Seven Devils Mountains Loop Trip Report

Mid September 2018

This past weekend I went to Idaho for the first time since I blew through it on my way to Portland in 2006.  I was looking to shake things up a bit and hike in a whole different region entirely.  It was well worth the drive and I highly recommend the Seven Devils Loop Trail.

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I’ve made a map of my route with campsites I noticed here.  I completed my loop using the Goat Pass climbers trail that is used as a cut off from Seven Devils Lake campground to summit He/She Devil.  This cuts off 8 miles and gives an added challenge that is pretty goddamn scenic and adventuresome.  I also added in the locations of two late season water sources on the southern end of the loop which is dry for 9 miles.

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There are tons of add-ons for this area, including lookouts, cabins, peaks, and lakes.  Choose your own adventure here.

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I did the trail clockwise, most people do it counter-clockwise for some reason.  Doing it clockwise saves the best scenery for the end of the trip.  I started at Windy Saddle and immediately had knee pain as I dropped down the trail.  I’m convinced the knee pain was from driving.  I got a late start as well, and I had to totally change up my planned camps because of it.

The first night I camped at Horse Heaven Lake, requiring a bit of off trail to an established campsite.   As I started cooking dinner a mule deer doe approached and started feeding near me and wasn’t fearful at all.  However, she wouldn’t go the fuck away.  She kept approaching closer and closer.  I couldn’t chase her off either.  I was throwing rocks, yelling, and even running after her and it didn’t deter her from running circles around my campsite for most of the night and into the next morning.   To make matters worse I put wine-soaked cheese in my rice and beans and it was so bad I was gagging on it.

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I broke camp early, eating my breakfast and drinking coffee as the annoying ass deer continued to harass me.  I headed back down to the trail and started on a 9 mile or so water-less stretch.

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From Dog Creek to Baldy Lake there are no water sources.  Dog Creek was actually dry where the trail is.  However if you hike about 25 yards upstream (easy) there was flowing water.  Baldy Lake requires about a mile uphill, but the drainage from the lake also had water in mid-September.

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I kept truckin’ along all day with a goal of reaching Sheep Lake.  As I was making the climb up above Shelf Lake, I found a nice spot to camp in right below Gem Lake.  I figured it’d be fun to go ahead and set up camp, go up to Gem Lake and take some photos.  I’m trying to take more time to soak it up and enjoy my surroundings rather than pound out the miles.

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The following morning I only had to go to Goat Lake, another mile up trail and then start on the climbers trail that takes a high pass and a ridgeline towards mirror lake and then drops down to Seven Devils Lake Campground.  I thought I would knock this out pretty quick.  I had read a number of trip reports detailing the route, and I could even see parts of it on google maps.  It is not an official trail, but someone has clearly been doing maintenance and trail work on parts of it.

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Goat Pass Climbers Trail

Unless you’re an experienced climber/scrambler or backpacker I don’t recommend this trail.  It is beautiful, but took a long time and has some pretty harrowing parts.  Some parts were legit scary.  I enjoy being high up, and it cut off some distance, plus I like a challenge every now and then.

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Here you can see the climbers trail coming up from the small lake, ascending through the gravel to the lower left side of the screen

Doing a trail like this can be difficult for the simple fact that your pack affects your agility and ability to fit in tighter gaps/spaces.  Have you ever seen a dog with a backpack on run between two trees and get stuck?  This trail can be kinda like that except you can bump a rock or tree with your pack or even your hipbelt pockets, and be thrown off balance, leading to certain death.

99% of the time the trail is quite obvious.  There were 3 exceptions.  The first exception is starting the trail from the northern end of Sheep Lake, it can be a bit difficult to make out the start.  The trails at the start of the climb go up steeply, sometimes veering off from one another, but they all seem to come back together.  After climbing steeply for a good bit in shitty gravel, you gain a ridge walk, climbing some more towards a pass you can’t see until you are right up on it.

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Another shot of the gravelly climbers trail ascending from Sheep Lake area, quite clear.
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Here is the trail on the ridge, the pass is through a little notch on the right you can’t see until you’re right up on it

After gaining the pass, you’ll see Mirror Lake down below.  Here the trail is mostly obvious.  The second time the trail wasn’t obvious was about halfway across the ridge above Mirror Lake.  A washout occurred at some point, and it was really hard to see where the trail was.   You can see trails going down…. do not use these, they are for goats only.  Err on keeping the same elevation when looking to reconnect with the trail rather than going steeply up or down.

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Mirror Lake after gaining the Pass.  Continue N/NE along the ridge after this

The third place I lost the trail was embarrassing to be honest, even though nobody was with me.  As you reach another saddle before you descend to Seven Devils Lake the trail peters out in an area where people dayhike on the unofficial trail from the campground.  It appears that people camp here as well.  I couldn’t find the trail at all.  I thought my GPS was in error (big mistake) and saw a cairn.  This cairn was fucking worthless and led me straight to a fucking cliff that’s clearly used by goats only.  I eventually found the trail leading down, which was so obvious I don’t know how I missed it to begin with.

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After taking the ridge, follow the trail here to go back down to the lot, which is in plain view now

Going down the trail from here was challenging, but not overly dangerous now that I was used to the terrain and the trail was quite clear.

I finished the trip up with a visit to Heavens Gate lookout, a little further up the road from the trailhead.

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5 Comments

  1. I was staring at those mountains for a while when I lived in Joseph, Oregon. I’d ride my bike back and forth from the farms I was working on every day and look out and see them above Hells Canyon. It’s cool to see them up close through your pics! PS I always knock over or move misleading cairns.

    Liked by 1 person

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