Reading Time: 7 minutes

This short hike is great if you want to be in the Big Sandy area without the Big Sandy crowds. I describe the best way to access it, which is not via trail 116.

➻ Quick Facts

Info at a Glance
  • Date of Visit: 17 October
  • Notable Features: Big Sandy Trail, Big Sandy Lake, Haystack Mountain, Clear Lake, Black Joe Lake, East Temple Peak
  • Total Miles:  15.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-′2037′
  • Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 9093, 9587, 10291′
  • General Route: Big Sandy Trailhead ▶ Big Sandy Trail 099 ▶ Black Joe Trail 116 ▶ Off-trail to Clear Lake ▶ Trail Return
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  • Housekeeping: Feel free to contact me. Images on this side are optimized and then displayed via a CDN, so if you want a nice one, let me know.
Interactive GPS Map (Click to See)
Elevation Profile


If you’ve read my trips from August and September, you’ll know that I’ve been snowed on up Big Sandy trail in both of those months. While I didn’t get snowed on hiking to Blue Lake by Big Sandy Lake, that hike was in October and was snow-covered. This hike was just a quick dayhike for us, but it was also in October, though in something of an Indian Summer. Read on to see what a difference that makes!

⤑Dayhike to Black Joe Lake

We brought Chaddy along on this hike! He’s the world’s most loveable lover-chug, Mr. Chaddilac Fancyfoot, and he loves to hike! Anyway, we got to the Big Sandy trailhead at 09:40 and it was fairly empty. The shadows were very much of the “fall” variety, long even near midday, and their interiors made chilled air.

The walk in to Big Sandy is a piece of cake, and I’ve described it before, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Even Mr. Chaddilac finds it an easy stroll, and he only weighs 12 lbs! The trail was clear of snow, and since there were only about 7 humans in the vicinity, we didn’t see any one else going in.

At Big Sandy Lake we stayed left, since crossing the outlet to the other side isn’t advantageous unless you’re going up to Rapid Lake or Clear Lake on the Temple tour. We weren’t, so we kept to the west and north. A man was camped by North Creek, and I had some envy of him! The whole place pretty much to himself.

Just after noon we came to Black Joe Creek, crossed it on a log, and took the left up Black Joe Trail 116. You can’t really get lost on this trail, so getting lost is exactly what we did. In case you’re new to hiking, I do not mean lost in the sense of not knowing where we were, but lost in the sense of the trail vanishing and us making our own path instead. Although the trail followed the creek for a tiny bit, it soon ended up in front of a cliff, as the creek descends a chute. We went up the cliff and ended up at an even taller set of rocks to climb, with no real sign that there was any trail above us.

After discussing it, mom and I decided to cross the creek to a rock pile and just follow that, as it was in the sun and clear enough. We came to regret it, and the going was slow, with boulders being mixed with tall brush. It wasn’t the end of the world and we soon arrived at a little park that had what appeared to be some sort of snotel-esque meterological station in it, though it seemed abandoned. There are snotels in the area, but none where this was.

  • We actually visited the snotelish thing later, but I’m putting the photos here so that you can get a feel for where it was.

Black Joe creek is wide and slow there in this clearing, so we crossed right before that by rock-hopping, so that we wouldn’t have to wade. I considered fishing for brookies, but held off. On the other side, we found the trail again, and it was wide and well-worn. Odd. The rest of the walk in was very short and gentle, with plenty of outfitter-style camping areas around the lake.

Black Joe Lake itself isn’t the most beautiful lake in the Winds, but it was still impressive! To the southeast was a chute that looked climbable. Wandering Daisy (Nancy Pallister) had even recently written about climbing it as a shortcut over toward Long Lake, which I later saw from above during my climb of Wind River Peak. We considered exploring along the southwest of the lake, but it was already getting late for the time of year, so we stopped, snacked, let Chad get warm (the wind was picking up), and then decided to return.

  • Black Joe Lake, camping areas around it, and the weather station in the little park a few hundred feet down the creek from the lake.

On the way back down the trail, we crossed the creek and checked out the snotelish place. Instead of following the trail after that, we decided to cross over the hump to Clear Lake, which we’d hiked before. The view was amazing and the walking was incredibly easy, with open forests and grass, rather than annoying boulders and brush! I’m so, so glad that we did.

  • East Temple Peak and Haystack Mountain.

I’ll say too that all things considered, it’s probably better to just take Clear Lake trail and cross the little ridge than taking Black Joe trail.

Once we were at Clear Lake, we made our way back to the Big Sandy Trail and saw the camper by the lake again. This time he was shirtless and bathing! Good for him. The walk out was easy, though the last half was in the dark, and we got back to my Jeep at 7PM.

  • Big Sandy Lake looking toward Temple Basin, and then the hike out!

➤Conclusion and Rating

Black Joe is well worth the little effort that it requires. It was a bit windy, so I didn’t fish, but it seemed to have brookies. Since it’s a less-visited lake in a high-impact area, it’s worth your time! The camping spots are also really sweet. I hope to go back in the future.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

  •  My scientific rating system. I liked this hike!
  • Beauty. Although the lake itself isn’t the most beautiful for the Winds, the ease of access and the views of Haystack and Temple Basin during the hike really make it worthwhile.
  • Camping spots. For remote forest camping, there are plenty of “developed” areas. Definitely a bonus!
  • Crowds. Black Joe doesn’t get much in the way of crowds, but since it’s in the Big Sandy trail system, it’s still better to do this one in the fall when the Instacrowds are gone.
  • Difficulty. Easy for the casual hiker.
  • Fishing. I ended up not fishing due to the cold.
  • History. A meteorological site about which I’m curious.

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