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North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake

Boulder Mountains

Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

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North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake

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  • North Fork of the Big Wood Trailhead parking lot.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • 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 - Window Lake
  • An overlook near the trail about 1.5 miles out the West Fork of the North Fork Canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • The last open meadow above the second falls eventually pinches closed into the densly forested canyon above.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • The view into the upper West Fork of the North Fork Basin from 8,600 feet.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • The route to Window Lake is a moderate off-trail climb up the south side of the West Fork of the North Fork Canyon. There are some great views early in the climb.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • The cascading creek that drains Window Lake provides a "handrail" for hikers who follow the blunt ridge on the right side of the creek as you ascend.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • June wildflowers accent slivers of snow-filled couloirs.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • About mid-way up the climb, hikers will scramble through a broken cliffband leading to the lake.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • The Window Lake outlet flows due north and can remain snow covered into mid summer.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • Window Lake and the outlet creek.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • Marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala).- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • The high alpine shoreline of Window Lake (10,022 feet).- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • There are beautiful views down the West Fork of the North Fork Canyon from the edge of the Window Lake Basin.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • Descending back to the valley floor of the West Fork of the North Fork Canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
  • Walking back to the trailhead through some of the open meadows along the West Fork of the North Fork Canyon.- North Fork of the Big Wood - Window Lake
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Remote alpine lake. Mid-summer wildflowers. Waterfalls.
Cons: 
Off-trail scramble requires map and compass skills.
Region:
Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, ID
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
3,442.00 ft (1,049.12 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Total Distance: 
10.60 mi (17.06 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 West Pass Trail begins at a junction 1.7 miles out the North Fork of the Big Wood.

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 tree line much of the underlying rocks are covered with forests and soil, but canyon walls are consistently steep down to the valley floor.

Window Lake

Nestled beneath four 10,000-foot and 11,000-foot peaks, Window Lake lies in a dramatic, high alpine basin. The route to the lake is entirely off-trail and requires map and navigation skills.

From an elevation of 8,400 feet where the WFNF Trail emerges into the headwaters basin, cross the West Fork and gain the sharp ridge to the hiker’s right of the creek draining the lake. Work up this forested ridge for 600 feet before scrambling through a band of broken cliffs around 9,200 feet. From here it’s a straightforward rising traverse into the creek and up a narrow, rock-filled gorge to the shores of Window Lake. Winter snow holds along the creek, and alpine buttercups and March marigold fringe the lake in mid-June.

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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