The Marble Creek drainage has seen some serious logging activity in the past, but looking at a sheer endless sea of trees from the top of Grandmother Mountain, that is now difficult to imagine. Views aside, mid-summer wildflowers and August huckleberries are sure to make this one of your favorite hikes as well!
The Big Creek area makes for good early-summer hiking, with the main obstacles out of the way: No more snow, no swollen creeks, and no oppressive heat. Given the length and elevation gain, the summer solstice is the perfect day as long as the weather cooperates. Prepare to be dazzled by 360-degree views from Lemonade Peak, a plethora of wildflowers, and some impressive dam-engineering courtesy of Papa Beaver.
The hallmark of the Mallard-Larkins are steep pinnacles, dozens of sub-alpine lakes, a flora ranging from rainforest-like ancient cedars to subalpine fir, and world-famous herds of mountain goats and elk. Couple that with unequaled solitude and tranquility and you have the makings for a superb backpacking trip through some of Idaho’s finest woods.
Heavily logged in the early twentieth century, the Marble Creek region is now blanketed with a mix of fir, larch, cedar, spruce, and hemlock, with little evidence of the coveted giant white pine stands that once covered the hillsides. The route commences at Gold Center Creek, which drains into the Clearwater system, then crosses the divide and drops beneath Grandmother Mountain to Marble Creek, which empties into the St. Joe. The way back moves past a splash dam and remnants of a bygone logging camp.
Once covered by huge stands of white pine, the Big Creek drainage was targeted by miners and loggers in the late 19th century. The 1910 Great Burn wreaked havoc, however, downing precious stands of giant pines and burning what was left, including more than two dozen firefighters who were temporarily interred on Cemetery Ridge. Today, much of the drainage is covered by brush, which attracts elk and wolves, though the pine and fir stands are improving. Much of the trail system is National Recreation Trail.
Nelson Peak is located just east of Avery, population 25, sandwiched between the St. Joe River and its north fork. The Milwaukee Railroad put Avery on the map in the early twentieth century by routing a railroad through Montana and down the North Fork St. Joe and St. Joe river valleys. The North Fork section is now a rail-to-trail called Route of the Hiawatha. From its beginning at the St. Joe River, the Nelson Ridge trail climbs the eastern flank of Nelson Peak, traverses the southeastern face below the peak, drops down the western side along Telichpah Creek and returns to the trailhead following the St. Joe North Fork. It is a National Recreation Trail.
Azure-blue skies. Emerald-green slopes. Towering pines. Fields of bracken fern. Lazily meandering rivers. Lush moss-covered tributaries. Steep talus slopes. Picturesque alpine lakes. Tumbling rapids and waterfalls. Lichen-covered logs. Endless stretches of huckleberries and beargrass. No wonder the St. Joe was designated a Wild & Scenic River.