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Loon lake, Dragon Bomber Crash

1943, eight men boarded an American B-23 twin-engine bomber, also known as the "Dragon Bomber." Leaving Nevada, the crew had just finished their training mission and headed home to Tacoma, Washington. As the Bomber reached Central Oregon, the clouds began to swell, and a snow flurry began to distort the pilot's vision. The sense of urgency became apparent as the plane started to lose altitude. With no other choice, the crew prepped for an emergency landing. The closest airport would be in Boise, Idaho.

The pilot swung the plane around and attempted to contact ground control, getting nothing but static in response. With no communication, the chances for safe landing began to decrease. The snow pounded the plane, and the crew started to get anxious. To make matters worse, ice began to form on the aircraft slowing the maneuverability of this giant patrol aircraft.

The pilot knew they were not going to make it to Boise. The order was given to prepare parachutes and be ready to jump. As the men began to pack their chutes, the pilot found a clearing in the clouds and spotted what looked like an open field and their only chance of landing the aircraft with minimum damage.

The pilot took a chance and nosed the plane down. The supposed clearing was not what it appeared. In fact, it was frozen Loon Lake. The plane slapped against the frozen ice and skidded its way across the surface, slamming into the surrounding trees, shearing off its wings, and coming to a sudden stop.

All the crew survived with only a few broken bones and lacerations. The crew waited five days for help. With no hope of quick rescue, the men had to do something. 3 men volunteered to go for help. Equipped with only one shotgun for protection from bears and wolves and only a few chocolate rations to survive on, they hiked 14 days through the snow as deep as 10 feet in certain places. After traveling 42 miles and summiting the Lick Creek Mountain Range, the men finally found the Lake Fork Guard Station and radio for help. All 8 men survived the accident and the bitter cold.

On August 11th, 2020, Skip, bandit, Ezra, and I made our way to Warren, Idaho, on a bumpy dirt road to hike to the incredible destination we could ever imagine.

Aircrafts have a special place in our family's heart. Skip's father, Doyle, has always worked on airplanes. In high school, Skip worked at the McCall airport, and being surrounded by planes, he fell in love with them. He then joined the United States Army as a 15U "flight Helicopter Mechanic" and served for 6 years working on Chinooks. He planned to get out and become a pilot using his GI bill. The GI Bill wouldn't pay for flight school, so he decided to go to college for business and plans to pay for flight school independently. So being surrounded by planes most of his life, this was a must-do hike.

This 11.9-mile loop that gains 1,295 feet in elevation is not recommended for a day hike backpack in. The trail takes you to one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in Idaho, and there are multiple spots to camp near the lake. If you decide to make this a day trip and are looking for camping near the trailhead. There is Chinook Campground near the trailhead. Click HERE to explore and reserve your next campsite.

ALWAYS remember to camp 200 feet or further from any body of water to preserve that lake and the creatures within, and make sure you ALWAYS pack it out. Please click HERE and read about the Leave no Trace Project.

Remember to enjoy the scenery while exploring the area. There are so many vivid views with a variety of colors and textures with every footstep. There are Red Columbines, Salmonberry, western Trillium, Green Alder, and fields of wildflowers on the trail.

You may also encounter a Beaver on the river, Elk, deer, a red fox on a trail, and of course, squirrels in every tree. With being out in the wilderness, always make sure you pay attention to your surroundings and be alert for dangerous animals that you may encounter. We always recommend carrying bear spray while hiking.

Ditch the headphones and listen to the birds chirping and the streams that you will encounter. Nature is beautiful, and it's a time for serenity and peace. Plus, for your safety.

This loop is suitable for camping, hiking, history, horseback riding, fishing, and bird watching. Depending on the season you make this trip, you may see a group or two. You will not be alone on this trail. But due to its 11.9 miles and high elevation, it is not overly crowded.

Directions to the trailhead

  • The three-hour drive to the trailhead from McCall, Idaho, is not the smoothest and nor the fastest.

  • Take warren wagon road that heads North outside of McCall, across from Lardos Bar and grill.

  • Take this road for about 30 miles on an attempted paved road that eventually turns to gravel.

  • Continue another 6 miles on a really rough gravel road through Seashash that will take you to a well-marked sign for Chinook campground.

  • The trailhead is a mile to the Loon Lake Trailhead.

The trailhead is for day use or backing packing vehicles only, no overnight camping in the parking lot. There are clean restrooms that we suggest using before adventuring on your hike.

To get to the Dragon Bomber Crash, you must hike to loon lake first. There are two ways you can achieve this; we made the loop, and one way is much easier than the other.

Trail Guide:

Two trails immediately fork at the trailhead; both will take you to Loon. The left trail (#080, Secesh River Trail) is 6-miles long and casually follows the cascading Secesh River for 4-miles before crossing a bridge and climbs stoutly up trail #084 out of the river basin to Loon Lake. (This is the way we hiked back, and it was somewhat complicated, but we also hiked it in a rainstorm)

trail #084 joined #081. A quarter-mile hike along a dusty trail cut deep into the grassy meadow led us to the lake proper, where the trail forked once again.

Trail #081 continues left and leads to a formal camp spot tucked in the woods. A faint trail ducks out of the camp to the right, dropping hikers towards the lake where a string of primitive camp spots is scattered along the berm adjacent to the lake.

Fork right and trail #084 bring hikers to the south side of the lake, where additional primitive camping spots sit along the south shore.

Secesh River Trail was more difficult for us. Most of the way was on a cliff edge with little to no shade nor water and pretty steep inclines and declines along the way with loose gravel. This is the more scenic route and the route the airmen took to reach help. That being said, it was beautiful, and knowing eight men who had just crashed a plane could walk through the area in the snow on an unmarked path out, we could make it in a rainstorm.

If you choose to hike the other route, it is well maintained, and the path is marked on a dirt path. There are some inclines and declines, but very manageable. There are multiple streams and minor rivers to cross. However, there have been bridges built, so you stay dry. If you are an inexperienced hiker or have more minor children, this is the route to take for everyone's safety.

If possible, backpack in. Loon lake at sunset and sunrise is absolutely breathtaking. The Dragon Bomber crash site trail is difficult if you go the wrong way, which many do. Plus, having a fire flickering off the lake relaxing after a hike that you practically had to swim in swamp water is something of its own.

Not everyone who hikes to Loon Lake is on their way to see the Dragon Bomber crash. Many people have no idea it is out there. The two trails to get there are not transparent nor maintained, making it difficult to make it to and may require you to swim.

Trail Guide:

To make it to the wreckage, you must go left, or you must go right. We recommend going left. We made the loop and experienced the swamp swimming that was awful and incredibly dangerous with an infant on our back.

To the Dragon Bomber crash, we went right and crossed a little river. The first portion of the trail was beaten down well. Boulders stick out of the path but easy to walk over.

In the second portion, you practically lose the course and are ankle-deep in marshy water. You must climb over large trees and truck through incredibly overgrown undergrowth.

We definitely recommend wearing hiking sandals if you have them and wear pants. This trail was definitely on the difficulty spectrum.

On the way back, we made the loop and attempted to cross the water that is possibly 5 feet deep. We were lucky, there happen to be two logs that went over the water portion, and we never touch the water.

The rest of the hike is exceptionally maintained and accessible. If you decide to go that way from the beginning, you do not want to go all the way to loon lake. You want to go towards duck lake when you get to that fork.

There are signs at the forks. And the trail is well marked and maintained the entire way until you have to cross the river that enters the lake. Once you cross over the river, continue straight and walk through the meadow until you come into a forest area and within is the wreckage.

I cannot tell you how beautiful the wreckage is, people care about this artifact, and no one has destroyed or vandalized it, which is astonishing. Items from the plane look to have been stolen, but how long ago.

Click HERE to view our adventure on youtube.

Overall, this was a hike of a lifetime, and I highly recommend taking the time to explore the area and witness history.

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