People love to get lost, as long as they think they can get unlost. Think of how many millions go to Venice each year with the sole purpose of losing their way for a while. Mazes intrigue: how many children of all ages are thrilled by the maze cut into the pumpkin patch? Well, here’s an outdoor challenge for those of you who want to prove to your spouse that you’re the better navigator: Lost Valley, Idaho. Part of the 2.3 million acre treasure named Payette National Forest, Lost Valley is a tangle of old logging roads, streams, forest, and vivid wildgrass prairie.
People have been drawn to the Payette area for generations before it became a national park in 1944, perhaps because of the challenge it offers in finding the desired destination, or perhaps because of the many other forest attractions. Native wildflowers, a magnificent range of fauna, and dramatic landscape views can be found year round. Springtime features an abundance of flowers in every color and fresh bunchgrasses. Fall is known for the area’s many huckleberry bushes; huckleberry hunting is popular throughout August and September, when you’ll spot purple-dyed fingers on people of all ages enjoying this simple and fun family activity. Regular wildlife includes black bear, deer, and big horn sheep. The wolves generally remain hidden from sight, but put on a reverent acoustic show nightly. Much of the area near the lake and its main streams comprise wetlands; the waterways themselves are filled with brook trout and other small water creatures. The only downfall to Lost Valley is getting lost.
Old Logging Roads in Lost Valley
Along Lost Valley Creek, hikers can explore the area via game trails and old logging roads that wind labyrinthine through the valley and its mountain range. The main roads in the valley split regularly, providing for endless camping and hiking opportunities. The area is such a maze that is hard to find yourself or your destination until you’ve been in the area several times. Not too much worry, however: there are message boards along the main roadway, and paper plate signs litter the trees as you enter the forest directing friends to specific spots. If you are a first time visitor who plans to meet another group, I recommend either following them directly into the valley or at least traveling during daylight hours. There is good news however – all roads in Lost Valley eventually end back on Highway 95 near New Meadows, Idaho.
Lost Valley Map
One of this valley’s main attractions is the Lost Valley Reservoir (not to be confused with Lost Lake, which is located further up the highway in Valley County Idaho). As the area features several camping areas around the lake with easy access, great swimming, ideal fishing, and watercraft launches, you’re likely to be headed to this spot. The reservoir is located at the center point of the valley. To keep you from getting lost in this area, follow these basic directions: go to Adams County, Idaho, to start. Upon entering Lost Valley from Idaho State Highway 95 south of Tamarack, drive approximately four miles to the first split in the road. To travel to the lake, take the left road that leads down, or for hiking, horseback riding, and sightseeing, take the right road, which wraps up and around the water.
There are several scenic streams that feed the lake, so if you head off on foot to explore, remember that hikers who venture off the beaten path are almost always near a logging road. If you do get lost, it is easy to get back to a road by simply traveling in one direction for a short period of time. Maps of the area are available through the Payette National Forest Service and can be purchased in nearby towns.