Cutthroat Lake Sep 9 - 12, 2015

My friends Darrell, Hal and I decided to go back to the Soldier Lakes area of the Frank Church Wilderness Area for our annual Labor Day hike this year. Darrell and I had gone into that area six years ago, but this year we setup base camp at Cutthroat Lake. Here are a few good links:

Here is map of the driving route from Boise to the trail head.

The Road

The trail head we use over Goat Pass starts at the Seven Devils Campground. We took the McCall route which is probablyi more scenic and supposedly faster. Just before Riggins turn west and start heading up steeply into the mountains. The nearly 20 mile road is paved for a few miles, but them turns into a fairly good gravel road. This late in the year the gravel road was very 'wash boardy' and it seems to go on for a long time. Eventually you get to the campground. We parked near the information billboard, which is getting quite rundown. It is a primitive campground with few amenities besides, tables, fire rings and latrines.

The Trail to Gem Lake

The traditional way to get into the Seven Devils Wilderness Area is to take the Windy Saddle trail. We've never taken that trail. It is longer, but the trail is undoubtedly better and may take the same amount of time as the Goat Pass trail. I love the Goat Pass trail because it much more exciting and scenic. The views of Mirror Lake and Tower of Babel from the first saddle above the campground are wonderful.

A few hundred yards further southwest along the saddle the trail drops into the Sheep Lake basin and the views the entire rest of the way into the basin are amazing.

Once in the Sheep Lake Basin we followed the trail around the south side of Sheep Lake and followed it up and over the saddle between Sheep Lake and Gem Lake basins. There is a good bit of up and down. The trail is steep at times and difficult with loose rock, but the views are worth it, in my opinion. On the way down into Gem Lake basin we saw a mountain goat. We could tell there others, but they were not standing out waiting for their picture to be taken.

We followed the main trail to the far north end of Gem Lake where it intersects with the outlet creek. At that point a trail follows back up the outlet to the north end of the lake. Other approaches to the lake, such as from the south or south east side are possible, but would involve bushwhacking with no trail and possibly running into very steep terrain.


We found a pretty nice campsite on the northwest end of the lake. We had planned all along to camp at Gem Lake. It was fortunate because it appears that it is used much less than campsites at other lakes in that basin, such as Basin Lake or Shelf Lake. We saw no campers or hikers at our lake the entire time, but we saw many other hikers and campers at the other lakes, including Echo Lake.


We did not even try to fish in Sheep Lake because of our experience from seven years ago when the lake appeared to be completely sterile. As we hiked by the lake on our way in and out we looked for signs of fish, but we could not see any. We did hear from someone who camped at the lake that there were a few fish rising in the evenings.

As usual Darrell caught five times more fish than all the rest of us combined. The fishing in Gem Lake was ok. The few fish we did catch were all healthy and around 16 in. They were Cutthroat, Rainbow and hybrids. I kept one healthy, 17in Cutthroat for eating on Friday evening as did Lynn and Darrell.

We had remembered that the fishing in Shelf Lake was better than Gem. Our memories were correct. There was a lot of action when fishing at Shelf Lake, but the fish were smaller. The largest fish we caught at Shelf Lake was 12in.

We spent only a few minutes fishing at Basin Lake and did not catch anything. On our day trip to Echo Lake Darrell was very successful and caught around 10 fish. Some were very healthy, mature, Cutthroat with beautiful red on the entire underside of their bodies. Many were over 16in. and were fat and healthy looking. It was a long hike to and from Echo Lake from Gem Lake, but nice explore that west end side of the wilderness and Darrell thought the fishing was outstanding. His lures and spinners were working well. I could not seem to find the right fly, but I did land at least one nice fish in the three hours we were there. We did not really have time to fish the lakes in the upper end of the Echo Lake basin. We tried briefly to fish in Quad Lake, but it looked like there were no fish in that lake


Friday was our relaxing day, but we did spend part of the day climbing the mountain to the southwest of our campsite. It was a lot of fun. I got to do some scrambling, Lynn talked to various folks using his ham radio and Darrell even got cell phone service and phoned home.

On the way back to camp we explored the upper lakes (Appendix, and Rock Island) in the Gem Lake basin. It was a relaxing day.


The Seven Devils Wilderness Area is a great place to visit. The views are amazing, the fishing is pretty good and it is not too hard to still find seldom visited places for camping.

Useful links

Leave No Trace.