Wind River


Forest Service Trail #312

Why? Fine early season hike, beautiful canyon, wildflowers and elk.

Season: Year-round in the lower areas, early March higher up.

Ease: Moderate to difficult, with 2,500 feet of elevation gain and 500 of loss over the 4 miles to the ridge between the Wind River and Vinegar Creek.\

The trail up the Wind River, off the Salmon, is a fine early and late season day hike, either in, to the Wind River crossing, or up the next hill to the saddle between it and Vinegar Creek. It’s one of my favorite hikes, and the place I chose to take my 10-month old first grandson on his first trip into the wilderness. It’s also possible to follow the trail all the way to Moore’s Guard Station on the road to Square Mountain in the mid body of the Gospel Hump Wilderness.

The trail takes you into a beautiful canyon and almost immediately into the wilderness. The canyon, just like that of the Salmon River, is rugged, narrow and steep. In spring, it’s soft and verdant, with gray rock outcrops and rushing white water as relief. In fall, golden brown replaces the green and is every bit as attractive, just different.

The first half mile after the packbridge and wilderness sign heads north, through an area that must have once been someone’s home. In the spring, lilac and daffodils line parts of the trail through here.

The trail then turns northeast through a section that’s at first wooded with small stream crossings, then up again and out in the open as it switchbacks to a corner, then heads north again. Along the wooded section, there are some nice whitewater parts of the Wind River, and at the right time in spring, one of the drainages positively glows white with trillium.

At the right – a different right, perhaps – time of spring, turning the corner takes you from one field of bloom into a completely different one. While it shouldn’t come as a surprise given that you’ve just gone from south-facing to east-facing slopes, it still does. It’s fun to catalog the difference.

After getting down to and crossing the Wind on a fine wood bridge where there’s always a cool wind, the trail heads back up 600+ feet to an open meadow. Along the way are fine views of the Wind and of a particularly nice tall, grey, jagged outcrop.

If you continue on up from here, it’s 1,000 feet or so of well-graded trail to the saddle. This bit of trail offers the best views of another favorite feature, the narrow green ridge between the Wind and Salmon Rivers. One fall, this bit of trail also had more elk sign than I’ve ever seen before. One spring, you could still smell them. And in another, later, year, I finally did see some of them.

If you head out toward the point at the saddle, you’ve one of the better lunch spots around. From it, as well as the higher spots of the trail when you head back down, you have fine views of the Salmon River, the pack bridge, and, presumably, your vehicle parked on the road near the trailhead sign.

The wildlife highlights, besides the elk, were two birds, my first ever indigo bunting and a rufous hummingbird with the sun highlighting its fluorescent pink-orange throat. We also saw the usual assortment of snakes and some caterpillars that looked like woolly bears but had extra long white hairs on their backs. One hike I saw only robins. And one hike I watched a dead mouse move courtesy of some beetles making the most of it.

Directions: Take Highway 95 south through Riggins, turning left on the Salmon River Road. About 23 miles later you’ll come to the Wind River Pack Bridge. There’s parking for one or two vehicles alongside the road. The trailhead sign is across the bridge, and the Wind River trail goes straight at the junction near the sign.

Information: Nez Perce National Forest, (208) 983-2280.

Maps: USGS Carey Dome, Idaho; Forest Service Gospel Hump Wilderness Map.