It’s a mere 25 miles from Sun Valley. But the road to Kane Lake reminds Sun Valley resident Tom Allen of driving in Costa Rica. Once one turns off Trail Creek Road onto the Kane Creek Road, the road becomes as rough as a warty gourd. It fords Kane Creek more than once.
But Allen and his wife Jane quickly forgot about the drive as they hit the 3.2-mile trail. It wound through woods and across talus slopes marked with cairns before emerging into a box canyon with waterfalls splashing down tall granite walls into an emerald green lake.
“Kane Lake has been on our bucket list, but we had never gotten around to it,” said Tom. “Finally, last summer we made it and now it’s one of our favorite lakes. It’s close, yet you feel like you’re really out there because of the road. It’s absolutely wild and wonderful, a really great hike.”
Sun Valley boasts plenty of great hikes along tumbling creeks, through meadows of wildflowers and up mountain paths. And Valley residents, young and old, are quick to share their favorites with others.
One of the most popular destination lake hikes close to Sun Valley is the hike to Baker Lake, a small alpine lake ringed by granite peaks. It’s close—just 25 miles from Ketchum—and it’s just 2.5 miles round trip, which makes it ideal for families with small children and visitors still trying to catch their breath in the Wood River Valley’s mile-high air.
“I grew up hiking to it with my Bernese Mountain Dog, Puddington,” said journalist Desiree Fawn. “It’s a beautiful hike—one in which I felt comfortable going by myself. And you can do it in a short amount of time.”
Sun Valley freestyle skier Luke Rizzo agrees: “My class hiked it after the Beaver Creek Fire,” he said. “It was cool to see what the fire had done to the ecosystem. And the views at the top were awesome.”
Another short popular lake hike is that to Titus Lake, a small emerald green lake perched at 9,120 feet, just below Galena Summit. It’s accessible via a 1.5-mile descent.
“We did it as a family—the kids’ first hike,” said Valley resident Brad Musbach, who hit the trail with Ashley Burr and 11- and 9-year-old Colton and Lillian Whitesell. “It made a great picnicking destination that wasn’t a bit crowded.”
Those looking for more of a challenge will find it in Goat Lake, nestled in the Sawtooth Mountains and accessible from the Iron Creek Transfer Camp near Stanley. Don Lappin took it with a group of six attorneys. They had to work at crossing a river and climbing a steep ledge past Goat Falls. “You have to work to get to it, but it’s so beautiful,” he said.
Another beautiful but challenging lake hike just 13 miles from Sun Valley is Upper Box Canyon Lake situated under Johnstone Pass at the end of East Fork Road.
“It’s stocked with cutthroat trout,” said Patti Fallon. “But it’s not crowded because you have to take a four-wheel drive road past Federal Gulch Campground to get to it.”
Shangri-La, also known as the Saddleback Lakes, ranks up there as one of the most stunning lakes in the area surrounding Sun Valley. Renoir Finizio and her friend Julie took the 10-minute boat ride across Redfish Lake and followed the Redfish Lake Creek Trail a few miles. The turnoff wasn’t marked but it’s easy to identify, thanks to all the climbers using it to get to the iconic Elephant’s Perch climbing wall. The two crossed a fairly challenging creek and navigated a steep climb uphill.
“It was fantasy land,” Finizio recalled. “The lake was ice cold but we went in anyway because the temperature was in the 90s. Then we laid on a flat rock like lizards. It was so mesmerizing we missed the boat back. So we had to hike back. All I could think about was having a gin and tonic—something cool and refreshing to keep my mind off my sore feet.”
Central Idaho’s new Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness boasts numerous lakes, several of them accessible from the west side of the wilderness along Highway 75. Most hikers trek a few miles to Fourth of July and Washington lakes.
Two more spectacular destinations are Alice Lake and Champion Lakes. The former is reached from a trail leaving Pettit Lake in the Sawtooths. Though the Alice Lake hike is fairly strenuous, many make the trip for lunch at the stunning cirque setting and head home. There are, however, plenty of nice camping spots for those backpacking. The first Champion Lake is reached from the Pole Creek/Valley Road opposite Smiley Creek Lodge. It’s just over two miles from the trailhead on this road. One can see it from a saddle. The trail then drops down a steep shale slope and crosses a meadow just before reaching the upper lake. The lower lake is another half-mile. The basin was touched by the 2005 Valley Fire, but it remains hauntingly beautiful.