The Little Queens River is accessed from the Queens River Trailhead about 5 miles from the “town” of Atlanta. Check out the Atlanta Region overview for more general information about the Western Sawtooths. The China Basin Road bike loop is another adventure that starts nearby.
In 1886, Matthew Graham, a tireless promoter of the Atlanta region, began developing silver mines in the North Fork of the Boise River drainage near today’s Graham guard station. One of the most direct routes from Atlanta to the new mines was up Little Queens River and over Neinmeyer Creek to the North Fork of the Boise River. As miners rushed to the newest boomtown, a few staked claims at promising outcrops along Little Queens.
Though the Graham Mines were a total bust, several claims in the Little Queens region ended up producing some wealth in the 1900s. The Overlook Mine was active in the first two decades of the century, producing thousands of ounces of silver and gold. The Money Prospect produced a few hundred ounces during a similar period, and it was later owned by Earl Money, who tinkered away at the property later in the 1940s and 1950s. The Little Queens was active most recently in the 1950s and late 1960s, with more than 1,000 feet of developed tunnels.
The route to Scenic Lake follows the old road that extended almost 4 miles up the Little Queens River to the mines. The lake is one of only three alpine lakes within a reasonable distance from either the Powerplant or Queens River trailheads (Browns Lake and Leggit Lake are the other two). This canyon, though pretty, is not nearly as dramatic as other more alpine Sawtooth drainages, and the long hike can start to feel like walking on a treadmill. Note that the Queens and Little Queens drainages burned significantly in 2013. Expect to encounter charred forest, downed trees, altered description, and other effects from the fire.
The remnants of the Little Queens Mine, the Money Prospect and cabin, and some nice, mature forest along the shady side of the river are worthwhile day hiking destinations. The second and third crossings of Little Queens River may require wading at medium to high flows. Above the third crossing, the sunny swaths of open meadow can be awash in early to mid-summer wildflowers.
The crux of the hike up Scenic Creek lies in climbing to the lip of the upper basin. It’s a vertical gain of 1,500 feet over 2 miles, the final 450 of which are accomplished in a brutally steep 0.3 miles. That equates to an average grade of 14% and a crux grade of 29.8%, the steepest stretch of any trail in the Sawtooths!
The remainder of the route passes through dense wildflowers along one of the prettier creekside trails in the Sawtooths. Two stunning cirque-bound lakes are the reward for the climb. Sheer dike-riddled walls on the north face of Nahneke Mountain hang overhead, lending a brooding feeling to this shady drainage. The shoreline is steep and rocky with only a few campsites on the north sides of either lake. Campfires are prohibited in the Scenic Lake cirque.
At the junction to Scenic Lake, hikers have the option to continue further up Little Queens River to Browns Lake or over the Johnson Divide to Johnson Lake. A logical backpacking route in the region would be to loop the Queens River-Johnson Creek-Little Queens River trails and visit Browns and Scenic lakes on that loop. Total distance is 29.8 miles with 5,930 feet of climbing on that loop.
The obvious destination for most peak baggers is Nahneke Mountain. Both the east and west summits can be reached easily from the saddle.
Peaks 9,554 and 9,540 have dramatic north faces with a fun traverse between the summits that is airy on one side of the ridge and mellow on the other. Flat Top Mountain can be reached from just about anywhere along its west face, but the South Ridge is the most aesthetic route. Another objective lower in the Little Queens drainage is to summit East Warrior Peak and circumnavigate Browns Creek by the ridges on either side of the creek.
Most of the trail lies within the Sawtooth Wilderness. Please observe the following regulations:
• Mountain bikes are not allowed past the wilderness boundary.
• Self administered wilderness permits are required and available at the trailhead.
• Dogs must be on a leash between July 1 and Labor Day.
• Camp 100 feet from trails, lakes and streams.
• Pack out all garbage.
• Human waste should be buried and well disguised in a cat hole that is 6 to 8 inches deep. Pack out all toilet paper.
• Campfires allowed ONLY in a backcountry pan or fire blanket.
• Campfires are NOT allowed at some lakes and in some drainages in the Sawtooths. Please review the campfire restrictions at individual trailheads.
• Permits required for all stock use in the wilderness. No grazing allowed in the Salmon River watershed (This includes the Alpine Lake drainage).
• No equine stock at Edith Lake. ALL stock prohibited in the Goat Creek and Alpine Creek (Alturas Lake) drainages.
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