This challenging and exciting hike ranging from 7 to 9 miles has nearly 2,000 feet in elevation gain, provides incredible views of Steel Mountain's jagged ridges, and encompasses the true ambiance of the wilderness. The road to the trailhead is open June 16th to September 14th for all vehicles.

Steel Mountain, which defines the highest point of the Boise National Forest, has the impressive qualities of its neighboring Sawtooths. From its few alpine lakes to its sharp cliff-like ridges, Steel Mountain has something for everybody, as long as you’re willing to work for it.

The closest establishment to Steel Mountain is the former mining town of Rocky Bar. From there, continue northwest on Trinity Ridge Road. After a few miles, you should meet an intersection with Phifer Creek Road. Head north on Phifer Creek Road and continue past where it summits. Between this summit and the Middle Fork of the Boise River, a small road splits off of Phifer Creek Road and heads east into Steel Mountain. Take this road, but be aware that it is gated and only open during the summer months due to snow. Eventually, the road will dead-end in an open area within the Hot Creek valley. From there, a hiking trail heads east into the Lake Creek valley.

The trail itself has great views of the mountains to the north, and for most of the way, it is fairly easy to hike. However, toward the beginning, fallen trees may force you off the path. Also, near Lake Creek, the bridge that once crossed a narrow chute has been eroded out. While the chute is still passable, the way gets steep for a short while.

Upon reaching Lake Creek, separate from the trail and freestyle your way up the valley towards Steel Lake. Deer and elk wander along the creek, and bears possibly hiding in the thick brush are something to watch out for. Also be looking for chunks of crystals lying on the ground; the entire mountain is covered with them, and the Lake Creek valley is no exception. While hiking up, stay to the west side of the valley. The east side gets steep as you near the lake.

Steel Lake is somewhat large and there are a few camping spots on the northern shore. While the lake is not extremely popular, other people may be around the area. The lake’s quality of fishing varies year to year, but it appears to be alright overall. Photographers will find the area satisfactory, for there are plenty of picturesque scenes. However, what will really influence the quality of your adventure is how you decide to leave. Either head back to the trail and retrace your steps, or hike up 400 feet from the lake to the ridge between the Lake Creek and Hot Creek valleys.

If you choose to go up to the ridge, you will be faced with a tougher hike out. However, you will get to indulge in Steel Mountain’s most impressive views. The Hot Creek valley is truly the mountain’s secret treasure; it boasts sharp ridges, plush greenery, and even a high waterfall off in the distance. Hiking down through it all is a challenge, but the reward makes it well worth it. Try your best to navigate through the fields of fallen trees; staying up high may make it easier. Continue hiking down the valley until you come across your vehicle. Make sure you have something cold and refreshing to drink when you finally arrive.

Hike Time

For the average hiker, the way to the lake may take around 3 hours. The way back, regardless of which way you choose to return, may also take around 3 hours.

Skill Level

Taking the trail and the Lake Creek valley both ways only requires an intermediate skill level. However, you may want a more advanced level of experience if you wish to hike back through the Hot Creek valley.

Fishing Permits

Get an Idaho fishing license at https://idfg.idaho.gov/license...

Pack List

  • Layered Clothing
  • Good Hiking Shoes
  • Sunscreen
  • Water Filter
  • Water Bottle
  • Fishing Pole
  • Flies and Spinners
  • Camera
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RT Distance 7.2 Miles
Elevation Gain 1980 Feet
Activities Camping, Fishing, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Summer
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Forest
Groups
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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