The Nut Basin highpoint is the second highest point of a small group of mountains between the Salmon River Canyon and the high mountains of the Gospel Hump Wilderness to the east. The area is really a long ridge system dividing the Salmon from its large tributaries of Allison Creek and Slate Creek with only a few summits with enough prominence to be considered mountains. Everything else is just a point on a long, broad ridge. The area is interesting however; due to its extreme abrupt lift from the bottom of the Salmon Canyon. The greatest elevation change is over 6,300 feet with almost the entire area being well over a mile above the canyon bottom. To the east, the summit pyramid rises nearly 1,000 feet over Nut Basin Lake, which is the only mountain lake in the area, and nearly 3,000 feet above upper Slate Creek approximately four miles to the east. The 7,741 foot mountain has 441 feet of prominence.
The high vertical lift gives the this mountain and its neighbors varied ecological gradation ranging from hot canyon grasslands, through open pine savannahs to moist mixed conifer forests followed by cool lodgepole pine forest before the high parklands of subalpine fir and whitebark pine. There are some high, cool basins dominated by subalpine fir and spruce as well. Geologically the mountain is complex having basalt, limestone, quartz and granite components. Much of the area is formed by a granite batholith that cooked some of the base layers into various forms of quartz and schist. The limestone is left over from the ancient Pacific shoreline that was rammed into the North American plate when the Wallowa Terrane pushed in from the west. Covering much of the lower to mid-elevations is more recent basalt from the Grand Ronde lava flows that flooded much of the inland northwest approximately 18 million years ago.
The Nut Basin highpoint is a nice destination that is easily accessible. The views ranging from the hot Salmon Canyon below up to the jagged peaks of the Seven Devils provides a huge contrast in landforms and vegetation across 7,800 vertical feet. Also the view to the east up the main Salmon Canyon provides a rare look at huge holes of some of North America’s largest canyons divided up by high peaks. Patrick Butte to the south rises 7,000 feet from the Salmon. The mountains in this area are not terribly high so they often go unnoticed, however; their bases are much lower than most places in the west to provide tremendous overall relief.
Approximately 15 miles north of Riggins, Idaho on Highway 95 take the Slate Creek Road east. This road is found on the north end of the developed area that includes the Slate Creek Ranger Station and a couple dozen private homes at the mouth of Slate Creek. Follow the road for 0.3 miles where the actual State Creek Road merges to the left. Stay on the pavement to the right and continue for about another 0.3 mile to the Nut Basin Road (Forest Service road 441). Turn east on the Nut Basin Road and climb out of the canyon. Continue for approximately 17 miles the small rough road that turns left to the Nut Basin highpoint. This road is extremely rough and requires high clearance and preferably 4 wheel drive. Many people would prefer to park at the junction and walk the short, less than a half mile to the summit. This turnoff is about 0.1 mile before the Southwest Butte trailhead.
Another route into the area from Riggins goes east on the Salmon River Road for 9.5 miles to the mouth of Allison Creek. Turn left on the Allison Creek Road (Forest Service road 221) and follow it for about 16.3 miles to the Nut Basin summit road. There are a couple intersections to be aware of. About three miles after the road leaves the bottom of Allison Creek, turn left on the 535 road. After nearly four miles merge left (continue straight) on the 441 road and continue to the Nut Basin summit turnoff. Traveling in this direction, the Nut Basin summit turnoff will be about 0.1 mile beyond the Southwest Butte trailhead.
Another option is climb the steep northeast aspect from Nut Basin Lake. To reach the lake follow either of the driving directions offered above to reach the trailhead to the lake. This is unmarked and very easy to miss. From the Nut Basin summit turnoff, the trailhead is located about two miles east on the 441 road at the second of two obvious hairpin curves in the road. Park at the wide spot and look for a small trail running to the west. The trail is very short and the lake is reached in a few minutes.
Camping in the area of the mountain is quite limited. The summit is relatively broad and would make a nice camping spot. However, there is no water close by, people may drive into your camp and the winds can be quite severe on the open landscape. Below the summit pyramid the only mountain lake in the area, Nut Basin Lake is a short hike from the 441 road less than two miles east of the turnoff to the summit. There are a few campsites here, but not many. Much of the perimeter is swampy, but the north side is a bit dryer. The lake is occasionally stocked with trout, but the mosquitoes are horrendous much of the year. A few miles further east on the main road the meadows at the bottom of upper Slate Creek provide some good road side dispersed camping.
Other than these options one must go to the bottom of Allison Creek, where there are several nice dispersed sites on a nice stream in cool shady fir groves or on down to the main Salmon River itself. Spring Bar campground is about one mile upstream from the mouth of Allison Creek. This larger campground has 17 units, water and many amenities, but there is a small fee. There are many other areas both upstream and downstream of Riggins where a person may camp, but many designated recreation areas are day use only and the public BLM land that generally allows dispersed camping along the river is intermixed with private land so be sure of the ownership before settling in. The best of such camping is probably up river from Spring Bar where nice beach camping in the shade of tall pines can be found.
Another Forest Service campground is found at the confluence of Slate Creek and the North Fork of Slate Creek several miles up the Slate Creek road from the Slate Creek Ranger Station. This is getting a bit out of the way for the Nut Basin area, however. There is a vault toilet and three designated sites to throw a tent in this small undeveloped campground. There is no fee to camp here. If interested in this campground, call ahead because the campground is presently closed due to several dead hazard trees waiting to fall and squish campers. If desired, there are several motels in both Riggins and Grangeville ranging from cheap to fairly expensive.
When to ClimbThis mountain is best climbed in the summer and fall after snow has left the slopes. There is no water on the mountain other than snowmelt and perhaps the water from Nut Basin Lake in the basin to the northeast. It may be possible to reach the mountain in the winter by taking a snowmobile to the trailhead and snowshoeing in. Be certain to check with the Slate Creek Ranger Station to be sure of open snowmobile routes and current conditions. The northeast aspect of the mountain could potentially have avalanches. In the fall the area is hunted heavily so wear orange and be aware of hunters parked at the trailhead. Going with a partner during this season is also a good idea.
Mountain Conditions and Additional InformationWhile this is a relatively safe mountain with easy terrain and access, be sure to go to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. Weather and temperatures can vary dramatically between the canyons and the mountain. The arid lowlands will routinely be well above 100 degrees in the summer, while temperatures can be dramatically different near the summit. Also the mountains in the area typically see nice clear skies early followed by sometimes severe thunderstorms in the afternoons.
For more information and current conditions contact the Nez Perce National Forest or the Slate Creek Ranger Station.
Nez Perce National Forest
104 Airport Road
Grangeville, ID 83530
Salmon River Ranger District
Slate Creek Ranger Station
HC 01, Box 70
Whitebird, ID 83554