Hikes in the Big Hole, Snake River, and
Caribou Mountains Area
Black Canyon to Big Burns
Distance: 10.5 mile near loop
Location: Traveling east on US Highway 26 from Idaho Falls, proceed 11 miles past the junction with State Highway 43 and bear left (north) onto the Kelly Canyon Recreation Area Road. Proceed on this road 2 miles to a Y intersection and turn right on County Road 100 North. After crossing the South Fork of the Snake River, bear right on Heise Road and continue 2 miles to another fork in the road. Follow the right gravel road (which turns into Forest Road 206) 16.1 miles to the Black Canyon Trailhead.
This trail winds through rugged mountains and over ten creek crossings amidst beautiful forests comprised of chokecherry and wild rose bushes, as well as Douglas fir, spruce, juniper, cottonwood, aspen, and oak trees. Wildlife is abundant in the area as well, and it is not unusual to see moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and bald eagles. Beginning on a trail that is open to ATVs, mountain bikes, horses, and hikers, make several creek crossings until reaching the 2.2-mile mark where the trail begins climbing up a forested canyon. At the 4-mile mark, hikers will reach the Black Canyon/Little Burns Divide and should proceed left down the ridge 1 mile to a trail junction. Proceed left down the scenic Little Burns Canyon and cross Big Burns Creek to reach the Big Burns Trailhead 3 miles from the convergence of Big Burns and Little Burns Creeks. Walk along the Forest Road to reach the parking area at Black Canyon Trailhead. Best months for hiking are late June through September.
Big Elk Creek
Scenery abounds on this trail as hikers wander in and out of the Snake River Range’s patchy forests past numerous avalanche chutes. Walking through the wide Big Elk Creek Canyon, hikers will pass side routes leading to Dry Canyon at the 2.5-mile mark and Hells Hole Canyon at 3.4 miles. At this point, the trail narrows through the limestone cliffs and a waterfall can be found as hikers cross over into Wyoming at the 4.5-mile mark. Crossing over Big Elk Creek, hikers reach the turnaround destination at 6.5 miles near this creek’s union with the Siddoway Fork of Big Elk Creek. Best months for hiking are late July through September.
Optional Hikes: Hikers can wander up the Siddoway Fork Canyon on Trail 167, which provides access to both the Austin Canyon meadows (Trail 105) as well as to the mountain ridge located between Swan Valley, Idaho and Jackson, Wyoming.
A second option is to proceed past the convergence of Big Elk Creek and the Siddoway Fork and locate Trail 125. This trail climbs up into Dry Canyon and over to the scenic Garden Canyon.
Indian Creek Loop
Rugged canyon walls lined with waterfalls, wildflower meadows, alpine lakes, and impressive unnamed peaks rising sharply against the sky are just some of the many sights awaiting hikers on this trail situated near the Idaho/Wyoming state border. Starting out on an ATV trail, proceed across North Indian Creek and ignore all faint trails leaving to the sides of Trail 122. After hiking 7.2 miles to the North Indian Creek Basin, locate a faint trail leaving to the right marked “Big Basin 1.5; Lake Basin 2.5; So Fk. Indian Cr. 3.5.” Now on Trail 099, hikers will ascend steeply to the 9,500-foot North Indian Pass located at the trek’s 9.4-mile mark. Continuing over the pass and down to a pond, stay on Trail 099 and climb to Lake Basin. Shortly after reaching Lake Basin, hikers will find a trail junction near South Indian Creek’s head. Proceed down into South Indian Creek on Trail 045 past Cabin Creek, Deadhorse Canyon, and Oat Canyon. From Oat Canyon, the trail winds gently downhill 2.5 miles to the South Fork Indian Creek Trailhead where hikers should walk along the road back to the North Fork Trailhead’s parking area. Best months for hiking are August to early September.
Little Elk Creek
This trail climbs through the highest portion of the Snake River Mountains, offering hikers incredible views of Mount Baird, Palisades Peak, and Little Palisades Peak, as well as several other unnamed peaks rising more than 9,000 feet. Although the first mile of the trek gently meanders through a forest, hikers should expect the trail to become significantly steeper. At the 1-mile mark, hikers pass Conglomerate Canyon and begin winding up another canyon through scenic cliffs. After making several switchbacks, hikers finally reach a high saddle at 9,200 feet at the 4-mile mark where panoramic views of the surrounding area are found. Best months for hiking are mid-July to mid-September.
Optional Hikes: From the high saddle, hikers can take a cross-country hike east across the basins below and then climb to a narrow ridgeline. This ridge provides hikers with access to Mount Baird’s summit.
A forest canopy shades hikers as they wander through the rugged walls of Palisades Canyon up to Lower and Upper Palisades Lakes. Following Palisades Creek, hikers will arrive at Lower Palisades Lake in 4 miles. The area has a few good camping spots and is known to harbor several moose. To reach Upper Palisades Lake, continue on Trail 084 0.6 miles past Chicken Springs Canyon. From here, cross over Palisades Creek and continue up Waterfalls Canyon Trail to locate Upper Palisades Lake at the 6.5-mile mark. This fertile lake is known for its dense population of cutthroat trout. Best months for hiking are early June to mid-October.
Optional Hikes: Bypass the trail leading to Upper Palisades Lake and continue up Palisades Creek Trail 084. This hike is difficult as the trail is faint in most places and it fords Palisades Creek twenty-two times. The third and final option is to proceed up Chicken Springs Canyon at the trip’s 5.4-mile mark. Hikers will reach the canyon springs 0.75 miles from the trail junction. While this canyon is very scenic, it is also very steep.
The trail leading through Rainey Creek Canyon is scenic and offers a wide variety of landscapes. From dense forests of conifers, aspens, and berry bushes to rockslides, overhanging cliffs, and creek crossings, this trail offers something for every hiker. Beginning on an abandoned road, ascend up the north slope of Rainey Creek canyon and ford Rainey Creek. At the 2.25-mile mark, proceed on South Fork Rainey Creek Trail through a rocky canyon past Dry Elk Canyon. Upon reaching a trail fork, proceed left and climb up and over a summit down to the North Fork of Rainey Creek Trailhead. At this 8-mile mark, locate the North Fork trail leaving at the trailhead’s downstream end. The trail winds through a lush canyon bottom and past a scenic rockslide area before winding back to the first trailhead. Best months for hiking are mid-July through September.
Wildlife is abundant on this trail that winds near Trail Creek up to the 7,090-foot Trail Creek and Taylor Creek Divide. From this ridge, hikers have vistas of Bald Mountain as well as the scenic Taylor Creek Canyon. Following the trail from its start above Jackknife Creek, hike to a trail fork at the 0.8-mile mark. Proceed along the right fork up Trail Creek as it winds through meadows and a patchy forest. Throughout the hike, Trail Creek Trail fades in and out with game trails becoming the most obvious routes. Hikers should remember to always keep right of Trail Creek in such instances. At the 3-mile mark, the main trail fades, but hikers should ignore the game trail and continue right up the canyon. As hikers near their destination, an unnamed fork appears in the trail. Taking the trail’s left fork, stay to the creek’s right and follow the metal signs attached to trees signaling the correct route to the pass. Best months for hiking are mid-June to mid-October.
Waterfall Canyon/Palisades Lakes
Hikers will pass two alpine lakes on this scenic trail that winds near the Snake River Range’s highest peaks through meadows and canyons lined with waterfalls and wildflowers. From the trailhead, proceed through a forested canyon bottom past Lower Palisades Lake and Chicken Springs Canyon to a trail junction at the 6-mile mark. Crossing over Palisades Creek, merge onto Waterfall Canyon Trail and hike to the 7.5-mile mark at the upper end of Upper Palisades Lake. 0.25 miles above this inlet, keep right at the trail junction and cross the creek. At the next trail junction near the creek, stay right again and begin ascending up the glacier-carved Waterfall Canyon. At the 9.8-mile mark, hikers will reach the scenic Waterfall Meadow where a 920-foot cataract tumbles down the canyon’s east wall. Early in the season, this meadow is lined with waterfalls. From the meadow, make a creek crossing and proceed right up a cirque, past a gorge, and into a small basin where the trail forks. Bear right at this fork and follow the trail to a large basin. Here, hikes should return 12 miles back to the trailhead on the same route or follow one of the optional hikes detailed below. Best months for hiking are July and August with the best waterfall views available in early July.
Optional Hikes: From the trek’s trail junction at the 12-mile mark, hikers can make an optional loop hike back to Upper Palisades Lake. Proceeding east along Waterfall Canyon’s ridge, climb over Peak 9,630 and follow the scenic Dry Canyon Trail back to the lake.
Another loop takes hikers back to Lower Palisades Lake. At the trail junction, proceed on the Sheep Creek-Lake Canyon Trail to a high divide where grand views of Wyoming’s Teton Mountains can be found. At the divide, drop northwest down onto the Lake Canyon Trail. This scenic trail is faint in places as it passes through meadows and forests, but hikers will likely be rewarded in sighting several mountain goats roaming the canyon’s cliffs.