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North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork

Boulder Mountains

Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

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North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork

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  • North Fork of the Big Wood Trailhead parking lot.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Crossing the North Fork of the Big Wood just beyond the parking lot can be treacherous during spring and early summer runoff.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • The first mile of the West Fork of the North Fork Trail is fairly gentle and passes several large old-growth Douglas fir trees.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • An overlook near the trail about 1.5 miles out the West Fork of the North Fork Canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • From the trail hikers only get a small glimplse of the first waterfall.  A little scrambling along the edge of the cliffs, however, leads to this view.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • It is a steep scramble to the creek at the base of the falls. A short scramble up the opposite bank affords this beautiful view of the cascade.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • A little wet rock bouldering can get you into the base of the falls, which is an inviting shower on a hot summer day.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • A second cascade (not visible from the trail) about a half mile above the first, can be visited by following your ears to the falls.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Above the first two falls the canyon begins to open into large, avalanche-swept meadows.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Interesting sedimentary and ingeous cliffs flank the middle canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Mid-summer wildflowers decorate springs that emerge at several spots in the meadows.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • More wildflowers and views in the mid-canyon meadows.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • The last open meadow above the second falls eventually pinches closed into the densly forested canyon above.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • The creek emerges from a narrow gorge at the end of the uppermost meadow. The trail climbs a steep diagonal up the right canyon wall.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Looking onto the third West Fork of the North Fork cascade, which is accessed by walking downhill from the main trail.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • The third West Fork of the North Fork waterfall.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Around 8,600 feet the trail emerges from the trees with this view into the headwaters.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Purple sedimentary conglomerate boulders are part of the complex sedimentary and volcanic geology of the Boulder Range.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Above 9,000 feet the trail fades into the landscape. It is an off-trail scramble along the creek, but the stunning wildflower display is worth the challeging hiking.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • White bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata).- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • A smaller fourth waterfall is passed around 9,200 feet.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Looking down the canyon from the top of the fourth waterfall. As you can see, it is possible to follow many different off-trail routes into the alpine basin.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Around 9,600, the terrain flattens into a barren and beautiful alpine basin.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Gray volcanic peaks ring the upper cirque.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Golden buckwheat (Erigonum flavum).- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • The scramble to the divide with the North Fork of the Big Wood is an exercise in patience up unstable scree slopes.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Looking into the headwaters of the North Fork of the Big Wood from the divide.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Alpine chaenactis (Chaenactis alpina).- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • Looking north off of the summit of Peak 11,298 into the East Fork of the Big Wood River.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
  • A view of Glassford Peak from the summit of Peak 11,298.- North Fork of the Big Wood - West Fork of the North Fork
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Pretty waterfalls. Impressive avalanche paths. Mid-summer wildflowers.
Cons: 
No specific destination. Creek crossing at trailhead. Trail fades before reaching the headwaters.
Region:
Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, ID
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
1,789.00 ft (545.29 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
7.00 mi (11.27 km)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,880.00 ft (2,097.02 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.

West Fork of the North Fork of the Big Wood River

The West Fork Trail is a favorite in the area. The creek crossing near the trailhead can be intimidating and dangerous during spring and early summer. After a mellow mile through the shaded forest, the trail passes by two beautiful waterfalls before emerging into an open section of canyon. 

Though the falls are not directly visible from the trail, a bit of scrambling will provide hikers with some nice views.  The open, grassy meadows above the second falls are kept clear of trees by massive avalanche paths that sweep both sides of the canyon. In mid-summer an assortment of wildflowers decorate these meadows. 

A third waterfall can be heard as the trail climbs steeply through another forested section before emerging into the headwaters basin.  The canyon opens around 9,000 feet at the confluence of several alpine basins draining the headwaters of the WFNF canyon. The trail fades in the upper basin a few hundred feet above, but an amazing display of August wildflowers along the creek and a fourth waterfall entices hikers higher into the basin.

Additional Adventures

The West Fork provides the access to Window Lake, several 10,000 and 11,000-foot peaks, and can be connected over a divide with the North Fork of the Big Wood to create a long and dramatic 11-mile loop.

Off-Trail Hiking

From about 8,600 feet any further exploration up the WFNF is via off-trail hiking. The landscape is relatively open so navigation is straightforward if steep. The route to the divide with the North Fork of the Big Wood climbs up frustratingly loose scree and talus slopes. Another destination is the southeast ridge of Peak 11,298, which is a Class 2 and Class 3 scramble up a loose and broken ridgeline and offers outstanding views in all directions across the high peaks of the Boulder Mountains.

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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