Why Lowman Idaho? Where even is Lowman Idaho? Like a lot of things in life timing is everything. It’s spring 2020 in Boise Idaho, and on May 1st the state mandated stay-at-home orders will be lifted. Like many Americans I was itching to get out of town. Campgrounds wouldn’t be open until June, other facilities and restaurants weren’t open. That’s ok, I wanted to escape everything. Not just the city, but my phone as well. Being trapped in the house was bad enough, but being trapped in an endless cycle of bad news is worse. So as soon as May hit I planned to get away and disappear into the forests of Idaho. Initially I put together a grand trip through some premiere Idaho terrain. The Whiteclouds, Frank Church, the Sawtooths. I reached out to some people for advice on these areas, and the overwhelming advice was wait until June. It wasn’t so much advice as people just flat out telling me you can’t backpack in any of those places because they’re covered in melting snow. It may have been warm, sunny, and dry in the isolated valley of Boise, the Treasure Valley. But in the rest of Idaho, especially in the higher elevations, there was still a thick layer of snow on the ground. So what did I do? I bought snow shoes of course, crampons, a zero degree bag, and some warmer clothes. I went back to people for more advice and this time it was, “Don’t go to these places with no experience and no one else, you’ll die.” Fine, but seriously I need to get out of my house, so where can I go?
5,000 feet. I was told that if I could stay under 5,000 feet I might have some luck. And this is how I came across Lowman Idaho. Less than 2 hours away from Boise I could get to Lowman without having to stop anywhere, many of the hikes stayed right under my 5,000 foot threshold and my favorite part, I hadn’t heard of any of these places. So on May 1st I set out for the little town of Lowman Idaho to do three overnight backpacks. Each trip could’ve been a simple day trip, but I wanted to backpack. At this time I was a pretty amateur backpacker with plans to do some big excursions in 2020. These made great overnighters to practice on and by the end of the week, my skills and confidence grew tremendously. 3 months later I was doing 4 nights, 26 miles on the Alice-Toxaway loop all by myself. But that’s a story for another time, I say that only to point out that if you’re new to backpacking, I highly recommend these trips to help grow your skill and comfort in the outdoors. Alright enough of the backstory, here are my three hikes in Lowman Idaho.
10 Mile Creek
Directions: From the Banks-Lowman, highway 21 junction head towards Stanley for 12.6 miles until you see Ten Mile Road. You’ll see signs for Ten Mile trail. Turn right on Ten Mile Road and go over a bridge crossing the Payette. You’ll be at a fork, go left, they’ll be signs for the trail. A mile from the fork on your left hand side will be a little spur trail, barely visible. There are crudely painted arrows on the trees around it, take that trail down a few hundred yards to the trailhead.
My first night at 10 Mile I spent car camping by the trailhead. There’s plenty of good looking spots along the Payette river and if you’re not the backpacking type, these spots are free. The trail starts following the Payette river but about a hundred yards in it turns south and runs parallel to ten mile creek. In a few hundred yards come to a beautiful wooden bridge that takes you across the creek and continue through the old pine forest.
I didn’t learn this until later but this forest and these hikes look very different from hikes in the Sawtooths. Lowman is only about an hour from Stanley and most people will hike the Sawtooths thinking the surrounding areas look the same. But the Ten Mile Creek hike is in the Boise National Forest, not the Sawtooth Recreation Area and has its own distinct characteristics. The big one for me was the type of tree that dominates the forest. The Boise National Forest is mainly Ponderosa pines, my favorite tree. Beautiful, big pines that cover trails in their shadow and remind you of something out of middle earth. Months later while exploring the Sawtooths I noticed how wirey and unimpressive the trees were. Scrawny trees that bend in the wind and provide sparing shade to weary hikers. You’ll notice the Sawtooth floor is littered with downed relatives of these weaklings, it kind of looks like the forest children haven’t been cleaning their room. Douglas firs, poor pathetic Douglas firs. You won’t notice the same tree clutter on the ground in the Boise National Forest. It takes more than the occasional storm to bring down mighty Ponderosa trees. Obviously the Boise National Forest doesn’t have mind boggling high mountain lakes and world class mountain landscapes like the Sawtooths, but it has the trees damn it!
After crossing the bridge continue south away from highway 21. In a few hundred feet there will be a faint path to your left, a small cairn and some rocks highlight it. I’ve heard this trail begins a tough climb up to ten mile ridge. Maybe some day I’ll explore up there but for this trip I chose to continue along the creek.
At 1.7 miles in the forest opens into a beautiful clearing. I set my pack down to take a break and notice faint wisps of steam rising from a few of the streams nearby. Peering down to the creek I see a formation of rocks that don’t look natural, they were placed by human hands. Further investigation revealed a natural hot spring along the creek! It’s dirty and there isn’t a great place to sit for that perfect temperature, but after a hot hike the lukewarm pool is pretty damn relaxing. There is another half mile to this trail that takes you to the edge of the creek. Apparently you can ford the creek and continue, but 10 mile was a raging monster at this point. The clearing and the hot spring are the highlight of the hike and the best stopping point. I set up camp next to the hot spring.
South Fork of the Payette
Directions: 6 miles from Ten Mile. So from the Banks-Lowman, highway 21 junction head towards Stanley for 18.2 miles to mile marker 91. On the right, just before the bridge over the Payette is the pull out, exactly at mile marker 91. And that’s it you’re there!
The south fork of the Payette is known for its fly fishing so if you have a rod bring it with you. You’ll follow the river the whole way, hiking along the rocky side of a cliff, looking down on the churning river. It’s a quick hike, only a couple miles so perhaps this is more of a day trip. It’s a good way to explore the river in a way you’ve never seen it before. If you do want to camp, halfway through the hike is a big flat peninsula with tons of space and trees for a hammock. The second half of the trip is less rocky and greener than the first half. You’ll make a steady climb and eventually come to a round about that turns you around and sends you back the way you came for a 5 mile out and back.
My biggest learning lesson on this hike came due to a massive thunderstorm that ripped through the canyon. Hunkered down in my tent the wind broke trees, cracked my tent poles and shook the ground I was laying on. So where should you be during a lightning storm? Obviously not on a mountain top, but should I be under a tree, out in the open, should I not have metal tentpoles over my head? This really helped me when I went to the Sawtooths later, a place that has frequent flash thunderstorms appear out of no where (and one did). Researching this I learned that you want to be low, down in a valley or at least not on an exposed mountain side anywhere. And you want to hunker down in your tent, under a group of trees. Not a lone tree or out in the open but a group of trees. They’ll support each other in the wind, offer you some extra shelter, and they won’t act as a lightning rod in the storm.
Warm Springs Creek
Directions: Just over the bridge from the South Fork trailhead at mile marker 91 is Warm Springs road on your left hand side. Lots of signs for this one leading you to the Warm Springs airport. Follow the dirt road past a ranger station, up and around the airport to the trailhead. This one’s very well marked, if you can’t find the big landing strip that the trailhead is at, you probably shouldn’t be backpacking yet!
My favorite hike in the area was Warm Springs Creek. The trailhead starts at the Warm Springs Airport and immediately begins the hardest climb of the three trips. About a mile of climbing gets you above the canyon peering down at the last glimpses of civilization. From here the trail levels along the side of a cliff as you head North, back into the forest. For me, this was a very isolated hike. I saw no one on this trip and the wildlife here was abundant. I spotted an elk, heard wolves howl, found bear prints in the snow, if you come through here be prepared for wildlife. The trail will take you over Bonneville Hot Spring as you continue your trek away from civilization. There are a lot of places this trip can take you with a side hike to 8 mile mountain, or you can continue an extra 7 miles to Bull Trout Lake, but I was looking for a particular spot.
At 2.3 miles the trail will come off the hillside and level out next to Warm Springs Creek. Immediately to your right is a large campsite, easily identifiable by its man made features. Someone put some tender living care into this place. A table had been carved, stools had been made to sit on, a place to hang your food. It could easily hold a large group or two, but I had the place all to myself.
I had heard of a hot springs by the creek 100 feet from the site so I went looking for it. Pop out onto the rocky peninsula next to camp and head down stream to the end. At the waters edge you’ll notice some nice sand and a little rock pool for you to sit in. Again, there isn’t a great temperature to this one, but the view couldn’t be better and after a hot summer hike, it’s worth sticking a toe or two in.
GEAR I RECOMMEND:
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