After spending quite a bit of time running rivers this summer, I had a strong itch to go backpacking. I wanted to go somewhere relatively close by, and I wanted to avoid the smoke of the Pioneer Fire, so I picked the Trinity Lakes, a sweet lakes basin under the shadow of towering Trinity Mountain Lookout (elevation: 9,451 feet).
It’d been 20 years since I’d been up to the Trinities, quite honestly, and I forgot how long it takes to get there. Even if you go through Prairie, the most direct route, it still takes 3 hours via dirt roads.
The last couple miles of the drive to Big Trinity Lake, the trailhead, are steep and gnarly. A 4WD, high-clearance vehicle is required. I was wishing I’d taken my Ford F-250 instead of my Honda Pilot as I slow-rolled over razor-sharp rocks in the final ascent, holding my breath all the way. Even so, it’s rare to be able to drive to a trailhead at 8,200 feet, which of course puts you in prime position to access the lakes basin without that much climbing.
The trailhead to the Trinity Lakes is on the east side of the lake. Our plan was to scale the pass on the well-worn singletrack trail and decide which lakes to visit after we got a closer view. It’s about 1 mile from the trailhead to the top of the pass, gaining about 500-600 feet.
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From that perch, Green Island Lake looked swampy and poor for fishing. We decided to head into Big Lookout Lake and make a base camp there. It’s about 2.5 miles total to Big Lookout Lake from the trailhead. The lake was crystal clear, and nice and deep for fishing and swimming. There were several campsites around the edge of the lake, and that’s a good thing because most of them were full.
My partner Wendy liked the quick access. “The Trinities are my new favorite place for a short hike into a whole basin of lakes. There’s nothing quite like it,” she said.
We’ve taken our kids to Josephine Lake and Snowslide Lake in McCall, and they’re short hikes, but they don’t take you into a whole basin of lakes like the Trinities. There are eight high mountain lakes named on the map, but truthfully, several of them are ponds, like Little Lookout Lake.
I brought my fly rod and spin cast setup to fish for trout. I caught a nice cutthroat in Big Lookout Lake, and some smaller fish, but the fish seemed finicky. I could see that a float tube would be “the kind” to really slay the fish up there.
Wendy and I toured Heart Lake and Big Rainbow Lake on Sunday morning. Those lakes were only a mile or so from Big Lookout, but they were both very big and beautiful.
We saw several dad-and-daughter pairs camping at Big Lookout Lake. One of the dads hauled his 2 1/2-year-old daughter up to that lake, carrying a backpack with his sleeping bag and hers, a tent, their food and clothes, etc. That’s devotion!
On our drive home, we took Forest Road No. 172 to Featherville and took mostly paved roads back to Boise. It’s still about 3 hours going that direction, but much easier on your vehicle. Plus, you can stop at the rustic restaurant in Pine and get a milkshake.
As we move into September, I would expect the number of people flocking to the Trinities will dissipate. And there’s plenty of nice weather left for backpacking.
Steve Stuebner is a longtime Idaho outdoors writer. He writes occasional columns for Playing Outdoors.
What you need
▪ Boise National Forest map for road navigation
▪ Topo map and/or GPS for trip navigation
▪ Fill your water bottles with fresh drinking water before you go and carry a water purifier to pump fresh water for the weekend.