16 Mile Big Boulder Lakes Hike | White Clouds Wilderness
A beautiful 16 mile hike to the Big boulder Lakes Chain of Lakes in the White Clouds Wilderness. This hike is as spectacular as it is friendly to beginner hikers. High alpine lakes, equestrian graded hiking trails and excellent fishing make this the perfect weekend hike.
This article will present the trail in a Friday – Sunday format but it’s beautiful any day of the week!
Boulder White Clouds Trail-head
The parking area is little more than a dirt pull off. From there, it’s a quick hike uphill, nearly due-west into the mountains. The hike begins in the foothills and high desert of Custer County. Starting at 6,200′ the highest lakes are at 10,00’+ feet. The steady topographic increases coupled with frequent trail maintenance keeps this trail in the beginner level. Go to the trail-head shown below – not the Google Maps autofill, this will save you a road walk.
Day 1, Friday Evening. Boulder Lakes Idaho
From my perspective, driving to the trail-head after work on Friday and getting a couple miles in before nightfall is ideal. The boulder lakes trail-head in Idaho is perfect for a weekend trip. At only 16 miles long, getting a couple miles in on Friday night extends the time spent at the high alpine lakes. The White Clouds Wilderness is one of Idaho’s newest wilderness areas and is still relatively unexplored. If you are looking for a less crowded Sawtooth Mountain experience, this is the hike for you.
The hike starts in sage brush and cow pasture. The river near the road is the spawning grounds for the longest fish migration in the world. Sockeye Salmon swim here all the way from the Pacific Ocean. The 10,000′ + peaks of the White Clouds offer the ideal headwaters for one of the most pristine trout stream in the world.
Day 2, Boulder Chain Lakes
Hiking to Boulder Chain Lakes in Idaho offers some stunning scenery. The huge White Cloud Mountains rise up over the meadows like cathedrals from another time. Hidden from the road, this mountain range is every bit as spectacular as the Sawtooth Mountains.
As the hike draws nearer to the chain of lakes, the grade steepens and the trees grow thicker. The sage all but disappears as the elevation increases. Upon first sight of the initial lake, the air is nearly 5 degrees cooler than the trail-head. This lake also holds ample rainbow trout fishing and they make a delicious trail lunch.
Keep following the trail northwest, passing lakes along the way. I made camp at the third lake I found but there are many miles more to explore. The lakes are held in high alpine ecosystems and even the trees disappear if you hike far enough.
Day 3, Return to Boulder White Clouds Trail-head
The way back is an even easier hike than the trek in. It’s pretty much downhill the entire way back to the road. The beautiful part of this hike is seeing the desert views unfold below as the trail gets closer to the road. Snow capped peaks mark the southern horizon and it’s easy to see why salmon migrate great distances to make this their preferred spawning grounds.
Pristine waters and snow that lasts 12 months out of the year. Some of Idaho’s best kept mountains are located in the White Clouds Wilderness. This hike is the perfect beginners trek and a great intro to the Idaho wilderness for beginner hikers.
If you’re looking for a hardcore wildernesss loop that traversed the entire mountain range, check out The White Clouds Wilderness Loop! A 50 mile hike through the best of the best.
Thanks for reading! If you see us out there, don’t hesitate to say hi!