7 Great Hikes For Rafters On
The Middle Fork Of The Salmon River
Wondering where the best hiking on the Middle Fork Of The Salmon River is? Here are a few ideas to get you started. With all the water this year rafters on the Middle Fork Of The Salmon River will have short days on the water leaving time to explore the awesomeness that is the "Frank". Lots has been written about hiking in the Frank Church Wilderness area. But mostly with an eye towards leaving from the car. I have not seen many articles about stellar hikes for people rafting the Middle Fork Of The Salmon River. So take a hike on layover days or in the mornings or evenings from campsites along the way. I worked on the Middle Fork in the summers of 1990 and 1991 and passed with wonder and awe the creeks and ridges along the way. Throughout the 1990’s and into the new millennia I continued to visit the Middle Fork, both in boats and with goats. I did a solo September raft trip in search of bighorn sheep in which I wrapped my horribly overloaded boat twice in Sulfer, had a bear tear my cooler to pieces at Marble, left my rifle spare leaning against a tree and rowed out from White Creek at 2 feet in one day! No cooler and sheep in hand I had no choice. A few years later 2 friends and I did a 2 week raft trip complete with a sweep boat looking for elk and chukars, epic. As a point of reference for you youngsters we saw 6 other boats from September 15-30. Rafting has gotten popular. I have dropped in with pack goats from almost all of the roads that puncture the edges of the wilderness area. From Pistol Creek Ridge and Meyers Cove, I hiked from outside Stibnite to Indian creek and flew out. So in addition to the hikes I have actually done while rafting and I have a pretty good base from which to draw. Some of these are easy, some are off trail scrambles with route finding and basic sense of direction are a must. Skinny dip in a lake or explore an old mine or just enjoy the flowers and rubber boas! Starting at the put in and working down I will try and mix in a smattering of easy and more challenging adventures.
Put in Hike- Hidden Lake Basin
Lincoln Creek- Lincoln Lakes- A “hidden” lake basin above the Boundary Creek Putin on Middle Fork Of The Salmon River. Many times between getting to the put in and waiting for your chance to put in, or waiting for the slow poke in your group to strap it all on you need something to do. May be you are camping at one of the first campsites giving you “pick” of camps for the rest of your trip…hint. A lot of peeps like to hike upstream from Dagger Falls which is nice. But if you need a killer introductory hike that will leave your legs weak here it is. The added bonus is that this hike takes you past your first substantial challenge on the Middle Fork Of The Salmon for rafters, Murph’s Hole. Nothing like seeing it first! This hike can be done as an out and back or a round trip. To complete the whole thing will take about 4-6 hours.
Directions- Immediately after crossing the pack bridge above Dagger Falls, the down river trail takes off to your left. Climbing steeply for 200 yards then it flattens out across from the put in until the trail leaves the river at around two miles. At 1.5 miles, if it is early season ( maybe July this year) Murph’s Hole is obvious. Just past here the trail winds down and drops through a rocky area onto a flat. At the end of the flat the trail splits. There is an old trappers cabin just past the split. Those of you heading to Lincoln Lakes turn right. The trail up Lincoln Creek climbs steeply for the first mile, then hits a ridge top at about 3 miles. Although it does not look like it, this is where you leave the trail (stay on trail if you want to go to Soldier Mountain look out). At this point it is only about 100 yards down to Lincoln Creek. It is hard to see where the lake basin is up and to your right, because of the trees, but cross the creek here and climb generally up, following your nose. You can climb and then side hill when appropriate, it is pretty open without a lot of brush or deadfall. As you gain some elevation find the ridge top that will carry you in a fairly easy fashion to the high lake basin. As you climb and can see more the hidden basin starts to come into view. Depending on the path you end up on you can cross the creek that comes down from the lakes and follow a series of bench’s up to the lakes. Either way, there are two or three lakes tucked into the southwest corner of the basin. Not sure about fish but the skinny dipping was great after the climb. Other options include climbing from the lakes on to the look out on top of Big Soldier Mountain. Get back by some variation of the way you arrived or trek west from the southernmost lake, climbing the short but steep headwall. After attaining the ridge veer left and down til the ridge becomes defined, this will take you back to Dagger Falls. Strenuous 6-8 miles, game trails for half of hike, route finding, lots of vertical.
Sheepeater Hot Springs After Dinner Hike
Aspen Patch Hike- A pleasant romp through the aspens above the hot springs. Short and relatively easy hike. Deer, Elk, Bear and Mountain Quail are all possible. Head upstream on trail just past scout camp, then climb and head generally downstream. There is a bench located 400 or 500 feet above the river. Drop back down to the river trail at your leisure. 1-3 miles easy but mostly game trails.
Indian Creek Fall Hike
Indian Creek- The Indian Creek drainage has lots of brush and makes for a glorious hike in the fall. Listen carefully for the sound of bugling elk and bring a tarp or at least a wash cloth and have a soak or scrub up at one of the hot springs. On trial, wet creek crossing at Indian Creek ½ mile in. 2-20 miles
Another great hike if you are flying in or out and are trying to kill time is the Garden Creek Trail which leaves the river just downstream of Pistol Creek Ranch. The trail hits the ridge at about mile 2.5. You can turn right and come back down to the ranger station and make it a round a bout loop of 5 miles +/-. Easy but some steep trail sections and the last drop to Ranger station is sandy but steepish.
Loon Creek Trail- The hike past the hot spring up Loon Creek turns into a slick rock affair with towering granite walls and house sized boulders in the stream, stunning to say the least. This is the hike for those of you packing your fly rod with a medium sized muddler minnow attached, rumor has it when dead drifted like a hopper the larger cuts will react as the dead drift comes to an end and the current provides some movement, drop the rod tip just after your fly starts to swing to give them time, hint. Easy.
Funston Camp Big Bear Creek Cabin
Bear Creek Trail- The trail up Bear Creek from Funston camp is easy and east facing. In the cool shade of the afternoon a great hike for a hot summer day. There is an old cabin that was intact the last time I was there. Find it on the south side of the creek/trail at about 2 miles. I had no idea it was there to cool! Easy- On trail- Round trip 2-6 miles.
Survey Camp- Haunted-Lost Kimmel Creek Mine
Survey Creek Trail- My son, Noah and I did this hike late in the day a few years ago. The trail is marked on the map. We did not find the mine site and it was reputed to be haunted according to the old guides on the river when I was a pup. Once you get high on the hill the trail dead ends into a big brush pile. Watch out for the big rattlesnake coiled on top of the rock trail left! We think we saw a faint ribbon of a trail headed north but were running out of light so headed down. If you are doing this hike to find the mine pay particular attention to the creek names on the map the mine location may be mis-marked. Trail is steep and rocky but easy to find, few logs or brush. 4-5 mile round trip.
Big Creek-Waterfall Creek- Bighorn Crags
Waterfall Creek Trail- Hello My Little Friends! Remember the first time you saw the Sawtooth Mountains. Slack jawed, in awe. If you are a fisherman, head up Big Creek. Most peeps stop at the bridge 2 miles up, forge on for solitude. If you are not a fisherman and want another slack jawed view of some stellar mountains follow the Waterfall Creek trail up, up and away. The trail heads downstream towards Veil Cave and gives you a magnificent view to the entrance of the Impassable Canyon. This view alone is worth getting this far, but it gets better. The trail then cuts back in a southern direction switch backing its way up the hillside. At About 3 miles and 2500 vertical feet you come around the ridge and can see up Waterfall Creek and gob smack. There she is Miss America! Lined out in front of you is the most beautiful string of mountains you have seen since you saw the Sawtooths or the Tetons. A long line of big solid blocks punching holes in the sky. Granite on top, aspens on the bottom. We were elk hunting and it was September 25. The fall colors where swinging and it is still one of the most memorable 5 minutes of my time spent in the Frank Church Wilderness Area. I had heard the Bighorn Crags where beautiful, but I had no idea they rivaled the Sawtooths and the Tetons in grandeur. Do yourself a favor, the view is worth the climb. Additionally we did not see any chukars until we were within a half a mile of the ridgeline. Then bunch after bunch, no shotgun just rifles. We must have seen over 500 birds in a mile of hiking. It would be a great hunt to use the trail to get to the view and chase chukars back down the ridge to the river, hint.
I left out what I feel is the bomb of all hikes for rafters on the Middle Fork Of The Salmon, Earl Parrots, Cabin. When I was guiding some of the ladders where still intact. For me that is my next Hike while rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Want to find it and send me a picture? Start climbing somewhere below the keyhole grotto and look for an old wooden ladder and a 1 acre flat spot at mid mountain. Yes, I know it is a rafting trip but if you are a day early arriving or you just need to work off a little of last night’s dutch oven dinner get up go find yourself a rubber boa, or a view that will be with you til you die! I still occasionally dream about coming around the corner with all the fall colors and seeing The Crags for the first time. I love knowing they are still right there!