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Hike to Boulder Lake in Idaho

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

The first adventure of our Thanksgiving Idaho getaway was our first time to a hot spring, where I froze my legs off crossing an ice-cold river to get to (and from) the hot spring pools. On our second day in Idaho, we decided I hadn't gotten cold enough the previous day, so today would be a winter hike to Boulder Lake.

We knew temperatures would be in the low 30s and we knew there would be some snow on and around the trail, we just weren't sure how much, so we thought we might try to make the hike into a 9 or 10-mile round-trip loop hike, but if we encountered too much snow, or if it got too cold outside, we'd just make it an out-and-back and call it a day. We'd packed our microspikes, but not snowshoes.

On the way out of downtown McCall, we stopped at the local hardware store and bought a few packages of handwarmers to have at the ready for hands and/or feet on this winter hike. Heading east out of town, we drove for about 30 minutes through some rural, snow-covered areas of Idaho until we reached the Boulder Lake trailhead.

The area was covered in a few inches of snow, so it was hard to decipher designated parking spaces, but we found a sufficient spot amongst the trees, and as soon as I got out, snow and ice crunching under my feet, I was immediately chilly and knew we had to get moving quickly, but not before I added handwarmers to the insides of my choppers.

At the start of the trail is a snow-covered earthen dam bordering Boulder Meadows Reservoir, and the trail wraps around the left side. Not far in, the trail became completely snow-covered.

Obviously, I dressed in several layers and wore my true waterproof hiking boots, anticipating that I would be freezing and we'd be hiking in snow. And for the first 15 or 20 minutes of the hike, I was cold and lagging quite far behind my husband on the trail, but thankfully, I eventually started to warm up and was able to pick up my pace.

Rock-hopping across one of many minor water crossings
Rock-hopping across one of many minor water crossings.

Because it was cold and was reluctant to take my hands out of my choppers, I didn't take many photos until we reached Boulder Lake, when I actually started to maintain a somewhat comfortable body temperature.

But about 45 minutes into the hike, everything was frozen under a glazed coating of ice.

Icy trail
Icy trail ahead.

And we were still climbing to get to the lake, so I decided I was going to stop and put on my microspikes. Even if it was overkill, to me, it wasn't worth risking slipping, falling, and injuring or breaking something. My husband agreed, and, like the front-wheel sedans in the Sierra, we "chained up" and continued on.

Status: Chained up with microspikes.

What an incredible difference spikes make. It was not only easier on our legs, but we were able to step with confidence, which made the hike more enjoyable, too. Shortly after we put them on our shoes, the icy trail got even steeper. Then we came across another couple hiking down the steep section and they were struggling and petrified of falling. I was really glad we put on the spikes when we did. It was perfect timing.

As we approached Boulder Lake, the snow was getting slightly deeper and the trail showed fewer and fewer signs of previous hikers.

Boulder Lake
Mostly frozen Boulder Lake.

Boulder Lake
Boulder Lake

Boulder Lake
Boulder Lake

The snow continued getting deeper as we rounded the right side of the lake, but we kept going. Actually, the microspikes were helping on the snowy trail, as well. Traction can be everything.

Hiking through the winter wonderland at Boulder Lake
Hiking through the winter wonderland at Boulder Lake.

Breaking trail, approaching the trail intersection
Breaking trail, approaching the trail intersection.

Now we were fully breaking trail and we eventually we reached the trail intersection where we had planned to start the loop back to the trailhead, but because there was a bit more snow, no broken trail, and temperatures dropping, we decided it was probably best to turn around at this point and head back.

Trail intersection signage
Trail intersection signage.

The wintery scenery was beautiful.

Snowy trail
Snowy trail.

When we reached the icy section of the trail, especially the steep part, I was so glad to be wearing microspikes. It made descending it so much easier (and safer).

Descending the icy trail
Descending the icy trail.

So much ice
So much ice.

Everything's frozen
Everything's frozen.

A view of the reservoir on the final stretch back to the trailhead.

Boulder Meadows Reservoir
Boulder Meadows Reservoir

Boulder Meadows Reservoir
Boulder Meadows Reservoir from the earthen dam.

Even though – at just 5.54 miles – this was a short hike, because it was rather chilly out, I was glad to get back into the vehicle to warm up at the end. And I might have taken a hot shower upon returning to the vacation rental condo!

Tomorrow we will venture to another Idaho hot spring!

Boulder Lake

Total Distance

5.54 mi

Total Time


Total Ascent

948 ft

Max Elevation

7,051 ft


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