Bear Creek is an idyllic mountain stream that meanders through an equally serene
alpine valley on the southwest side of Palisades Reservoir in Swan Valley
Idaho. The trail is an easy one even for novice hikers and the danger spots
for horses are few. Unlike the creeks on the Snake
River Range side of Palisades
Reservoir the creeks of the Caribou Range seem more open not that they are
but the southern slopes of the mountains are largely open meadow and lends
itself to a more open feeling. The trail splits in several areas, the low
trails are good for horses that don°t mind crossing the creek and the high
trails skirt or go around the steep parts of the canyon. Where the canyon
bottoms open up there is usually a large lush meadow. Two miles in, is such
a meadow with a small cabin built by Buel Warner decades ago, the forest
service now owns it an rents it out for a small fee.
It is a 4 mile hike or ride up the where the north and south fork of Bear Creek merge, here you can take the north fork for another five miles where hooks up with the Fall Creek trail system, or you can take the south fork for another three miles to a hidden hot spring which is a comfortable pool that's about 10 feet wide, 20 feet long, and 2 feet deep. Rocks and grass border it and it sits in a meadow. A log platform spans the deeper end. Hot water perks up through the sandy bottom and is a perfect 98 degrees. A hot soak is welcome relief after a long walk or ride. The hot spring has been known to host nakedness so if that sort of thing bothers you consider yourself warned.
you head up the south fork for the hot spring the hike becomes more physically
challenging, with several major stream crossings followed by a grueling climb,
and it°s a navigational challenge as well. Not only are the hot springs not marked on maps, but the final path isn°t
shown either however there is a small sign completely obscured by a tree branch.
If you skip the detour to the hot spring and continue up the south fork you eventually come out on Skyline Road the road that straddles much of the backbone of the northwestern end of the Caribou Range, a worthy auto trip in its own right for another day.
Bear Creek has plenty of wildlife, elk, moose, and mule
deer are abundant, black bear and mountain lion are relatively common although
largely unseen. The open southern faces of the mountains provide good winter
habitat for bear creek°s ungulate population. The hunting is good.
Motorcycles and mountain bikes also frequent this trail so beware if you ride a spooky horse or if you want more of a wilderness experience you may want to try Palisades
Creek or Big Elk Trails across the Snake River instead, they are in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area free of mechanical intrusion.
Fishing Bear Creek,
Creek Trail is one that can easily be done in a pair of good wading boots; you
don°t have to walk very far or very long to get into some good fishing. It°s possible to fish the stream right at the trailhead, but I°ve never had much luck with larger trout there as it receives to much pressure. Better water can be found about a 20-minute hike upstream. Along your way, you°ll see plenty of inviting water, and if you can°t resist, give it a shot. Bear Creek°s
upper reaches are the best place to find scrappy resident trout that live in
Bear Creek all year long. Beaver ponds provide great habitat for trout and are
always worth a few casts.
To catch the stream°s bigger fish, it°s best to show up early in the season. By June 25 till about July fourth, this is when the lake fish migrate up Bear Creek to spawn and can be found on redds (nests) throughout the creek. Bear Creek°s real treasures though are the aggressive resident fish that have forsaken life in the lake for a spartan existence in the stream. Most of Bear Creek°s year around cutthroat are a smallish six to eight inchs but every now and then you°ll latch on to a larger fish and it°s a real treat. After the spawn I°ve never caught big cutthroats in Bear Creek, just lots of them. A few of Palisades° Reservoir
resident browns use the stream as a spawning ground in the fall.
beaver dams that are a boon for the resident fish and fisherman has all but stopped
the migration of the lake fish for the spawn. The good news is this last time
I visited most dams were breeched and hopefully will stay that way as these spawning
beds are an important resource for Palisades Reservoir°s wild trout population
and a fun two weeks at the beginning of the summer for the creek.
Early in the year, fish Bear Creek with attractor patterns.
Flashy patterns like a royal coachman, stimulators and humpy°s will usually
work well. From the middle of July on, the fish dine on a buffet of terrestrial
being a favorite. Also, with these big patterns, your chances of latching on
to one of the streams bigger fish are pretty good. During the spawn drift an
orange egg pattern through the redds and when the fish are there even my wife
can catch them.
To get to Bear Creek you take U.S. Highway 26 east of Idaho Falls or west out of Alpine WY and follow it to Palisades Reservoir. Cross Palisades Dam and follow the signs to the Bear Creek trailhead on a serviceable dirt road maintained by the Forest Service.