OverviewSunset Mountain lies squarely within Southwest Idaho’s expansive Boise Mountains and the Boise National Forest. Its rounded summit is surrounded by forest on all sides, but extends up and out of the trees just in time to allow for great views from the top, which is mostly barren for the last 100+ feet of elevation. Its summit is also home to a fire lookout which is manned during summer months. Although not a common objective for climbers in the summer, it is a fairly popular winter destination due to its reasonably close proximity to Boise, minimal avalanche risk, and a plowed trailhead parking lot on Highway 21 at Mores Creek Summit, located midway between the mountain towns of Lowman and Idaho City.
As you’d expect for a mountain with a fire lookout, the views are extensive with Boise Mountains in all directions. The surrounding terrain is generally tree covered and not particularly rugged, but the route from Mores Creek Summit follows a gentle ridge top with great views much of the way. As you reach the top of Sunset Mountain, the trees begin to clear exposing more distant scenery. You’ll likely be able to make out the Sawtooths to the northeast, the Trinity Mountains to the southeast, Schaffer Butte and Mores Mountain above the Boise Basin to the southwest, as well as nearby Freeman Peak and Pilot Peak to the northwest.
Getting ThereDrive Highway 21 for about 33 miles north from Boise to Idaho City (about 45 minutes), then continue another 13 miles north on Highway 21 to the well-marked Mores Creek Summit trailhead, near milepost 52. If coming from the North, then its about 20 miles from Lowman to get to this point. The highway is full of curves from either direction so plan for extra time. It is generally kept open year round, but the can be closed by avalanches or rapid snow accumulation in the winter. Check the road conditions on-line, call the service station in Idaho City, or contact one of the ranger stations in the area (contact info below). The trailhead parking lot is also kept plowed in winter but plan your escape since you can easily get boxed in by late arriving snowmobilers heading to the Pilot Peak area on the other side of the highway to the west.
From here, the route climbs 1750 feet in about 4.75 miles before reaching the summit. To begin your hike, look for the narrow snowbound road heading up the hill to the southeast. The trail is easy to follow in most places. There are times when it gets blown over by snow drifts, but the route is generally pretty intuitive since you catch glimpses of the lookout from various points along the way and its pretty easy to keep your bearings most of the time. However, be prepared for some route finding, especially after snowstorms that can quickly bury any previously made tracks.
Red TapeNo permits required.
When To ClimbSunset Mountain can be climbed year round, but is a more common destination during winter months (Dec-Mar) for those on snowshoes or Nordic skis. The gentle, forested terrain makes avalanche risk very minimal. During the summer months (May-Oct), one could mountain bike or drive the road that leads to Sunset Mountain (high clearance vehicle recommended) from Mores Creek Summit. An alternative may be to use the Hungarian Ridge Trail from the Barber Flats ranger station on the North Fork of the Boise River. That route would be about 12 miles and 3600’ of gain, one-way.
CampingThere are various nearby campgrounds accessible from Highway 21, the closest of which are Ten Mile, Hayfork, and Bad Bear (south of the trailhead) as well as Edna Creek (north of the trailhead). There are also various unimproved campsite in the area. Or, if you prefer not to brave the elements, lodging is also available in Idaho City.
Mountain ConditionsThe links below should give you a good idea of the conditions on Sunset Mountain:
SNOTEL – Weather conditions from Mores Creek Summit
NOAA Pinpoint Forecast – Weather
Boise National Forest – NF Current Conditions.
Idaho Outdoors Forum – Message board monitored by many local climbers.
Idaho City Ranger District
Hwy 21, milepost 38.5
PO Box 129
Idaho City, ID 83631
Lowman Ranger District
HC-77, Box 3020
Lowman, ID 83637
Tom's Service Station
243 Highway 21
Idaho City, ID 83631