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hiking through chamberlain basin

Chamberlain Basin Hike: Stanley, Idaho

Last Updated on December 18, 2020 by mountainswithmegan

In my quest to hike more trails in the White Clouds, I decided to do an overnight to Chamberlain Basin. While I had set off for other hikes from Fourth of July Trailhead before, I had never taken the trail to the South from Fourth of July Lake. This hike would be all new terrain for me.

The Chamberlain Basin hike is near the town of Stanley, Idaho; my home base for the past two summers.

Chamberlain Basin Hike Fast Stats:

  • Distance: 18 miles
  • Trail Type: Out and back
  • Trailhead: Fourth of July Creek Trailhead
  • Permit: sign in at trailhead
  • Camping: near all the lakes
  • Time of Year: mid-June to late-September

Day 1: Fourth of July Trailhead to Chamberlain Basin

I did this trip with my friend Christina once again. We set off in the morning, and made the 45 minute drive up Fourth of July Creek Road and to the trailhead. This trailhead is usually pretty busy because it’s used by hikers, fishers, horse riders, and dirt bikers. We found a parking spot along the road and set off.

Christina and I had both already hiked the mile and a half from the parking lot to Fourth of July Lake numerous times. It’s a busy stretch of trail, but once you reach the lake the crowds taper off. Many people just go to see the first lake.

We kept a slow pace because we had each had a little too much tequila the night before. I chugged a liter of water in the first 30 minutes because I felt dehydrated. After the mellow climb to Fourth of July Lake, we sat down for a long break and filtered some cold lake water to mix with our Nuuns. I hadn’t drank much alcohol all summer and remembered that I much prefer waking up feeling good and not hungover. Nevertheless, I had two days in the mountains ahead of me that would no doubt help me feel refreshed.

After our break, we began a steady downhill to Washington Lake. Washington Lake was perhaps a mile beyond Fourth of July Lake. It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re just out for a day hike. The trail continued downhill until reaching a junction. We took the path Northeast and began climbing up to a divide.

Burn Area with Wildflowers

As we hiked up, we entered a burn area. The trees were black and charred without branches across several acres. The area had some of the prettiest wildflowers growing. There were patches all around of purple, pink, white, and red flowers. I remembered learning previously that wildflowers grow well in burn areas because of the soil composition and less competition from other plants. This was my first time seeing it in action.

We made it up to the divide and had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich break. We had a gorgeous view of Castle Peak and of Chamberlain Basin below. The sun was shining and the sky was clear. It was such good weather for a hike.

Christina and I hiked down into the basin, making our way to the lakes. At some point we missed a turn of the main trail and accidentally followed a game trail straight. We hiked on for awhile before losing the trail and realizing our mistake. No worries, though. We were close to our destination and used the GPS maps on my phone to navigate to the first lake. We eventually picked up the main trail once more and continued on to our destination for the night.

Camping by Castle Peak

The second lake we reached had such good views of Castle Peak that we decided to stay there for the night. We had made plans to continue to the higher lakes, but we liked the spot we had and wanted to stay put. We hiked off trail around the lake until finding a secluded spot all to ourselves.

The lakes were so pretty that evening because the still water made a near perfect reflection of the mountains. It was like being in a surrealist painting.

Christina made dinner and we enjoyed watching the day turn to night and seeing the stars come out. This would be our last hike together for the summer because Christina would be going back to Montana soon. For this reason, we enjoyed the relaxed pace of this trip and stayed up a bit later than usual because we would be in no hurry the next day.

Day 2: Back to the Trailhead

A Morning Visitor

The next morning, we slept in a little; it was our day off after all. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and walked along side the lake to find a spot to pee. My eyes were still a bit blurry as they adjusted to the daylight. As I was just about to crouch down to pee, I saw a big white thing on the other side of the lake. After a few seconds of looking at it’s long fur, I realized it was a big mountain goat.

I ran back to camp yelling for Christina. “There’s a mountain goat!” I shouted several times. She ran to the shoreline and we watched together as the goat meandered around the water. It took slow steps and spent several minutes exploring before finally returning to the trees and out of sight.

Backcountry Pancakes

We got some morning coffee going, and began packing up our gear. I had brought all the necessary ingredients to mix up some backcountry pancakes. When I’m not hiking big miles, I like to put extra effort into cooking because why not? If we have the time, we might as well eat good.

I fried the pancakes in coconut oil and they turned out a nice light golden brown. We topped them with Nutella and peanut butter, and it was such a delicious breakfast.

During our morning in camp, our goat friend wandered into our campsite before seeing us and immediately running into the forest. We had forgotten about him, but it appeared that he was spending his morning circumnavigating the lake.

After our exciting morning of goat watching and pancake eating, we said goodbye to our little campsite and began the climb out of the basin.

Chamberlain Basin is an unusual hike in that there’s plenty of uphill on the way out. Usually in the White Clouds, I hike up into the mountains on the first day and it’s mostly downhill to get back to the trailhead. For this hike, the way out is just as difficult as the way in.

No problem though. After our big breakfast, we had plenty of energy to make it back to the car.

As we approached Washington and Fourth of July Lake, we transitioned from isolated wilderness to lots of day hikers.

We finally reached the trailhead where we peeled off our sweaty trail runners and put on sandals. We began the long drive down the dirt road and headed for Smiley Creek where we would enjoy cheeseburgers and milkshakes.


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