Backcountry Dads: The Payette Lake Trail

By Rodney J. Auth

The text went out—“Gentlemen—If I can call you that. We’re on for Friday. Going to be a shuttle involved. We’ll figure it out on the fly. Be at my house at 2 p.m. and we’ll get rocking.”

It didn’t take long for the “I’m in” and “I’m out” pings to come back in.

A couple days later, I pulled my truck out of the garage, loaded my bike and waited for Tom and Jared to arrive. After too much brain drain, we had determined that my daughter, who was hitting the river to paddleboard with a group of friends, could drop a car for us on Warren Wagon and I could shuttle the group back to the trailhead before returning to get her.

So, an hour of driving shaved off the trip, we headed out of town, took a right on Bear Basin Road, drove up past the corrals, through the four-way, and parked near the fork in the road.

We hopped out, loaded up, and started the three-mile grind up to the infamous purple gate. And by grind, I mean grind for me. Tom and Jared were off and huffing, way ahead of me. Eventually, Tom must have gotten worried I was having a heart attack, so he circled back and then re-climbed a portion of the road. On one hand, it was a nice thing. On the other I thought, “What the hell—am I in that bad of shape?”

I guess the answer is yes.

Thirty-five minutes later, we met at the purple gate, grabbed water and bite, then high-tailed it down the forest service road to the start of the Payette Rim Trail, which is also the start of the Payette Lake Trail. How convenient.

We dropped the trail, hustled 300 feet and hooked a left on the first section of the lake trail. It was immediately awesome—flowy sections, rock gardens, and nice banked turns. A little technical, but not too bad; it was kind of similar to the rim trail. We hit the first forest service road and followed the tire tracks left (north) towards the second section. The road climbed and dipped, crossed a river, and ended up at a well-marked trailhead.

We gathered ourselves, dropped in, and immediately hit a much more technical section—one that didn’t let up till we hit the next fire road. We followed the pink flags, hustled up a too-long hill to the next section and dropped the final—and hardest—section of the trail. Crazy flagstone-laden turns, steep, rocky descents, and sharply banked turns with little room for error finally gave way to an awesome flowy run-out ending at Warren Wagon Road.

Huffing and puffing, I finally caught up with Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who were busy drinking, gabbing, and looking very relaxed. Damn them.

After finding my stride, we hit the road to North Beach where the truck was parked. Except it wasn’t. The road was closed north of the beach—all the way at East Side Drive. So, after trying in vain to get a cell signal and call our shuttle driver, we gave up and headed home around the east side of the lake.

Luckily—and maybe for the first time—my teenage daughter did us a solid. As we crossed the river, there was my truck parked off to the side. With a sigh of relief, we loaded up and headed home to finish off an awesome Friday night.

Not a bad way to start the weekend. And, if you’re a self-proclaimed backcountry dad—it just might be the perfect way to start the weekend.

If you get chance, check out the new trail. The video above does it better justice than my words.


Rodney, Tom and Jared.