The Saint Joe River is one of great beauty, even for Idaho standards. The water is clear and clean, and flows through a canyon that forces the hiker to experience shades of green that would make Tom Bombadil envious. That is a Lord of the Rings reference folks. Read it.
This river hosts large, well fed trout. Catch and release only and the use of barbless hooks keep the stream on of the country’s best. Hike the trail upstream following an old road. The woods are dense here, much like what we can imagine of the forests of Mirkwood. Again, another Lord of the Rings/Hobbit reference. Read it.
After 1.5 miles, you pass the junction with Elbow Ridge Trail #79 and follow the river southeast. Descending into a forest meadow shortly later, you are greeted with the colors of grass, Engleman Spruce, Western Hemlock, Douglas fir, and various other tree-sonsabitches that so unapologetically bombard your eyes with greens that you’d think you were trapped in an episode of LOST… but with pine trees.
The road ends and you end up on a well-maintained trail. Pass Timber creek Trail #54 by going straight. You will soon see a horse trail that angles to the right toward St. Joe Lodge. Bear left, across wooded hillsides above the river for a spell (I use “spell” when I want to describe a distance I don’t know, but should be under 2 miles). Go past St. Joe Lodge and meet with the junction of Ruby Creek Trail #71.
Follow straight ahead a spell. The horse version of the trail cuts to the right and fords the river, but the hiker trail goes on ahead and climbs the river’s north bank to a viewpoint. Press onward and meet back up with the horse trail until you get to a campsite that is a great spot to sit, fish, take in some rays with your feet in the water.
Upward and onward, veer right on the Pass Creek Trail #61 which comes to a campsite just before a crossing of the river. It isn’t too deep late in the summer. In the early summer, expect hip deep water. Shortly after the crossing comes another. When it comes to water, don’t be a pussy. Find footing, put one foot after another and trudge on. What would Jesus do? Well, he’d walk on the water so that’s a bad reference… lets go with the tried and true Lord of the Rings reference. What would Aragorn do? He’d slice into that water with his sword Narsil, Flame of the West, and make that there crick his biznitch. Humor aside, be careful.
Keep going and shortly you reach Bacon Loop #66. Turn left and ascend to the ridgeline. There are a lot of game trails so stay on the trail marked with orange blazes. The trail climbs the ridge where you can see Western Larches and pick huckleberries. Enjoy the vistas to the south! The trail passes through a burn area and the grade lessens as you traverse the south side of Bacon Peak. Go off trail uphill to summit Bacon Peak and get a great view. When you get to the saddle you get a great view of Forage Lake where near its outlet are a few campsites. After the saddle, Bacon Lake becomes visible to the south. To reach the lake, leave the trail down open slopes. You may find a footpath that weaves through the forest to a very good campsite on the lake’s north shore.
The main trail then goes along the ridge. After some switchbacks and some views of Halo Lake, you must cross Tinear Creek, which has campsites along it. Follow the trail alongside the creek’s cascades then hop across Mill and Bacon Creek. You will make it to Bean Divide Trail #610, where you go straight and ho across North Fork Bean Creek. 100 yards past this is a mule camp where you can stay for the night even if you are too pathetic to not own mules.
Turning west, following Bean Creek, the trail eventually crosses St. Joe again. Make like Aragorn and cross. Turn left at the St. Joe River Trail. You come through some major scenery that combines a lot of elements that you have to experience for yourself. Eventually you will come to Broken Leg Trail #230. Go straight to meet back with the trail you took coming in or enjoy some different scenery on a shorter return route and take a right on the Broken Leg Trail.
Cross the creek a bunch until it disappears. Go straight at Elbow Ridge Trail and Line Creek Trail. Turn sharply left and make an additional climb to a high point on the ridge to capture exceptional views of forested canyons and distant Montana mountains. The trail then head northwest and at Line Creek trailhead on Forest Road 218 take a left and a spell down this road back to Spruce Tree Campground.
This hike has a lot of “Bacon” and “Bean” names. This comes from the early settlers’ extremely healthy diet of pork and beans.
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