route climbs up to a postcard perfect alpine lake hemmed by beautiful snow-dusted granite bluffs.
- Bear Basin Loop Hike - The Bear Basin Loop Hike explores the popular, year-round adventure in the Bear Basin Area near McCall. A popular destination among mountain bikers, this route has become a revered hiking route—boasting great views of the Idaho mountains.
- Pearl Lake Hike - The Pearl Lake Hike is a hidden gem in the high country. Wander through montane meadows adorned with granite gardens and charming alpine pools before culminating at Pearl Lake. Abundant with wildflowers in the summer months, this hike is a must-add to your hiking itinerary.
- Duck Lake Trail to Loon Lake - Like the Loon Lake Loop Hike, the Duck Lake Trail to Loon Lake takes a different approach to the charming alpine pool nestled beneath the Lick Creek Mountains. Immerse yourself in the backcountry and explore the historic plane wreckage.
- Secesh Hot Springs Hike - Indulge in a natural spa-like treatment in the remote wilderness on the Secesh Hot Springs Hike. This gorgeous trail wanders along the wooded Secesh River to a set of relaxing hot springs.
- Goose Creek Falls Hike - The Goose Creek Falls Hike is a wonderful trail that will get heart-pumping. Wander down into the creek canyon and enjoy the hypnotizing sight of the cascade. Those lacking the time to complete a longer, more involved adventure will enjoy this quick trek.
- Boulder Lake Loop - Wander through lush woodlands and blossoming meadows on the Boulder Lake Loop. This lovely adventure reveals not one, but three beautiful alpine lakes nestled amongst the granite crests.
- Louie Lake Trail - Seeking an exciting adventure? The Louie Lake Trail is a versatile route that can be enjoyed by hikers, bikers, and off-roaders alike. Explore lush woodlands before culminating at the lakeshore that boasts spellbinding scenery.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Payette National Forest?
The Payette National Forest is a dynamic and versatile swathe of wilderness that can be explored year-round in a myriad of different ways. While most of the area is open and accessible with the proper gear in the winter months, the summer is certainly the most popular time of the year to visit. In the warmer season, the soaring crests are free of snow, wildflowers blossom, and the alpine lakes and warmer—though still breathtaking!
Boasting a more sequestered experience, off season-exploration is equally as scenic, but there are inherent dangers and challenges. Campgrounds and roads may be closed, so your choice of accommodations and access to certain routes may be limited. Be mindful of inclement weather and the uneasiness of the snow-cloaked terrain.
The sweet spots are in the spring and autumn when the trails are accessible, but the crowds have yet to occupy the area. No matter the season, no matter the type of recreation, we can assure you the Payette National Forest will leave you pleasantly surprised.
Other Outdoor Activities in the Payette National Forest
Offering numerous hiking routes, the Payette National Forest is a hiker’s oasis, but the area is not limited solely to hiking trails. Decorated with several alpine lakes, water adventures are a popular recreational activity here. Try kayaking or swimming in a crystalline lake or relax in the Council Mountain Hot Springs. Bikers are drawn to the Bear Basin Area, and off-roaders can explore the Louie Lake Trail, among others.
After the snowfalls, you can put on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis to admire a different perspective of the snow-dusted landscape. Specific routes will open to snowmobiles, and alpine skiers can enjoy the slopes of the Brundage Mountain Resort. No matter the season, the Payette National Forest offers a diversity of adventure opportunities to indulge.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Payette National Forest
Are there bears in the Payette National Forest?
Yes, there are bears in the Payette National Forest, amongst a diversity of other wildlife including coyotes, elk, mountain lions, moose, and more.
Where is the Payette National Forest?
The Payette National Forest is located in west-central Idaho, between Hells Canyon and Salmon River Canyon.
What mountain ranges does the Payette National Forest encompass?
The Payette National Forest includes peaks from the West Mountains, Lick Creek Mountains, Salmon River Mountains, Cuddy Mountains, and the Bitterroot Mountains.
Epic Adventure Tours in the Payette National Forest
Unfortunately, we have yet to curate any tours in the state of Idaho but fear not— we are currently working on expanding and adding adventure tours to our repertoire! Until we create a Payette National Forest tour, we encourage you to check out our epic adventure tours in the United States. Who knows, you might just find something worthy of your exploration!
Find Other Amazing Hiking Regions in Idaho
Best Hikes in Payette National Forest
Loon Lake Loop Hike
The Loon Lake Loop Hike is a staple adventure in the Payette National Forest. Boasting a demanding hike, this path offers a variety of scenery to indulge in along the way. Explore the lively wilderness, revel in the scenes of the idyllic lake framed by the crests of the Salmon River Mountains, and visit a historic plane crash site. What more could you ask for?
Brundage Mountain Lookout Tower Loop Hike
A popular ski resort in the winter, Brundage Mountain transforms into an epic mountain biking and hiking oasis after the snow melts. Hiking the Brundage Mountain Lookout Tower Loop Hike affords a great time and incredible views of New Meadows, Adams County, the Snake River, Payette Lake, and more.
Snowslide Lake Trail
The Snowslide Lake Trail is a hidden gem in the Payette National Forest. What the trail lacks in distance, it makes up for in elevation! This short but strenuous adventure demands a creek crossing and a steep scramble up to the postcard perfect alpine lake hemmed by snow-dusted granite bluffs.
Bear Basin Loop Hike
The Bear Basin Loop Hike is a versatile adventure near McCall in the Payette National Forest. Beckoning year-round exploration, this route can be hiked, biked, skied, or snowshoed! Yielding a variety of terrains and incredible views of the Salmon River Mountains, this route is worth a detour into the wilderness.
Pearl Lake Hike
The Pearl Lake Hike exemplifies the beauty and diversity of Idaho’s high country. Indulge in what the Payette National Forest has to offer as you explore a swathe of wilderness occupied by meadows, grasslands, alpine lakes, granite bluffs, and woodlands. This hidden gem offers solitude, so let’s keep this between us, okay?
Duck Lake Trail to Loon Lake
The Duck Lake Trail to Loon Lake is a demanding day hike in the Lick Creek Range that explores a diversity of landscapes, exhibiting a variety of flora and fauna. Indulge in the beauty of the granite crests that rise from the landscape as you trek to Loon Lake and the B23 Crash Site.
Secesh Hot Springs Hike
Treat yourself to a natural spa-like treatment after a tiring hike on the Secesh Hot Springs Trail. This lovely adventure travels along a wooded path along the Secesh River before culminating at the idyllic hot springs.
Goose Creek Falls Hike
Waterfalls are magical and mesmerizing, and the Goose Creek Falls Hike offers up a beautiful cascade. Wander through mixed woodlands down into the creek canyon adorned with a picturesque waterfall. Those seeking a short, but heart-pumping adventure should consider this hike.
Boulder Lake Loop
Ascend mountain passes, wander along crystalline lakeshores, and explore woodlands and meadows on the Boulder Lake Loop. Exemplifying the beauty and diversity of the Payette National Forest, this hike is a must-add to your Idaho adventure itinerary.
Louie Lake Trail
Discover the beauty of the Payette National Forest on the Louie Lake Trail. Ideal for intermediate hikers and families with older children, this moderate adventure will get your heart rate up without over-exhausting you. Note this versatile trail is shared with off-roaders, so expect some company.
Goose Creek Trail
The Goose Creek Trail yields an enchanting experience in the Payette National Forest. While the Goose Creek Falls are a popular destination, this access route is lightly trafficked, boasting a secluded and scenic experience.
Blackwell Lake via Fall Creek and Crestline Trails
The Blackwell Lake via Fall Creek and Crestline Trails is an amazing high-country adventure near McCall, ID. Warranting breathtaking views of montane meadows, crystalline lakes, dense woodlands, and soaring crests, the scenery along this trek is worth the sweat.
Josephine Lake Trail
Reconnect with nature and feel your stress melting away as you hike the scenic Josephine Lake Trail. Yielding a diversity of flora and fauna in addition to wonderful views of the nearby granite crests, this route is quite photogenic, so don’t forget your camera.
Council Mountain Hot Springs Hike
The Council Mountain Hot Springs Hike travels up the sides of Council Mountain to a collection of natural hot springs on Warm Spring Creek. This incredible adventure is a must-add to your Payette National Forest adventure itinerary.
Box Lake Trail
The Box Lake Trail is a demanding hike into Idaho’s high country. Challenging even the fittest hikers with the vertiginous incline, the route culminates at an idyllic alpine lake perfect for cooling off! Yielding incredible scenery every step of the way, this hike is quite memorable.
Snowslide Lake to Louie Lake Hike
Hiking the Snowslide Lake to Louie Lake Hike makes for an unforgettable experience. This one-way trail explores Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, boasting spellbinding scenery of the soaring lakes and adorning lakes. This demanding adventure is not for the faint of heart, but it's one of our favorites.
Summit Lake and Buckhorn Summit Trail
Immerse yourself in the Salmon River Mountains on the Summit Lake and Buckhorn Summit Trail. Warranting spellbinding alpine scenery, you’ll want to bring your camera for this hike! Don’t forget plenty of water, this high-country hike will get your heart rate up!
Mill Creek Trail
The Mill Creek Trail is a scenic and secluded hike in the Payette National Forest. This lovely adventure explores a remote swathe of wilderness occupied by a meandering creek, stocked lake, lush woodlands, and meadows. Expect to see wildlife as you hike so don’t forget your camera!
Twin Lakes via Granite Mountain Trail
The Twin Lakes via Granite Mountain Trail is a family-friendly adventure in the Payette National Forest. Enjoy the opportunity to hike amongst cattle on your way up to the shimmering alpine lake bound by impressive granite crests.
Payette Lake Rim Loop Hike
The Payette Lake Rim Loop is a scenic hiking trail near McCall, Idaho, in the Bear Basin Area. Get outside into the fresh air and indulge in breathtaking views of Payette Lake framed by the Lick Creek Mountains. Whether you hike, bike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski, you can find an adventure on this trail.
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