Backpacking in Idaho: Tips & Trails

Ultralight backpacking in Idaho: A female hiker enjoys a sunny day next to a lake in Idaho

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Idaho is made easy by the state’s diverse offerings, ranging from short nature walks to extensive backpacking routes. Idaho’s mountains solidify its position as a top outdoor destination.

Some of the best places to hike in Idaho are the Sawtooth Mountains with their high lakes and peaks over 10,000 feet, the far-off wilderness of the Frank Church River of No Return, the pretty Selkirk Mountains up north, the rocky peaks of City of Rocks National Reserve, and many trails in national forests like Boise and Payette.

In this post, we’ll delve into the world of ultralight backpacking amidst Idaho’s landscapes, offering crucial details for your upcoming outdoor expedition.

We will highlight the TOP 5 trails in Idaho across two categories: day hikes under 30 miles, and multi-day trips with opportunities to resupply water every couple of days.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Idaho

  • What to expect: Idaho has a mix of landscapes for backpacking, from tough peaks to deep canyons, alpine lakes, rivers, and forests. Trails vary from easy to challenging. Weather changes a lot with elevation. Expect thunderstorms in summer afternoons. Bring gear for cold nights and sudden storms. You need a permit for overnight stays outside campgrounds.
  • Essential gear: Bring a water filter. While a bear canister isn’t required, it’s a good idea, especially in areas with lots of bears like the Sawtooth Wilderness. Make sure to hang your food bags properly at night or use an Ursack.
  • Wildlife: When hiking in Idaho, watch out for potentially dangerous wildlife like bears (both black and grizzly) in remote mountain and forest areas. Mountain lions, known for ambushing, are found in many parts of the state. Keep a safe distance from moose, as they can charge if provoked. Be cautious of Western Rattlesnakes in areas with logs and rocks. Other concerns include cougars, wolves, coyotes, and disease-carrying ticks in different regions.
  • Wild camping: Dispersed or wild camping is permitted in many public lands across Idaho, including national forests and BLM lands, as long as certain buffers from water, trails, and other campsites are followed. However, national and state parks restrict camping to designated sites and backcountry permits may be required in wilderness areas.
  • Best times to go: The best times for backpacking in Idaho are the spring and fall shoulder seasons. Late spring (May-June) brings wildflowers while early fall (September-October) offers foliage without the summer crowds. Winter backpacking is possible for experienced backpackers with proper gear and navigation abilities.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 30 Miles)

Here are the top day hikes in Idaho where ultralight gear truly enhances your experience:

  1. Sawtooth Lake via Iron Creek Stanley Lake Trail (9.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Freddy’s Stack Rock Trail (11.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Scotchman Peak Trail (7.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Upper Palisades Lake Trail (13.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Pettit Lake to Twin Lakes via Trail 095 (13.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Top multi-day trails in Idaho with water resupply options every two days:

  1. Sawtooth Wilderness Loop (67.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Warm River Rail-Trail (30.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Grand Sawtooths Loop (73.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Imogene and Cramer Lakes Loop (32 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Standhope 60k (37.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

Idaho’s weather varies across its seasons. In spring (March-May), expect daytime highs of 60-70°F, with lows around 30-40°F. Variable conditions include sun, clouds, and occasional snow showers, with wildflowers blooming at lower elevations.

Summer (June-August) brings hot, sunny days (80-90°F) and possible afternoon thunderstorms, especially at higher elevations. Fall (September-November) sees highs of 60-75°F, cool, clear days, and changing aspen colors at higher elevations. Winter (December-February) offers average highs of 30-40°F, with snow common, making backcountry skiing/snowshoeing possible.

Before making your gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for Idaho (Boise):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F384555647282929080654938
Low °F253036414855626152433325
Rain/Snow (D*)767663123488
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

FAQ

Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Idaho? 

Campfires are limited when backpacking in Idaho. Many wilderness areas don’t allow fires, but in other places, you can only have them in designated backcountry sites or existing fire rings. Use portable stoves instead of campfires because of the risk of fires. In dry conditions, fires might be completely banned.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Idaho?

When backpacking in Idaho, be ready for isolation, wildlife, and sudden weather shifts. Bring maps, a compass, GPS, and satellite devices to stay on track in remote areas. Pack extra food, water, warm clothes, and emergency shelter just in case. Always hike with a buddy or a group and let someone know your plans. Look out for signs of bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes, and know how to stay safe. Check the weather and trail conditions before you go and turn back if there are storms. Follow rules about campfires, campsites, and food storage to avoid fines or conflicts with animals. Be cautious near cliffs and on rocky slopes.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Idaho?

Be careful if you run into wildlife while backpacking in Idaho. Make noise on the trail to avoid surprising bears or mountain lions. Give them plenty of space and don’t get too close for photos. Look out for signs like tracks, scat, and rubs. Know how to use bear spray if needed. With bears, avoid eye contact, back away slowly, and talk calmly. If a mountain lion acts aggressive, make yourself look big and loud. Don’t run, as that might make them chase you. Watch out for snakes, give them space, and be cautious where you step. Tell rangers about problematic wildlife. Travel in groups, store food properly, and be extra careful at dawn and dusk.

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