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Parker Gulch Trail #121
Details (6/23/2024)
Status: Partial
Difficulty: Advanced
Uses: Mt Biking & Hiking & Equestrian & Motorcycle & eBikes
Length: 3.2 miles
Start: 8,620'
End: 6,508'
Min: 6,508'
Max: 8,620'
Gain: 53'
Loss: -2,165'
Elevation Profile
// track pieces: 147, // elevation pieces: 147
Trailhead Forecast (6/23/2024)
Description / Access Information

Parker Gulch Trail #122: Thanks to volunteers, the lowest mile of the Parker Gulch Trail is pretty well brushed back of encroaching vegetation, but higher up, sections of the trail need brushing. There, plants are encroaching on the travel-way. Long sleeves and long pants are recommended to help keep from getting scratched up. Motorcyclists, and other bike riders, who employ hand-grip guards, will appreciate the hand-protection they afford on this route.

The #122 trail is open to motorcycles and ebikes from May 1 through November 30 of each year.

This is a steep (13% average grade) single-track trail that climbs to the SW saddle of Johnstone Peak. It is one of the few trails open to motorized use in the Pioneer Mountains. The Parker to Bear mountain bike ride is a granny gear grind, one of the steepest and most consistent climbs in the valley. In places the trails has become incised ("U"-shaped) and pedal strikes are hard to avoid. Other parts of the trail are in good shape and pose no difficulty to pedaling.

Parker Gulch was one of the epicenters of mining in the 1880s and many old roads crisscross the steep hillsides between tailings piles. Isaac Lewis, who also founded the town of Ketchum, owned the Elkhorn Mine at the mouth of Keystone Gulch. Other notable claims up Parker Gulch were the Amicus, Parker, and Montgomery Mines.

Parker Gulch Road passes through several parcels of private property, so please show respect to  the landowners, and to others who may be using the drainage. Many people use Parker Gulch Road for walks or to take the pooch out for a walk. Pass through at a slow and safe pace.

The Parker Gulch trail climbs to the SW saddle of Johnstone Peak and connects to Bear Gulch.  The Parker drainage faces west and tends to be hotter, drier, and dustier than the Bear Gulch side of this trail, but the Parker trailhead is closer to town and more convenient to access. About two-thirds of the Parker Gulch Trail crosses open sage and grass covered hillsides, and the other portions cross through shady forest. It is a straight forward climb through four long switchbacks to the saddle.

The trail is open to motorcycle use. Mountain bikers will find Parker to be a grueling 13% grade with a steeper crux to the saddle. The trail tends to be somewhat looser than the Bear Gulch side.

From the saddle it is a straight forward off-trail scramble to the summit of Johnstone Peak with stunning panoramic views of the high peaks of the Pioneer Crest.


Directions: To drive to the start of the Parker Gulch Trail travel south on Hwy 75 from Ketchum to the Elkhorn Road stoplight (1.4 mi). Turn left and follow Elkhorn to Morningstar Road (2 mi). Turn right and follow Morningstar to Parker Gulch Road on the right (.7 mi). Paved Parker Gulch Road soon turns to dirt. Drive up the drainage to the trailhead (2.2 mi). The last 1/2 mile is a narrow, rough, tilted, steep two-track.

There are no facilities at the trailhead. It is just a turn around area and a sign marking the start of the trail. It may not look like it today, but the start of the trail was once a muddy wet area. In 2005 volunteers with the trail group Big Wood Backcountry Trails worked with the Ketchum Ranger District to build a large rock puncheon; as a way to elevate the trail through the seep. Plants and grasses have grown up to obscure the puncheon, but you may notice a few of the large boulders used in its construction. In 2006 the trail group helped the Forest Service reroute the lowest 3/4 mile of the trail. It was taken out of the bottom of the drainage; up onto the north sidehill of the gulch. This was also to aid in the sustainability and drainage of the trail.

*For more detailed descriptions, topo maps, and information on the history, geology, and wildflowers of the Wood River Valley pick up a copy of Exploring Sun Valley online or find it at one of several local shops.