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
Lake Serene Trail
The Lake Serene Trail would make an excellent addition to your hiking itinerary. This steep but scenic route explores an area of the Payette National Forest that was previously affected by a wildfire—giving the route a bit of an eerie ambiance.
Duck Lake via Twentymile Trail
The Duck Lake via Twentymile Trail is a family favorite adventure in the Payette National Forest. This lovely adventure demands hikers ford a creek—but that’s all part of the fun, right? This easy-going trail is versatile—hikers, bikers, and horseback riders can all indulge in its beauty.
Granite Mountain Trail
What the Granite Mountain Trail lacks in scenery on the way up it makes up for at the summit. After conquering the rocky, exposed climb up to the top of the Granite Mountain, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Idaho’s mountains that line the horizon.
Bear Basin Grand Traverse Loop Hike
The Bear Basin Grand Traverse Loop Hike is a wonderful adventure found within the network of trails in the Bear Basin Area. Open year-round and extremely versatile, this route can be enjoyed by hikers and bikers in the summer months, and skiers and snowshoers in the winter.
Rapid Lake Trail
Discover the beauty of Idaho’s high country on the Rapid Lake Trail. This beautiful adventure explores a myriad of shimmering glacial lakes—boasting unrivaled scenery and ample opportunities to cool off. While this route demands some stamina, the payoff is worth the sweat.
Hard Creek Falls Hike
The Hard Creek Falls Hike would make a great addition to anyone's Payette National Forest hiking itinerary. This lovely route explores lush woodlands bisected by a meandering creek adorned with cascading falls. We love this hike, and we think you might too.
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