With so many incredible trails and destinations to visit in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, one of the best ways to experience it is with a multi-day loop that tours the wilderness area's highlights. Starting from below Strawberry Lake, a loop trail will take you by Strawberry Falls, High Lake, and Slide Lake. Short spur trails also lead to Little Strawberry Lake and to Strawberry Mountain's summit at 9,033 feet, two destinations not to be missed if you want to get a full appreciation of this remarkable area.
One of the most remarkable features of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness is its isolation. Although the major access is only 11 miles outside of Prairie City, the nearest true population center is well over 100 miles away. The area comprises over 69,000 acres and has over 100 miles of hiking trails. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, black bears and mountain lions are just a sampling of large mammals that make a home in the area.
The trail wanders through pine, fir, and larch, and it gets more exposed at higher elevations. Parts of the southern portion of the loop pass through areas where forest fires have left skeleton-like trees, which means there is plenty of sun exposure. Luckily, these areas only make up a short part of the trail. The shores of Little Strawberry Lake, Little Slide Lake, and High Lake sit at the base of high cliffs and scree fields, where you'll have a good chance of seeing mountain goats combing the rock slopes above.
Visiting Strawberry Mountain Wilderness is best in late September to early October. You'll want to avoid the last traces of snowfall that can last into August and the mosquitoes that are inevitable at higher elevations, especially one with seven alpine lakes. You can fish in each of the lakes, camp at backcountry sites found readily along the way, and if you're lucky, get a few places to camp all to yourself.
The loop can be started from below Strawberry Lake or from the other side near High Lake. Starting from Strawberry Lake is highly recommended. The access road to the trailhead is much easier to travel, and you'll get the majority of the elevation gain out of the way on the first day as opposed to leaving a major hill to climb for the last day. Parking is free at both trailheads. Come prepared for variable weather, even if you are visiting in the summer. Campsites at High Lake are over 7,000 feet in elevation, and it will get very cool at night, even on hot summer days.