Observation Peak is the only summit in the Sawtooths with a trail all the way to the top. It is accessed from a spur trail at the Observation Divide, which itself is several miles beyond Bridal Veil and Lady Face Falls. The views looking north at McGowan Peak, onto Trail Creek Lakes, and into the headwaters of Baron Creek are stunning. It is a long way to the summit, but the trip can be “shortened” by riding your mountain bike several miles into the canyon.
In 2006, the Trailhead Fire burned the headwaters of Stanley Lake Creek. Nearly the entire drainage uphill from the wilderness boundary was severely charred. Visitors to the area now have a chance see the recovery process firsthand.
Beyond the Bridal Veil spur, the trail crosses several open slide paths beneath the west face of McGown Peak. Decomposing granite accumulates at the bottom in a loose, sandy soil that is a mere hindrance to hikers but quite challenging to ride a mountain bike through. The trail steepens after these slide paths, becoming rocky and technical for mountain bikers. The junction with the old Elk Creek Trail is marked by two silver-plated signs that are bolted to a tree, and this is a logical spot to stash your bike.
It is possible to continue riding through two switchbacks, into the burn, and all the way to the wilderness boundary at the bottom of the old Greenback Mine road (the wilderness information board is posted in the middle of the roadbed). The Trailhead Fire in 2006 burned hot, leaving nothing but a silent forest of blackened trunks. It is an eerily beautiful landscape to hike through as the trail climbs ever more steeply, crossing several small creeks to the Observation Divide. Look for the spur trail to the right that climbs through numerous switchbacks to the summit.
Hiking distances and ascents are as follows:
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to Lady Face Falls: 2.4 miles, 273 feet.
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to Bridal Veil Falls: 3.7 miles, 416 feet.
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to Observation Divide: 6.6 miles, 1,581 feet.
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to Observation Peak: 8.1 miles, 2,264 feet.
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to McGown Lakes: 8.7 miles, 2,266 feet.
From the Observation Divide a second spur trail leads to McGown Lakes and over a divide to Sawtooth Lake. To the south, the trail drops steeply down the Trail Creek drainage (with a spur to Trail Creek Lakes) all the way to the Grandjean Trailhead on the South Fork of the Payette River (see the Taylor Springs adventure)
When the Sawtooth Wilderness was established in 1972, the boundary was drawn to exclude the road to the Greenback Mine. This means that mountain bikes and motorcycles can be ridden to the wilderness boundary 5.7 miles out the canyon. All of the longer trips up the canyon can be “shortened” into reasonable day-hiking length by using a mountain bike. Other than a few sandy washouts beneath McGown Peak, the trail is rideable and quite enjoyable as an activity in its own right.
The headwaters of Stanley Lake Creek lie 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 6-8 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.
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