Full disclosure: I honestly thought being out of school would provide more opportunities for me to truly sit down and write well-thought-out and engaging blog posts about our hikes, but that certainly has not been the case this last month. Last week, we didn’t get home before 9:00 p.m. every.single.night that week. It’s exhausting. Summer is exhausting. I do appreciate the decent weather and abundance of outdoor activities, but it seems to me everyone makes up for their hermit-like behavior during winter in that first month of summer. I hope things will calm down a bit. I doubt they will.
This weekend, we drove up to McCall to spend time with Emily’s family, and also to explore a few more hiking trails. We had grand intentions of hiking multiple trails and even visiting some super-secret hot springs a friend had shared with us, but we only ended up on one hike and partaking in copious amounts of day-drinking all day Saturday. We contemplated going for another hike today (an easy out-and-back in Ponderosa State Park), but instead decided to come home so we could get ahead of our week. Emily has several cake ball orders (she’s always busy around holidays) and I start my new job tomorrow, so we thought decompressing and winding down today would more readily prepare us for the rest of the week.
Last year, we did a 6.8-mile loop hike around Louie Lake to Boulder Lake and decided to try that particular trail again. Our friend Gerald also happened to be up in McCall this weekend, so he joined us on this incredibly fun albeit incredibly exhausting hike. I also tried out my new Gregory daypack, filling it as heavy as I could so I could start to prepare for our backpacking trip coming up later this month. After three hours carrying around what felt like a drunk 40-year-old man, I think I will take advantage of REI’s free backpack fitting services to make sure I’m actually carrying my pack correctly. Last year, I hyperextended my shoulder while in Europe carrying around a heavy sling pack on one side for two weeks and since then, my arm just hasn’t quite been the same.
You can find the Louie Lake to Boulder Lake trail on the Alltrails app, but this particular app did not have very accurate directions to the trailhead. I sent the coordinates to Gerald that the app had in their “directions” download, and it took him to a completely different trailhead (the only reason we didn’t end up in the same spot is because I remembered—sort of—how to get there from last year’s excursion). Based on our experience, in order to actually find the Louie Lake trailhead, I shit you not, just Google map search “Louie Lake trailhead.” This provides you with a much more accurate map to the actual trailhead, and won’t lead you all over the windy, pot-hole covered dirt roads that snake their way around the mountains.
From Highway 55 you’ll turn onto Farm-to-Market Road, and then onto Boulder Lake Road. It’s paved part of the way, but then turns into a dirt road. The road to get to the Louie Lake trailhead is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for vehicles that sit low to the ground. Even our Tacoma bottomed out a couple of times on this dirt road, which definitely showed signs of water erosion and wear-and-tear. There were a few areas on the road where the fissures caused by running water were so deep, we had to come to almost a complete stop and maneuver the truck very slowly and very meticulously through and around these huge crevasses. I only screamed once. I do believe you can park along the road on the way to the trailhead to avoid much of the road and just add a mile or two onto your hike.
The road eventually leads to an unnamed campground, where you can either continue straight or turn right towards the campground; the beginning of the trailhead is to the right. Parking is limited, but you can usually find a place along the road to pull over. We parked the truck and then dropped a pin for Gerald to find us, as he had taken a different road and ended up about 15 minutes away from the trailhead. Once Gerald arrived, we slathered on the bug spray (please, please, please remember the bug spray!) and headed up the mountain.
Straight out of the gate, you’ll need to cross a fairly decent-sized creek which meanders right through the middle of the trail. Luckily there are logs set up for you to walk across, and the water isn’t too deep, should you get dive-bombed by a horse fly while trying to maintain your balance on the slippery logs. If you successfully cross the creek, you’ll begin a pretty substantial 1.2 mile climb up to Louie Lake. Last year when we hiked this trail, it was later in the summer and we had been hiking pretty regularly up to that point. This summer, we haven’t been out hiking as much as we would like, and holy shit, we felt it. All of us, .5 miles into scaling this mountain, were wheezing and panting, sweat dripping off our foreheads or running into our eyes. It doesn’t help that mosquitoes are also attracted to sweat (at least my sweat), and every time we stopped to catch our breath, billions of little blood-sucking demons descended on my person. So it was suck it up and barrel up this hill, or be eaten alive.
To the right, very near the top of the first ascent, you’ll hear the same creek you had to cross earlier, and this is your clue that you are almost to Louie Lake. As you round the final bend in the trail, Jughandle Mountain pops up through the trees, and Louie Lake sits nestled just below at 7,007 feet. The lake is fairly sizeable, and at any given time of day, fishermen can be found along its shores or floating in the water trying to snag trout. We took a break to take a few photos and to eat a Clif bar (so we wouldn’t get hangry). You’ll see a variety of wildlife, ranging from jumping trout to tiny little chipmunks. And sometimes big, fat squirrels.
You can end your hike here by turning around, or you can continue along the trail, which follows the bank of the lake and takes you up another seriously steep ascent. This ascent is roughly another mile-and-a-half to two miles and equally as tough as the first, but the views along the way are absolutely spectacular. Eventually you’ll make your way to the top of the hill and though the views are nothing too great, the feeling of accomplishment at the top will be well worth all the effort.
From here, the trail continues down through wild flower fields, rocky terrain, and giant-leaf mountain plants (which is actually what I googled to find the name of this plant, but a good number of my results were marijuana-related). There are beautiful rock-covered mountains to the right on the descent down towards Boulder Lake. Boulder Lake peeks through the trees on the left, and a fork in the trail emerges closer to the lake. We took the left trail, mostly because we were pretty tired and had hike beers waiting for us at the lake, and also because we had no clue where the trail to the right leads. It could be a way to extend the 6.8-mile hike, but that is a hike for another day.
Boulder Lake is absolutely picturesque, and a popular spot for backpackers and campers to set up tents for a night or two (it also looks like there may be some sort of large-person gathering area as well). We could smell the campfire as we took the trail along the shore; there is something so perfect about the smell of campfire mingled with the scent of the pine trees and the smell of the wind gliding over the lake. We found an empty spot along the beach and enjoyed our beers and took a much-needed break.
At this point, the descent back to the trailhead is fairly consistently steep, but finding the trail which leads from Boulder Lake back to the trailhead is not at all easy. We wandered around the north part of the lake for well over fifteen minutes trying to figure out how we were supposed to get down. There are no signs to indicate which direction to go, and nothing that much resembled a trail. We stopped a couple near the lake who instructed us to follow the water down and eventually the trail would emerge, but there had to have been an easier way to get down because it certainly felt more like rock scrambling than hiking. We eventually found what we thought to be the trail, but I’m still not convinced it was. It looked like an old creek bed that had dried up, and I am shocked that no one rolled an ankle or tripped and fell on the rocks. We followed this down for about 15 minutes before a decent looking dirt trail appeared on the other side of a small creek. If you can, download a map of the trail so you can see exactly where you should be going to get back down to the trailhead. I also think it would be very beneficial to have some sort of sign.
As difficult as coming up the mountain was, coming back down proved equally as challenging. If going uphill tests your cardiovascular endurance, coming down tests your muscular endurance. My legs are still burning today. Thank god for trekking poles because I counted at least three instances where I should have landed flat on my face (which is why trekking poles are definitely recommended).
The trail drops down to Boulder Meadows Reservoir and meets the road we followed to get back to the trucks. We lucked out with a mostly cloudy day, which provided a much-needed reprieve from the heat. We rolled into McCall smelling awful and covered in dirt, but we all felt a pretty deserved feeling of accomplishment.
Louie Lake to Boulder Lake is a great intermediate hike, but be prepared for some climbs and patches of questionable terrain.