A crisp hint of fall is in the air, but its not too late to hit Idahos high country.
In fact, veteran hikers relish September for backpacking and hiking and try to get in a few more treks before the snow flies.
The fall is nice because it has cooled down, and in September, one can hear the elk bugle during the rut, said Gary Jones, author of Hiking Idahos Seven Devils.
The fall also means fewer people and more solitude, said Jones, who also is a biology, chemistry and physics teacher at New Plymouth High School.
Jones is one of four authors of Idaho hiking guides who shared their favorite alpine hikes.
Here are their picks:
Books: Trails of the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains, Trails of Western Idaho, and Trails of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Location: Bighorn Crags in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Trailhead: At the Crags Campground. The campground is reached by taking the Morgan Creek Road, which is 8 miles northeast of Challis off U.S. 93. Drive over Morgan Creek Summit to Porphyry Creek at 33 miles. Watch for the signs to Bighorn Crags, and bring a map to make sure you find the campground.
Notes: The trail runs right beside Fishfin Ridge, a ridge of granite towers that looks like a prehistoric fish with too many fins.
The lake provides access to several other great places in the Crags, such as Welcome Lake and Ship Island Lake.
Its a 7-mile hike one way with a 1,400-foot elevation gain to Welcome Lake. A little waterfall on the outlet provides a shower for those who don't mind icy water.
Trailhead: Start at Redfish Inlet Transfer Camp, which is reached by taking the shuttle boat from Redfish Lake Lodge across Redfish Lake. The cost is $10 one way and $16 round trip. The shuttle operates through Oct. 7.
Notes: The whole hike is spectacular Redfish Canyon, Alpine Lake, Baron Divide, Baron Lakes and the canyons of Baron Creek and the South Fork of the Payette.
Lower Baron is a 2,613-foot climb from the Redfish Inlet Transfer Camp in 8.5 miles or a 3,325-foot climb in 10.5 miles from Grandjean.
Book: Hiking Idahos Seven Devils.
Location: Seven Devils Mountains.
Trailhead: Take the road to Seven Devils and Windy Saddle off U.S. 95 a mile south of Riggins.
Its about 16 miles to the saddle. The trail leaves Seven Devils Campground.
Notes: Its a very popular lake in the Northern Devils.
Its 9.3 miles in on the main trail. There is a shortcut called Goats Pass that is only 2.8 miles.
It was an off-trail route, but so many people used it through the years it now has a trail most of the way, Jones said. The views are incredible when you drop down to Sheep Lake.
The trail descends down a long, diagonal crack in the cliff then angles down to the lake.
When you consider the mileage it saves you, I go this way every time, Jones said. It is not for rookie hikers. I would suggest that you have some experience before you try it. There are a few hairy spots where you cross some scree, but it is very doable unless there is snow.
Location: Seven Devils.
Notes: In the Southern Devils is a lake called Crystal Lake. The trail you take is actually an old mining road.
Trailhead: Take the Hornet Creek Road out of Council off U.S. 95. It is also called the Council-Cuprum Road.
Follow the signs to Bear and continue on. Then follow the signs to Black Lake.
One mile before Black Lake is a road that forks right. Take it and park at the camp in a couple hundred yards. The road is rough.
In 4.3 miles you reach a meadow called Paradise Flat. You head upstream for a half mile and you reach an old mining site called Iron Springs.
To get to the lake you head uphill for 1.5 miles to Crystal Lake where you can expect great fishing. This hike is not easy because after Paradise Flat, there is no trail and since the valley burned years ago, there are a lot of downed logs.
The hike up to the lake gains around 1,500 feet in 1.5 miles, and without a trail, its a grind. But when you get to the lake, you can expect some solitude since it is hard to get there. Plus, the Northern Devils get more people than the Southern Devils, so your chances of being alone at this lake are excellent.
Book: Exploring Sun Valley A Comprehensive Guide to the Boulder, Pioneer, and Smoky Mountains and Exploring the Sawtooths A Comprehensive Guide.
Location: Pioneer Mountains.
Trailhead: Head northeast from Ketchum on Sun Valley Road over Trail Creek Summit to the Wildhorse-Copper Basin turnoff. Turn right and continue to a T-junction for Wildhorse Canyon (2.2 miles). Turn right and drive past the guard station to the Wildhorse Campground. Continue with a four-wheel-drive or high-clearance vehicle to the primitive trailhead.
Notes: This is an absolutely stunning canyon that is rarely visited by the Sun Valley crowds because the drive is over Trail Creek Summit, which makes people think it is a longer drive than it is.
In reality, the drive takes about as long as it does to reach most Sawtooth trailheads.
The backside of Hyndman and Old Hyndman present awesome 3,000-foot vertical faces that are decorated by sedimentary and metamorphic banded rocks. The trail passes a few small waterfalls.
There are many off-trail scrambling options from there, but the scenery is some of the biggest and most impressive in the entire state.
Norton to Big Lost Lake
Location: North of Sun Valley in the Smoky Mountains.
Trailhead: Head north on Idaho 75 to the Baker Creek Road. Turn left and stay on the main dirt road until the Norton Creek sign. Turn right onto Norton Creek Road until it dead ends at the trailhead.
Notes: This is a great hike that can be extended into a loop to include Big Lost Lake.
It is a relatively short, but steep hike that gets into the alpine terrain of the Smoky Mountains.
Options are to climb Norton Peak. You walk to the summit with a little scrambling from a pass north of Norton Lake.
It is also possible to create a longer loop of 10-plus miles that includes Prairie, Miner, Norton and Big Lost Lakes by starting up the West Fork of Norton Creek and crossing over to the Prairie Creek drainage.
Books: Hiking Idaho, The Day Hiker's Guide to Stanley, Idaho, The Day Hikers Guide to Sun Valley and Ketchum, The Hiker's Guide to McCall and Cascade and The Hikers Guide to Greater Boise.
Location: East side of the Pioneer Mountains.
Trailhead: Go east on Sun Valley Road (turns into Trail Creek Road). Turn right onto Copper Basin Road (No. 135) and turn right after 2 miles onto Wildhorse Road (No. 136). Follow the road 3.4 miles and turn left on Road No. 503, which ends at the trailhead in a half-mile. From the trailhead, there are signs to Surprise Valley at all junctions along the route.
Notes: One of my favorite hikes is on the east side of the Pioneer Mountains, near Ketchum. This 9.5-mile hike (out-and-back) to Surprise Valley has it all wildlife (moose, mountain goats, elk and deer), a profusion of wildflowers, rugged mountains, a grassy meadow, several lakes to explore and plenty of solitude.
The hike is fairly steep with 2,300 feet of elevation gain and is an excellent choice in the fall when the foliage along Fall Creek quivers gold and red.
Once in Surprise Valley, which has a small pond, you can venture another 1.5 miles to Dorothy Lake. The lake is a stunner, situated in a U-shaped valley with nearby peaks towering over 11,000 feet.
If you decide to backpack to the Surprise Valley, you can day hike over to Moose Lake or up the Left Fork of Fall Creek for more outstanding scenery.
Location: Along Rapid River near Riggins.
Trailhead: To find the trailhead, drive west from McCall on Idaho 55 for 11.8 miles to the intersection with U.S. 95. Turn right and follow the road 29.7 miles to Rapid River Road. Turn left and continue 3 miles to the trailhead.
Notes: Another favorite is to hike along the Rapid River, which was designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1975, and to continue along the West Fork of the Rapid River.
The hike also is an excellent choice in early-to-mid-spring when wildflowers bloom on the hillsides and in late fall as the foliage turns. Raptors, game and excellent fishing add appeal to the outstanding scenery.
The trail parallels the Rapid River to the confluence with the West Fork of the Rapid River at 4.4 miles. Instead of proceeding straight along the Rapid River, turn right at the signed junction and climb next to the West Fork of the Rapid River. At 5.4 miles, you reach Potters Flat, an excellent choice for an overnight backpack.
Another fine choice is to continue along the West Fork another 3.25 miles to the old McCrea Cabin, located in a wide spot in the canyon where McCrea Creek confluences with the West Fork.
Grassy knolls with ponderosa pines make for an outstanding backpack. Deer and elk are often seen on the surrounding grassy slopes.
Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors