Best Hikes in Payette National Forest (ID)


Payette National Forest is located in central Idaho between Boise National Forest and Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. Dry desert grasslands compliment heavily forested acres. Gateways to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness lead the visitor to experience the solitude of seldom traveled trails. Similar to other national forests of Idaho, the biggest recreational activity enjoyed by visitors can be found on the water. Whitewater rafting and kayaking down the Main Salmon and Middle Fork attract visitors from around the world. The best hikes in Payette National Forest are described below. Official Website.

Nearest Metro AreaBoise, ID
Area Size2,327,621 acres
EstablishedApril 1, 1944
Hiking Trails2,000+ miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Most Recommended Hikes in Payette National Forest

(*** = Top hikes in Payette National Forest)

Boulder Lake Trail #105*** – 4.0 miles out and back

A popular destination for anglers, the trail to Boulder Lake begins at the west end of Boulder Meadows Reservoir. The trail climbs slowly until just before the lake where you follow a few steep switchbacks along a granite rock face.

Box Lake Trail #110 – 6.8 miles out and back

The hike to Box Lake is a steep, hard climb but worth the effort. The trail switchbacks 800 feet in the first mile and continues upward for the next mile. After passing through a short meadow, the trail again climbs to arrive at the ridge above the lake before descending approximately 350 feet to the water’s edge.

Goose Creek Falls Trail #354*** – 3.0 miles out and back

The trail descends consistently over 1.3 miles to Goose Creek where it intersects the Goose Creek Trail #353. Continuing south less than 1/4 mile from this junction provides a dramatic view of Goose Creek Falls. Listen for the roar of the falls and bear left at an unsigned intersection onto an unimproved trail for access. 

Granite Mountain Trail #165 – 5.3 miles out and back

The Granite Mountain Trail is accessible from multiple trailheads and ascends quickly to an unmanned fire lookout at 8480′. This high point provides panoramic views west into the Little Salmon River drainage and east to Idaho’s expansive central mountains. A spur trail just over 1/2 mile from the east trailhead provides a leisurely side trip to Twin Lakes. 

Josephine Lake #296 – 1.4 miles out and back

The trail winds along the mountainside past a small lake to the left. Continue over the next rise and you’ll see a beautiful 13 acre lake tucked in a granite cirque. The nearby drainage burned in the 1994 fires, but the surrounding area is still very scenic.

Loon Lake Loop #081*** – 10.9 mile loop

This loop trail takes you up and down rolling hills, to the shores of scenic Loon Lake, and along the beautiful Sesech River. Many people do this loop as a long day hike, but there are plenty of spots to camp near the lake that make it a great overnight trip. In January of 1943, an Army Air Corps pilot with a crew of seven crash landed a B-23 bomber onto frozen Loon Lake after the plane, running low on fuel, experienced severe icing. The plane came to rest in the forest near the lake’s shoreline where it remains today.

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