Backpacking: Corral Creek to Sullivan Lake
I’ve just returned from my first backpacking trip of 2019. The high peaks, mountain lakes, and high basins of the Sawtooths and White Clouds mountains can wait, I decided to explore unchartered territory at lower elevations. For years now I've been looking at a lake tucked into the corner of my White Cloud Mountains map. With the Sun shining and warm nights in the forecast, I decided it was time to take my boots on an adventure into Sullivan Lake. Trail access to the lake is provided via highway 75 or Jimmy Smith Lake and Corral Creek. Thanks to a shuttle ride from my roommate, I opted to hike through from Jimmy Smith Lake to Highway 75.
(Looking up Big Lake Creek)
The trail leaves the end of the road via a two-track that provides ATV access to Jimmy Smith Lake. After approximately a half mile, the road ends at the East shore of the Lake. A single-track trail open to bikes, motorcycles, horses and foot traffic, continues around the North side of the lake. At .7 miles the trail crosses Jimmy Smith Creek where a primitive route joins the main trail. Continue along the lake shore for another .6 miles to Corral Creek and hang right up the canyon. The deep, steep-walled canyon to the left is Big Lake Creek, which heads toward Railroad Ridge. At 2 miles the upper basin comes into view from the budding aspens in the creek bottom. Just after converging with a timber pocket off the west slope the trail leaves the bottom around 2.8 miles and returns to the creek in the aspens at 4.2 miles. Corral Creek begins to dry up towards the top and will likely be dry come summer. There are plenty of primitive camping options at this point. I opted to camp near an old ranch camp with nice views of Potaman Peak to the Northeast, and Sheep Mountain and Bowery Peak on the southern skyline. After a little over 5 miles, the trail reaches a saddle between Corral Creek and the Sulivan Creek Drainage. A fence line runs along the ridge where an unmarked trail crosses the main route. This is a great spot to explore the surrounding mountains.
(Bowery Peak and Sheep Mountain)
The Ridge running to the east will take you up the flanks of Potaman Peak. I didn't end up summiting the peak due to lingering snow drifts and steep rocky scree off the west slope. The best approach appears to be from the south and east. The view below Potaman encompasses the entirety of the White Cloud Mountains to the west, the Boulder Mountains in the south, the Salmon River range to the North, and from the top of Potaman, The Lost River peaks become visible to the east. I found many remnants of fossils, quartz crystal, along with many interesting geological features typical of the East Fork country.
The trail begins its descent down an unnamed side drainage for 1.25 miles to the inlet of Sullivan lake at Sullivan Creek. You have come 6.25 miles at this point. Sullivan Lake is a moderately small, shallow lake surrounded by sub-aquatic vegetation, willows, wild rose and Douglas fir on its west shore. A steep North facing hillside obscures the view of Potaman. Elk and wolf tracks litter the muddy earth around the shore. There are a few primitive camping options on the west side of the lake along the Trail. Another .6 miles the trail comes to the north end of the lake before following the outlet stream and an old glacial escarpment for a half mile. The trail slowly descends to a small meadow and old aspens at the base of a south-facing slope. The trail ascends one last time for about 400 feet over .5 miles to a saddle along the ridge dividing Sullivan Creek and the Salmon River at approx. 7.25 miles. The trail then rapidly descends for another .8 miles to the river and highway 75. Total estimated miles: 8
After a long winter, hikers are looking for a cure for cabin fever, but the options are limited due to snowpack lingering on many of the mountain trails. May is a great time to explore some lower elevation trails. The Sullivan lake/ corral Creek trail in the Salmon River country is just what the doctor ordered!
Blog and Photography by Adam Gulick