The High Ridge Trail climbs up into the impressive north-facing bowls on the backside of Lake Creek. For geologists, the trail encounters the “type formation” of the Wilson Creek Member of the sedimentary Wood River Formation. The view from the east ridge of Otto’s Peak into the Pioneers is one of the highlights of the hike.
From the parking area, drop down and ford Trail Creek. The trail climbs several steep pitches followed by short traverses for the first 600 feet before settling into a gradual walk up the Cold Canyon Basin. Hanging meadows along the trail host several species of wildflowers as summer lengthens. Cross Cold Canyon Creek into the forest where the switchbacks begin. Steep and short at first, they get longer and flatter toward the shoulder at Point 9,100.
The trail contours into Basin Gulch beneath vertical layers of sedimentary rock. The avalanche debris piled up below the trail is impressive and gives a sense of the power that the slides have. Several short and steep switchbacks and a long contour beneath the imposing northeast face of Otto’s Peak lead to an awesome viewpoint with a stunning and unique perspective of the Pioneers. Many people turn around from here to make it a there-and-back hike (3.4 miles, 1,740 feet).
An interesting piece of the early Wood River mining history can be seen from this overlook. The faint switchbacks of the original Trail Creek Toll Road can be picked out as it cuts through the aspens and fir trees beneath the existing summit road. The original grade was built in the late 1800s to connect the smelting resources in the Wood River Valley to the mines and communities in Mackay, Challis, and the eventually to the rail line in Pocatello.
The trail continues across Rock Roll Canyon via a narrow, steep side-hill that may make some hikers a bit nervous. In general the long 1.6-mile traverse to the south saddle of Otto’s Peak offers more outstanding views. Pay attention on the descent into Lake Creek as some of the switchbacks are easy to miss. Once you hit the old mining road, it is a long and gradual grind to the car.
Note that the north-facing bowls of Otto's Peak can hold snow into the summer that may stop hikers in the springtime. The crossing of Trail Creek can also be a hazard during runoff.
For those interested in checking out old mines, the quick jaunt to the end of the Lake Creek mining road and the Auburn Mine is a nice side trip. The entrance is caved, but there are some old rail tracks still protruding from the entrance.
The High Ridge Trail is open to mountain bikes and offers a unique and challenging ride from the Trail Creek Trailhead to Lake Creek. Some of the side-hill traverses are very narrow with high-tumble consequences. The switchbacks down into Lake Creek are loose, but in general most of the trail is manageable for experienced to expert riders. It is definitely a low traffic “adventure” ride and requires a car shuttle.
The three ridgelines emanating from the summit of Otto's Peak are reasonable scrambles in the Class 2 to Class 3 range. One could loop up the east ridge, down the south ridge, and catch the trail back to the trailhead. It is also possible to continue across the impressive Lake Creek headwalls via the northwest ridge to Divide Peak (10,331) and then descend its west ridge to the Lake Creek Road. This might best be accomplished as a loop from the Lake Creek side of the High Ridge Trail.
Reference: All content excerpted from Exploring Sun Valley - A Comprehensive Guide to the Boulder, Pioneer, and Smoky Mountains by Idaho River Publications.
Our mission is to inspire adventure with beautiful, comprehensive and waterproof map-based guidebooks. Owner, publisher, and photographer Matt Leidecker, grew up exploring and guiding on the rivers in central Idaho. His award winning Middle Fork of the Salmon River – A Comprehensive Guide is the standard by which other river guidebooks are measured. Printed on virtually indestructible YUPO paper, IRP guides are truly unique all-in-one resources for adventure. Each book is loaded with full-color maps, stunning photographs, and information on the history, geology, and wildflowers. Visit Idaho River Publications to explore our guidebooks to the Rogue River in Oregon and the mountains of Central Idaho.