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North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork

Boulder Mountains

Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

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North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork

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  • Sign at the primitive East Fork Trailhead.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • One of several large avalanche paths that run to the bottom of the East Fork of the North Fork of the Big Wood.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • There are several islands of shady Douglas fir forests that break up the otherwise open south facing East Fork Trail.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • Typical open trail conditions out the East Fork Canyon. The trees in the background have been trimmed by massive avalanches during winter.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • Avalanche trimline and a huge pile of debris at the bottom of the canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • This stair step waterfall can be seen from the trail about 1.5 miles out the canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • Close up of the stair step falls.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • The view up the East Fork Canyon after turning sharply to the east at the 2-mile mark.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • Sedimentary rock layers are visible in the cliffs high above the canyon floor.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • Late season wildflowers interspersed among the sage brush on the open slopes of the East Fork.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • The trail disappears at the creek 3 miles up the canyon. It is possible to bushwhack further into the headwater basins.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • Aside from sedimentary rocks, the Boulder Mountains are also composed of intrusive and extrusive volcanic rocks.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • White bark pine silhouette high above the East Fork Canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
  • White bark pine silhouette high above the East Fork Canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - East Fork of the North Fork
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Solitude. Fragrant Douglas fir forest. Impressive avalanche paths. Waterfall.
Cons: 
No significant destination. Trail can be hard to find.
Region:
Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, ID
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
1,175.00 ft (358.14 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
6.00 mi (9.66 km)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,800.00 ft (2,072.64 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

North Fork of the Big Wood Overview

The North Fork of the Big Wood drainage is the hiking epicenter of the Boulder Mountains. The main canyon accesses two large tributaries, the West Fork of the North Fork (WFNF) and the East Fork of the North Fork (EFNF). The hikes ascend dramatic, steep-walled canyons that access multiple alpine cirques ringed by the highest peaks in the range. 

The underlying geology of the North Fork of the Big Wood River is a combination of sedimentary and volcanic rock. Neither is particularly durable, and both rock units tend to break apart. A wide variety of individual rock units provide a wash of reddish and brown hues that blend together in large, sweeping faces of talus and scree in the upper elevations. Below treeline much of the underlying rocks are covered with forests and soil, but canyon walls are consistently steep down to the valley floor.

East Fork of the North Fork of the Big Wood

The trail up the EFNF Canyon offers a pleasant walk through shaded forests Douglas fir forests without the traffic of trails closer to town. An impressive display of avalanche paths and a pretty waterfall 1.5 miles up the trail are the main attractions.

The first half of the trail up the East Fork alternates between pleasantly fragrant Douglas fir forests and openings punched through the trees by massive avalanche paths. The bottom of the slide paths are littered with dead trees that are often swept hundreds of feet up the opposite side of the canyon by the powerful winter slides.

After about 1.5 miles the trail steepens considerably, climbing through loose rock and across a steep side-hill to a view down onto a pretty three-tiered waterfall (though piles of compacted snow deposited by avalanches can often clog the creek and falls well into July). At 2 miles there is a major split in the canyon at a creek crossing. This is good turn-around point.

Hikers who want to continue up the canyon will have to do a little sleuthing to find the trail. It fades a bit after the creek crossing, but it can be found at the eastern end of a sloping meadow where it re-enters the woods. It continues for another mile through dense forest before fading in the landscape at a second series of sage and grassy meadows.

Reference: All content excerpted from Exploring Sun Valley - A Comprehensive Guide to the Boulder, Pioneer, and Smoky Mountains by Idaho River Publications.

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Published in collaboration with 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.

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