Prairie and Miner Lakes Loop Trail
On our last hike in the Sawtooths we wanted to do something in the Smoky Mountains, just south of the Sawtooth Range but inside the Sawtooth Recreation Area. In a previous trip we had attempted to do the Prairie and Miner Lakes Loop but had been flooded out by late snowmelt but this time the 10-mile hike was almost entirely snow- and mud-free.
Deciding to hike the trail counterclockwise for the sake of a more gradual ascent, we set off through the towering trees of the canyon, alternating between walking under forest cover and open meadow. Nearing the lake the jagged peaks flanking the creek canyon gave way to the less spectacular, more rounded shapes of the mountains surrounding the lake basin however. Combined with the deadfall cluttering the shallows and shoreline and the dull light of that morning, this made the first of the two Prairie Lakes less spectacular than some of the bodies of water we’d seen on previous hikes but soon after the sun moved out from behind the clouds and the trail became really quite gorgeous.
The second of the two Prairie Lakes was prettier in a way that didn’t come through in my photos since I was taking pictures into the sun but the surrounding meadows and forest as we ascended the ridge on the east side of the canyon we’d originally hiked up lit up beautifully, yellow flowers glowing in the sun. It was almost a shame to turn into the forest again and descend into the Miner Lake Basin but the glistening blue-green water under Norton Peak glimpsed from above captivated us all over again.
Surprisingly the trail became even more beautiful after leaving the shoreline of Miner Lake, traversing the Upper Miner Canyon and descending into the lovely meadows and stands of fir punctuated by rocky remanants of avalanche chutes. This too eventually ended however and we made a steep drop towards the trailhead and into the original valley we hiked up. Before then however we encountered an octogenarian couple goat-packing and a view of a waterfall along Miner Creek tumbling into the gorge below. We even had couple water crossings through some flooded lowlands. Needless to say, it was an ever-changing landscape and a lot of interesting sights.