Ah, the temperatures are moderating as we enter the late August and September time period, creating ideal weather conditions for fall hiking in Southern Idaho.
Grab your hiking shoes, a light day pack with water, a lunch, snacks, and perhaps a light raincoat, and get ready to venture off to five of our favorite hiking destinations in the region.
Some trails are close to home and others offer a more remote experience at higher elevations to provide a nice diversity of experiences for the hiking enthusiast.
1. Mogensen Trail – This a short and easy route starting near Centennial Park in Twin Falls that runs along the south bank of the Snake River under the towering Perrine Bridge. It’s 2.2 miles out and back, featuring just 209 feet of gain. The hike can be done potentially year-round. You’ll see at least one waterfall cascading from the Snake River Canyon wall, and you might see Basejumpers flying off the bridge to a landing area near the end of the hike. This hike is rated easy and should work for just about any ability-level. See more detail about the hike on alltrails.com.
2. Third Fork-Wahlstrom Hollow Loop – This is one of the best hiking loops in the South Hills unit of the Sawtooth National Forest. It’s more difficult with a mileage of 9.3 miles, and 1,774 feet of vertical gain, but it’s a super pleasant and scenic hike providing a tour of the South Hills. The hike starts at the Third Fork Trailhead off of Rock Creek Road, where it’s also possible to camp overnight. The trail is open to hiking and mountain biking. You’ll see some beaver ponds and walk through aspens to a half-way point where you’ll enjoy big views of the South Hills. On the way back, you’ll climb some switchbacks before descending back to the Third Fork Campground. Be sure to bring plenty of food and water to enjoy your day. Allow 4-5 hours for the hike, perhaps more, depending on how fast you travel. More details on the loop are available on alltrails.com.
3. Soldier Mountain – Diane McFerran of Soldier Mountain Ski Area hikes on the mountain frequently with her dog during the summertime. She recommends several hikes at Soldier Mountain on two-track roads that scale the mountain in different locations. Soldier Mountain Ski Area is located north of Fairfield in a beautiful mountain setting with wildflowers, wildlife and big views of the surrounding countryside. Diane recommends going up the face of the mountain and around to the backside (north side), where you catch a ski run to come back down. That loop is 4.5 miles. Another option is to do a loop of the north side get-back trails (Run 35 to the designated uphill route). That loop is 3.5 miles. There are no services at Soldier Mountain outside of the ski season. Bring your own food and drinks, and maybe a cooler full of cold ones to enjoy after the hike is over.
4. Big Smoky Creek – This is a nice hike on a singletrack trail from the Big Smoky Guard Station to Skillern Hot Springs. It’s about 6 miles round-trip out-and-back from the trailhead to the primitive hot springs. It takes about two hours of hiking to reach the hot springs, perhaps a little more since you’re hiking uphill. The springs are a series of pools next to rock walls. The pools hold about 2-4 people each, according to the Idaho Hot Springs web site. You might check on the latest water conditions at the springs; primitive springs can contain mites and other micro-organisms that can cause a bad skin rash (just FYI). If you’d like to go farther, Big Smoky Creek follows a deep forested canyon for many miles (17 miles total) to the headwaters of the stream, near Galena Summit. Bring plenty of food and water. The trail is also open to horseback riding and mountain biking. The trailhead is accessed via Couch Summit on a dirt road leading north from Fairfield over to the South Fork of the Boise River area. There are multiple places where you could do self-support camping near the trailhead. For more information on trail conditions, contact the Fairfield Ranger District in Fairfield, 208-764-3202.
5. Independence Lakes – Some might say we saved the best hike for last. Independence Lakes are considered to be the best destination for hiking to high mountain lakes in the Southern Idaho region. The lakes offer good fishing and camping, too. You can do the trip as a day hike or overnight backpack trip. The trailhead is about 20 miles south of Albion, along Idaho State Highway 77, known as the Elba/Almo Highway. Alltrails.com offers good details on the hike and driving directions. Southern Idaho Living provides a detailed feature story about a family that loves to go to Independence Lakes. You may encounter horseback riders, Boy Scouts, anglers and other hikers in the area. The hike is kid-friendly for kids 8 and over.
For more information about adventure travel in the Southern Idaho region, go to Visit South Idaho.