If you like craggy mountains and pristine high mountain lakes, this overnight backpacking trip to Moose Lake should be on your bucket list.
The Pioneer Mountains outside Sun Valley, Idaho are a playground for day hikers and weekend warriors. Although lesser known than the Sawtooths to the northwest, these mountains hold some gems that rival any backcountry locations in Idaho.
This eight-mile out-and-back to Moose Lake is popular with day hikers on the weekends, but almost nobody stays beyond mid-afternoon. And, during the week, you’re likely to have this little treasure all to yourself.
From the trailhead, cross the bridge over Fall Creek and follow the meandering trail through open sagebrush. There is very little shade in the first few miles, so get an early start to avoid sun exposure. As you climb into the valley, the trail never moves too far from the creek so water is never a problem along this route, but it can get blistering hot in late summer. Your kids will enjoy the creek crossings as they jump from rock to rock trying to keep their boots dry or attempt to balance on fallen trees while holding onto your hand.
At the two-mile mark, take the junction to Moose Lake Trail #68 and cross the rushing waters of Fall Creek. The crossing can be difficult at times and the water moves quickly, so exercise caution. From here, the trail climbs steadily over a series of switchbacks and the forest becomes more sparse, opening up at times to reveal beautiful views toward Surprise Valley and Standhope Peak.
When you arrive at Moose Lake, head left to find the “primo” campsite situated a few hundred yards from the outlet below a small stand of trees. It’s large, flat, and offers amazing views of the lake and mountains from your tent. Look for the granite rock on the bank that rises more than six feet above the lake. It’s an excellent spot for dinner, watching the sunset, or gazing at stars. There are several nice campsites on the west side of the lake if this spot is taken
Once you’ve set up camp, take a few hours to explore the shoreline or take a dip in the cool lake waters. This is a fantastic place to capture beautiful landscape shots and family pictures. Try setting up near the outlet or along the eastern shoreline to frame the mountains in the background.
In the morning, consider setting an alarm to catch sunrise. It’s an absolutely remarkable experience from this location. After breakfast, grab a bottle of water and take a short off-trail hike to Lake #9455. My daughter and I scrambled along the inlet stream and discovered cascading waterfalls and bunches of wildflowers. The small unnamed lake is situated in a pocket below craggy peaks rising sharply from the water’s edge. In the early morning, you’re likely to find near-perfect reflections of these mountains in the calm waters of the lake. The kids will love exploring the area and navigating their way back to camp.
When you’re ready, return to Moose Lake and retrace your steps from the day before.
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