Sunday, September 15, 2019
Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain Offers Four Destination Lookouts
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A woman stands atop the BLM Scenic Overlook about two miles up the trail from the River Run Lodge.
 
Saturday, August 24, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The 1937 lookout atop Bald Mountain in Sun Valley may just boost one of the easiest accesses to a lookout in the state of Idaho.

All you have to do is hop aboard the gondola at Sun Valley Resort and then switch off to the Christmas lift to take you to the top. From there it’s a 10- or 15-minute walk to the lookout along a dirt road.

But dozens of people choose to do it the more challenging way, hoofing the 3,390 feet from the base of the mountain on up.

 
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Katie and Laura Larsen look out over Ketchum from the BLM Scenic Overlook.
 

Bald Mountain, in fact, boasts four lookouts worthy of a hike for those who like a challenge.

  • The old Forest Service lookout atop what is known as Lookout Ridge sits atop Bald Mountain’s pinnacle.

    Built in 1937, it was decommissioned as an actual lookout, as Forest Service officials began relying on other more modern ways to scout for smoke from forest fires. But the lookout offers splendid views of 12,009-foot Hyndman Peak from its perch, along with Hyndman’s craggy cousins in the Pioneer Mountain range.

     
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    The Forest Service used this lookout atop Baldy during a time when spotters were used to ferret out forest fires.
     

    On a clear day you can also see down the valley towards Twin Falls, the Smoky Mountains overlooking the Warm Springs drainage and parts of the Boulder mountains.

    “What a view!” said Jules Boucher, a visitor from France as he climbed up the wooden steps with his wife and two sons.

     
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    Anne Jeffery looks out from the Clear Creek Lookout on the south side of Bald Mountain.
     

    Boucher and his family were among a plethora of visitors from foreign countries, including India, who visited the lookout that morning, along with visitors from Ohio and other states.

    There are a myriad of trails one can hike to reach the lookout. The most well-trod is the five-mile Bald Mountain Trail, which jumps off just north of the River Run Lodge into the woods. The trail parallels the Big Wood River before it turns up the mountain.

     
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    The Roundhouse offers a view of Ketchum and a map of the Pioneer Mountains.
     

    This trail was built by Forest Service crews in 1939 and 1940 to get to the Bald Mountain fire lookout. Most of it follows old trails used to harvest timber on the mountain to fuel the nearby Philadelphia Smelter in the 1890s.

    Some of the timber was also earmarked for ties for a railroad between Ketchum and the old mining town of Galena. But the railroad was never built.

    Lost in the pines, the trail was rediscovered in 1987 and reconstructed in 1992. It threads its way up the mountain in a series of switchbacks, eventually cutting across Upper River Run, College and Limelight ski runs at the top.

  • Want something shorter? You’ll find it in the BLM overlook that offers a lovely view of Ketchum, as well as the Big Wood River sparkling in the morning sun. Beyond are the purple outlines of Hyndman, Old Hyndman and other members of the Pioneer Mountain family.

    Carolyn Larsen and her family took the trail recently with friends from out of town. They stopped at the lookout, the daughters climbing up wooden stairs that are more like a ladder than stairs. At top they checked out a sign telling about Ketchum’s former days as Leadville and gazed at the scenery.

    “It’s beautiful,” said Laura Larsen, as she gazed at a ribbon of the Big Wood River shimmering in the morning sun.

    “My daughters have never been here before,” added Carolyn Larsen, whose family divides its time between Fresno, Calif., and Sun Valley. “It makes a nice place to catch your breath before continuing onto the gondola.”

    The trail to the BLM lookout follows the Bald Mountain Trail that starts north of River Run Lodge. It does climb but does not boast the steep elevation gain that comes later on the Bald Mountain Trail. Many hikers make this scenic overlook their destination, turning around and retreating to lodge.

    Others continue to the Gondola, turning off the Bald Mountain Trail onto the Roundhouse Connector, which takes them across such runs as Mid-River Run and Canyon. Then they hitch a free ride to the base of the mountain on the gondola.

    That hike is 3.7 miles.

    Others prefer to ride the gondola to its exit point at mid-mountain and hike the Connector Trail to the Bald Mountain Trail down to the scenic overlook.

  • A lot of Baldy hikers don’t even realize that the Clear Creek Lookout exists. Those who hike to it will find a perch that looks down the valley towards Bellevue and beyond. The wooden lookout also overlooks the popular Greenhorn Gulch hiking area and affords some nice views of tiny cars running up and down Highway 75 below the Pioneer Mountain foothills.

    Hikers can best reach the Clear Creek Lookout via the Cold Springs Trail, which starts behind St. Luke’s Wood River hospital.

    Drive to the hospital and follow the Hospital Drive north, turning onto the dirt Cold Springs Gulch Road. Park just before the gate. Walk past the gate to the trail, which starts on the right side of the road.

    The seven-mile Cold Springs Trail, much of which was constructed a few years ago, runs along the south perimeter of Bald Mountain to an intersection with Warm Springs and Broadway trails near Settle Ridge Lodge. The Clear Creek Overlooks is about three-fifths of the way following long sweeping switchbacks up a shaded wooded hillside.

  • Roundhouse Lookout –This may not technically be a designated lookout but it is perhaps the most useful of all the lookouts because it has what everyone wants: A map naming the Pioneer Mountain peaks across the way.

You might say this lookout replaces the Little America lookout, which used to anchor a rocky outcropping on the Warm Springs Trail. That lookout was long a favorite destination, serving as a relaxing venue to take a nap or hunker down with a good book. But it burned in the 2007 Castle Rock Fire and was never replaced. Its former site was simply rechristened the Little America point.

The Roundhouse “lookout” can be accessed by taking the Bald Mountain Trail to the Roundhouse Connector. When you reach the Roundhouse, climb the stairs to the outside deck where you’ll find the map on the east side of the deck.

Or, hike the road below the Roundhouse to the backside of the deck and ascend the stairs there.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

A black bear has been seen hiking near the Roundhouse Connector and the Olympic side of Bald Mountain.

Some of the trails to these lookouts may be temporarily closed from time to time due to tree thinning operations on Bald Mountain.

 

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