Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains

Slate Creek Trail and OCaulkens Lake

The Idaho White Cloud mountains are a lesser know cousin to the Sawtooths, but don't concede anything in terms of spectacular views. Located within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and designated as their own wilderness area in 2015, the White Clouds offer numerous peaks and lakes above 10,000ft. A good friend and I decided to take an impromptu trip to Caulkens Peak just east of OCaulkens Lake to see what we could find. It's was a great trip and one that should be accessible well into the fall. Put it on your list.

Getting to the White Clouds

We left Boise at about 2 o’clock last Saturday headed for a peak in the White Cloud range, a lesser known but equally stunning group of mountains near the Sawtooths. Normally from Boise, one takes ID-21 through Banks and Lowman to access Stanley and the surrounding mountains, however due to large fires, we were forced to take ID-75 through Ketchum. The drive took just over 3 hours.

We arrived at the Slate Creek trailhead around 6pm, just in time to start a roughly 3.5 mile hike to OCaulkens Lake where we camped for the night. Slate creek road is found about 24 miles east of Stanley down ID-75. After turning south onto the dirt road, we drove about 6 more miles before reaching the trailhead, where we were greeted by the familiar sulfur smell of the Slate Creek Hot Springs.

The Trail Was a Little Tricky

Even though we forgot a water filter and chose not to bring a stove, our attitude surrounding this mission was relaxed and nonchalant. It didn’t really matter how late we arrived at camp – we had made it to the mountains and we would get there when we got there; we were not in any sort of hurry. Not to mention, we somehow managed to choose the one area in the surrounding 100 miles that wasn’t suffocated with wildfire smoke – a welcome surprise!

We didn’t expect to encounter any difficulty finding the trail, but somehow we found ourselves with cuts all over our legs and pine needles in our hair after bushwhacking for 2 hours along the steep hillsides of Slate Creek. Right as we were about to give up and go sip whiskey in the hot springs, we came across a beautifully groomed trail cut along the hillside leading us all the way to OCaulkens Lake. Although the hike that should have been about 2 hours had turned into 4+, the second half was pleasant with gorgeous views of the Chinese wall, Caulkens Peak and WCP-9. It's hard to see much of the White Clouds from the highway, so their muted colors and bald faces are always impressive when they come into view. It wasn’t until the hike out the following day that we cut ourselves some slack for not finding the trail earlier after we saw its inconspicuous origin hidden in an opening in the trees.

Summiting Caulkens Peak

Night fell just as we were setting up camp and the temperature quickly became crisp and frigid – the biting alpine air I often long for during Boise’s sweltering summer. We setup camp right next to the lake, and with no stove or dinner to cook, we quickly settled into bed to avoid the cold.

The next morning was leisurely, as we got ready to Summit Caulkens Peak just East of the lake where we camped. The hike up consisted of a steep, but relatively easy scramble up a field of varying scree sizes. We reached the summit in around 2.5 hours, putting us at 11,500ft – about 800ft higher than most of the central Sawtooth peaks. The sights from the top of the peak included views of some of Idaho’s spectacular ranges, including the rest of the White Clouds, the Sawtooths, and the Lost Rivers, not to mention countless alpine lakes and valleys. The White Clouds with their impressive coloring really are a lesser-known gem of Central Idaho. Highly recommended!