NORTON LAKES – BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK
Summer has arrived, and enough snow has melted to open hiking to the higher elevation alpine lakes. Ever since the skiing season ended, I’ve been looking forward to the Norton Lakes hike. As a newbie to Sun Valley, I’d never been there, and a long time local described it as the best bang for the buck hike in the area.
The trailhead to Norton Lakes is just a few miles north of Ketchum. Head north on highway 75 and take left on Baker Creek Road. A word of warning, Baker Creek Road isn’t well marked. In fact, I couldn’t find any sign when traveling northbound, though there is a sign from the other direction. The road is about ½ mile north of the Cathedral Pines campground turnoff and past the Easley hot springs turnoff. If you’ve reached Prairie Creek, you’ve gone too far. You’ll know pretty quickly if you are on the correct road. There’s a sign to Norton shortly after the turnoff. It’s 7 miles of gravel road from there to the trailhead. The road is dusty, but accessible for most vehicles.
The trailhead has parking for roughly a dozen vehicles, and I’ve heard there’s seldom an issue finding a space. From there the trail is well marked.
Now, my original thought was to tackle a 10.8-mile loop that passed four lakes and 3,600 vertical elevation gain, but my girlfriend had other ideas. She brought fishing poles, knowing that I had yet to catch a fish in Idaho.
We set out at a good pace and covered the 2.1-mile uphill climb to Lower Norton Lake in about an hour. According to my phone app, the total vertical was 1,700 feet, but that included a fair amount of up and down when we got the lake. This is a fairly popular hike. So, be prepared to see a few people. That said, there’s lots more to see than the people. The views were spectacular, and lake itself was gorgeous.
The lake was clear and well-stocked. As soon as we arrived, we brought out the poles and tried our luck. Unfortunately, the dog we brought along decided to jump in right next to us, scaring away all the fish. We slowly worked our way around the lake. It wasn’t until we reached the far side of the lake, at the edge of a scree field that we both managed to land a trout. Not much to brag about – those 5” long beauties needed a bit more time in the lake, and we set them free.
While there’s a clear trail to the far side of the lake, it took a small bit of bushwhacking to completely circle the lake. It wasn’t a big deal, and I had spied the perfect set of trees next to the lake to set up our hammock. Forget about those other 3 lakes, at least this time.
Next time, we’ll do the big loop.