Cache Valley and its mountains offer plenty of hiking possibilities, but sometimes you need a change of scenery.
A great option for escaping the valley without having to drive all day lies in the far northwest corner of Utah, in the Raft River Range. These mountains top out at about the same elevation as the Bear River Range but are noticeably different in some ways, the most obvious being their west-to-east alignment and generally broad, flat summits.
Access to these mountains is limited due to private property, but a road that snakes around around to the north side provides access to this southernmost portion of the Sawtooth National Forest. In contrast to the stark desert terrain that surrounds it, this area features lush pine forests, clear mountain streams and an abundance of wildlife.
A 100-mile drive from Logan brings you to Clear Creek Campground, a lovely base for a day hike or overnighter to Bull Mountain, the highest point in Box Elder County at 9,950 feet. The campground features five sites with plenty of shade next to a small stream, picnic tables, concrete-and-metal fire rings and pit toilets. The last 10 or so miles there are on a well-graded gravel road and accessible to all passenger vehicles.
The sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and there are no fees required to stay there. It’s a great place for a quick getaway that actually feels like getting away, and with no cities or significant towns for many miles around, the stargazing is outstanding on a clear night.
Forest Service trail 001 begins near the east end of the campground, next to where a small stream crosses the road. After walking through a mostly open sagebrush plain long enough to get warmed up, you’ll reach a fork in the trail. Going straight will take you up Lake Creek, a steady climb alongside the creek through dense forest full of colorful wildflowers, fungi and birds. In certain spots, this route looks and feels almost like hiking in the Oregon Cascades.
The other route is to go right at the intersection, following the sign that reads “Bull Flat.” This trail features more open territory and expansive views as you climb to a prominent ridge and then on to the summit.
A great way to experience all this mountain has to offer is to do a loop, hiking up the Lake Creek route and coming down the Bull Flat route. This will require some routefinding and a little bushwhacking, as the Lake Creek trail peters out for awhile about three miles in. Eventually you’ll emerge at the Bull Mountain cirque, an impressive half-circle of sheer cliffs with the “lake” — actually more of a marsh — in the bottom. This basin is the most scenic feature of the trip.
What used to be a scant dugway trail up the northwest side of the cirque is a much larger path now, as someone recently brought in heavy equipment and has apparently been working to build some sort of road here. Once at the top of this dugway, you’ll see a gate marked with “No Trespassing” signs — apparently designed to keep off-road vehicles out of the cirque area, as the sign also reads “Hiking OK.”
From here, head west through the woods until you emerge into a clearing and onto to a trail (actually a road), at which point you will turn left and make the final ascent to the summit. Because the the summit area is so wide and flat, finding the actual high point is a little tricky. Look for a wooden pole planted in a rock pile with a cow skull mounted on top, and you’ll be at the highest spot in Box Elder County. Walking a little further south provides views of the Great Salt Lake and beyond, depending on the clarity of the air on that day.
Yes, you can drive here as well on a road accessed via another canyon at the west end of the range, near the town of Yost. But that requires a 4x4 with high clearance, and besides, the hike is more scenic and rewarding.
Head back down the road that brought you here, but instead of cutting back through the woods toward the cirque, continue north on the path. The trail will disappear, but you can follow a fence line along Bull Flat, a wide open area with outstanding views of southern Idaho splayed out before you. Occasional rock cairns will indicate you’re on the right path. Keep an eye out to your right (east) to find a short detour to a spring, with a pond that dogs and horses will appreciate, and a trough that collects the pristine, clear water for your filtering convenience.
Eventually you’ll reach the large rock outcropping mentioned earlier — take the small detour to the edge of these cliffs and take in the view for a little while before getting back on the trail, which winds around the west end of these rocks, to the north and back east again, after which you will begin the steep descent back to camp. The trail is clear from here on out, so just follow it down, back to the trail intersection and the campground.
All told, this hike is about 12 miles round trip with 3,700 feet of elevation gain. It’s a strenuous outing that will leave even seasoned hikers with tired legs and a hearty appetite. This area is popular with hunters in the fall, so the last few weeks of summer is an ideal time to make the journey.
GETTING THERE: From Logan, take Hwy. 30 to I-15. Head south for a few miles and merge on to I-84 west. Take the Park Valley exit at the west end of Snowville. Continue west on Hwy. 30, staying straight as it turns into Hwy. 42. Just over a mile after you cross into Idaho, take a left onto Naf Road, then another left after a few miles onto Clear Creek Road, and follow it to the campground.