Boulder Creek


Forest Service Trail #221

Why? A truly fun creek to walk along plus a good late spring backpack.

Season: May through October, year-round if you snowshoe and aren’t worried about ice.

Ease: Easy to moderate depending on the distance hiked.

Boulder Creek always has been a fine day hike of 4 miles or so one-way. It features include a lovely creek full of the boulders that give it its name, views of some higher spots across the Lochsa and Boulder itself, and a fine waterfall down Cantelope Creek. But a relatively sort day hike over those miles to the junction with the trail to Stanley Hot Springs misses many other delights that the Creek has to offer, even if you only walk another 4 miles or so, to Horse Camp. Plus these next miles are a whole lot less traveled.

The first four miles of trail start with a couple of switchbacks and fine views back to the campground area. (If you were camped there, in loop C, you might even be able to spot your tent.) Then the trail settles into being above the creek, way above, and mostly in the open. There are views back across the Lochsa River of Fish Butte and views across Boulder Creek of Lochsa and Cantelope peaks. There’s a lovely waterfall down Cantelope Creek, and lots of green trees on that side of Boulder, too.

When you hike farther, the first thing you’ll notice, besides the solitude, is that the trail becomes more in the woods and much less in the open. That continues, even when the creek resumes its primarily eastward path (Yes, I know that the path of the river is really in the other direction, toward where I’m coming from, not where I’m headed), with exceptions here and there for rocky outcrops.

The second thing you’ll notice is that this is one screamin’ waterway, at least in May. It’s a foaming, roiling mass that can’t seem to get to its destination fast enough. It’s white water that I can’t imagine anyone even thinking of trying to run. It makes its destination river, the Lochsa (whose name means “rough water”), look staid and middle aged in comparison. And it’s varied. By the time we got to Horse Camp, we felt we had seen all possible permutations and combinations of how white water happens.

Not that the creek isn’t all of this and more in the lower miles, when it’s got even more water in it. But above the trail junction, the creek is almost on level with the trail instead of far below, and the noise of the water and thus its intensity are much more immediate.

My favorite spot along the trail comes about halfway between the Stanley trail and Horse Camp. There’s an abrupt corner of rock that re-routes the creek some yards to the south and heralded the beginning of more open slopes above, more slabs of rock near the trail. The corner has rock fall, rock walls and an especially impressive bit of creek alongside, plus a waterfall down Thimble Creek across the way.

Directions: Wilderness Gateway is between mileposts 122-123 on Highway 12. The trailhead parking is on the right, just after Camping Loop C. Take the footpath out of the eastern side of the parking lot or walk back down the road to the trailhead just past the bridge over Boulder Creek. (The footbridge currently is closed.)

Information: Lochsa Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 926-4274

Maps: USGS Huckleberry Butte and Greenside Butte, Idaho.

Connections: Wilderness Gateway makes a good destination for a hike from Big Fog Saddle. Later in the year, when the water is lower, it would be possible to hike across Boulder and up Surprise Creek to the Seven Lakes area. Or continue past Horse Camp by crossing Pell Creek. Both Boulder and Pell were higher than I wanted to cross the Memorial Day Weekend I hiked to their junction.