Imagine a hike that shows off the absolute best the northern Cabinet Mountain Wilderness has to offer. From granite-covered alpine peaks with 360-degree views to dense moss-overgrown cedar forests in the creek bottoms. From intensely blue alpine lakes to the optical cacophony of summer flowers painting entire meadows. From the sheer cliff walls so typical of the Cabinets to gently sliding hillsides, carved by glaciers over thousands of years. This loop has it all.
Combining one of the least-traveled routes in Montana’s Cabinet Wilderness with one of the most frequented, this loop visits four spectacular lakes up close. A short but steep off-trail climb to a larch-covered ridge secures a bird’s-eye view as well, in addition to a grand panorama of Treasure Mountain.
Fed by the Cabinets’ sole remaining glacier, Granite Lake is a truly grand destination. Though the glacier is not visible from the lake, its glacial waters, tumbling hundreds of feet down a vertical dark rock face of Snowshoe Peak, are a sight to behold. Most impressive, however, is the granite buttress of A peak, poking into a deep-blue sky like a giant stony fist!
The hike to Leigh Lake is short but steep and leads right into the heart of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness to a lake huddling beneath the near-vertical cliffs of Snowshoe Peak, the highest mountain in the Cabinets. The dramatic setting and the short hike ensure that you will have plenty of company: It’s the most popular hike in the Wilderness.
Ross Creek is famous for its ancient cedars and surely doesn’t disappoint. This route follows the cedars, then lifts off the river bottom and climbs through an old burn to a set of sparkling cascades carved into the South Fork Ross Creek.
Sheltered from fire and wind for hundreds of years, and save from loggers since 1960, Ross Creek Cedars showcases ancient western red cedar growing in a rainforest-like setting. A level path meanders for a mile among the giants. Many specimens exceed 10 feet in diameter and reach nearly 200 feet into the sky. Informative signs explain the ecology and history of the grove.
Flower Point is an old lookout tower site easily accessible via a singletrack from the Cabinet’s Flower Creek trailhead on the edge of the northeastern Cabinet Wilderness. The lake is an eye-pleasing but marshy affair where you likely might find moose and bugs. This being October, we found neither.
The Big Spar Lake trail refused to show its best side on this fall morning, being shrouded in fog most of the time. It would make for great summer hiking, though, as the path meanders through a pleasant cedar forest. Perhaps the best part is the old-growth cedar grove along Spar Creek.
Sweeping views, endless strings of alpine lakes and vast meadows are the hallmarks of the proposed Great Burn Wilderness. This loop explores an old mining settlement, visits many of the lakes, and climbs to the top of Schley Mountain for grandiose views into the canyons and ridges traversed earlier.
French Lake makes for an interesting side trip when hiking the North Fork of Fish Creek in Montana’s proposed Great Burn Wilderness. It starts about in the middle of that trail and climbs steadily over 3 miles to a bright-green lake with a magic little island. What more could you ask for?
One of many lakes that string along the Idaho/Montana stateline, Upper Siamese Lake is among only two that are trail-accessible between Goose Lake and Fish Lake. With water at a premium on the Stateline Trail, this presents a welcome opportunity to top off empty waterbottles and if you don’t mind mountain goats for company you could even stay the night.
This trail crosses numerous flower-studded subalpine meadows to a popular peak overshadowing Revett Lake and offering great views across or into the Coeur d’Alene, Cabinet, and Bitterroot Mountains. Plus, most of the elevation gain is done in the car. If you miss the summer wildflower display, as we did, console yourself with generous helpings of absolutely delicious huckleberries!
Beauty Bay Overlook is a quick leg stretcher with decent views across Beauty Bay. It is not nearly as dramatic, or popular, as nearby Mineral Ridge, but give it a try anyway: it’s only half a mile and features excellent picnic facilities.
What makes the Salmo-Priest loop so enticing is that it offers a bit of everything: Grand views all-around from Little Snowy Top, lush rainforest-like cedar-and-hemlock forest in the Salmo River basin, rare animals, including wolves, grizzlies, wolverines, and woodland caribou (of which we saw none), and a nice helping of huckleberries if you hit the right season.
The hike to Sunset Peak starts out quite benign in a clearcut, then heads through a forested area and finally breaks out onto vast wildflower-covered meadows near Pony Peak. Sunset Peak was once home to a lookout tower and still provides excellent views across the Coeur d’Alene Mountains.
American Falls, also known as Upper Priest River Falls, is clearly the attraction of this hike, but the way there is just as spectacular, leading through ancient rainforest-like giant-cedar and hemlock forest.
There are three prominent lakes in Switzerland’s canton of Zurich, of which the Pfaeffikersee is the smallest. Thus, the hike around the lake is relatively short, but the setting is rather pretty, despite the dense population of the area, as the lake is almost entirely surrounded by protected marshlands and reeds. For me, this was also a short stroll down memory lane, having grown up in Pfaeffikon.
If you like steep and brushy, then you’ll like Spar Peak. If you like grandiose views of the Cabinet Mountains, then you’ll love Spar Peak, but you may not like the process of getting there. In fact, the trail starts out superb and ends that way, but the piece in the middle is, well, a piece of work…
Little Spar Lake, the only trail-accessible lake in the proposed Scotchman Peak Wilderness, is a popular destination, sitting close to the Idaho/Montana state line. The hike is pleasant and view-laden, but you may want to avoid the heat of the afternoon sun when crossing the open meadows on approach to the lake. The lake itself is all you can hope for and surely won’t disappoint!
Any excursions you may attempt from Little Spar Lake are bound to be off-trail. This short hike is one option, climbing a saddle between Savage Mountain and Vertigo Ridge, then dropping down the other side through talus and patches of snow to an azure-blue horseshoe-shaped pond. Further exploration, such as Scotchman Peak #2, is a possibility.
Perhaps the Natural Rock Slide in Kent Creek was once a well-kept secret only known to locals. Unfortunately, the cat’s out of the bag and you will have plenty of company when exploring the falls. Make sure to venture beyond the immediate slide area for magnificent views of several tumbling waterfalls and a lovely catch basin.
The hike to Mollies Lake and Mollies Tip is a true gem. While short, it offers superb 360-degree views and a picturesque lake. If only it didn’t quite take so long to get to the trailhead…
The Marble Creek drainage has seen some serious logging activity in the past, but looking at a sheer endless sea of trees from the top of Grandmother Mountain, that is now difficult to imagine. Views aside, mid-summer wildflowers and August huckleberries are sure to make this one of your favorite hikes as well!
The Big Creek area makes for good early-summer hiking, with the main obstacles out of the way: No more snow, no swollen creeks, and no oppressive heat. Given the length and elevation gain, the summer solstice is the perfect day as long as the weather cooperates. Prepare to be dazzled by 360-degree views from Lemonade Peak, a plethora of wildflowers, and some impressive dam-engineering courtesy of Papa Beaver.
Bramlet Lake promises a nice, quick hike to a beautiful alpine lake lying just barely inside the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. Access is relatively easy, but visitors are few, making it that much more appealing. The only “population” we encountered was a couple of cougars.
Devil Peak makes for a nice hike earlier in the summer, when taller mountains are still packed with snow. The lookout tower that once stood at the peak no doubt offered breathtaking views. Unfortunately, it is gone and the peak is entirely hemmed in with tall fir trees. Redeeming qualities are the wildflowers in spring and huckleberries in fall!
Used mostly by hunters, trail #598 hugs East Fork Lost Creek closely for 3 miles and then commences a steep climb up to Bobtail Ridge. Don’t expect grand views, but a generous sprinkling of mushrooms and spring flowers along the way and the insistent curious buzz of a gorgeous red-throated hummingbird make up for a lot!
An easy hike through lush cedar forest to one of the prettiest lakes in North Idaho sums up the Upper Priest Lake trail. It’s a bit of drive to the trailhead, so consider combining the hike with other opportunities in this area, such as the American Falls trail.
With fabulous views deep into the Montana Cabinets, Engle Lake makes a grandiose destination at 7,500 feet. Add in a bit of camping at fantastic and pristine Engle Lake, and you have the makings for a perfect weekend, whether you like the long slug up from McKay Creek or prefer the drive to the 5000-foot Orr Creek trailhead.
Star Peak, formerly known as Squaw Peak, makes for great winter hiking due to easy access off MT-200. Be prepared for a fair bit of ascent, though, as the elevation gain amounts to 4000 feet. The views from the lookout, and those along the way, make it totally worth every effort. There is no water, so better plan for an early morning hike or hike in the cooler season. Naughty loved it!
Beacon Hills primarily serves as a recreational area for mountain bikers. You can explore on foot as well, but may get annoyed by the numerous, tightly-wound switchbacks on the hills. Other than that, it’s a nice hike through the woods, close to town, with interesting rock formations and frequent views of the city and distant hills.
Queen of the mountains, as she is known, Rigi has been an exceedingly popular tourist attraction for well over a hundreds years. A cog-wheel railway has been in operation since 1871, the oldest in Europe. Views of the surrounding lakes and alps are spectacular, whether you are already at the top or working your way up through farm-house studded meadows and shady woods.
A rather pretty hike along Upper Priest Lake’s eastern shore, this trail is dotted with sandy beaches, great views of Priest Lake and a bit of history as well in the form of an old log cabin and a short mine shaft. It’s well worth an overnight stay at either Geisinger or Trapper Creek, both featuring pit toilets and bear-proof containers. The trail is part of the Idaho State Centennial Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail.
The Mineral Ridge trail is one of our favorite hikes, but it’s rather short and we’ve always wondered whether it’s possible to extend it beyond the Wilson and Lost Man spurs. This tour explores the Coeur d’Alene National Forest out to Elk Mountain, a former lookout tower site destroyed in 1957.
Goat Mountain stands in the shadow of taller Scotchman Peak, but the views from the top are just as superb compared to its more well-hiked brother. The ascent is steep, though, gaining over 4,000 feet over 4 miles and you’ll likely have the peak to yourself. We sure did.
Running the full length of Upper Priest Lake’s western shore, the Navigation trail connects Beaver Creek Campground with FR-1013 (Gold Creek Road), which in turn connects the trail to either #302, following the eastern lakeshore to Lionhead Campground, or #308, paralleling the Upper Priest River to the Canadian border. Near the trailhead, you could also connect to the Lakeshore trail, which hugs Lower Priest Lake’s western shore.
The Portage Trail is a short quartermile spur from Beaver Creek Campground to the Thoroughfare connecting upper and lower Priest Lakes. It’s probably far easier to put a kayak or canoe into lower Priest at the campground, which features a convenient boat ramp, but that requires a half-mile paddle around a sandbar to enter the Thoroughfare.
The hallmark of the Mallard-Larkins are steep pinnacles, dozens of sub-alpine lakes, a flora ranging from rainforest-like ancient cedars to subalpine fir, and world-famous herds of mountain goats and elk. Couple that with unequaled solitude and tranquility and you have the makings for a superb backpacking trip through some of Idaho’s finest woods.
It’s uphill the entire way on Fisher Peak trail #27 to a former lookout tower site with views across the untouched Parker Creek drainage. The lack of spectacular alpine lakes that many nearby hikes boast of is more than offset by breathtaking views of the Parker Ridge and the Kootenai River as it flows far into Canada.
The Deep Creek trail rides atop a levee for two miles along playfully-meandering Deep Creek. Be prepared for stunning fall colors, a surprising array of wildlife, particularly birds (we spotted a pileated woodpecker) and deer, and impressive views of the Kootenai River Valley and the mountains hemming it in on both sides. Additional hiking opportunities abound in the Kootenai Wildlife Refuge, which also features an auto tour.
The Wanless Lake loop astonishes with not just one lake, but five in total, each worth the hike in its own right. Wanless Lake is the cream of the crop, measuring a mile long and a quarter mile wide in places, making it the largest lake within the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.
This loop combines two of the most popular lake hikes in the American Selkirks, Harrison Lake and Beehive Lakes, via a phenomenal off-trail ridge hike above Little Harrison Lake. Expect some of the best hiking in this region, spectacular views from the top of the world, and picture-perfect alpine lakes, but be prepared to test your route and trail finding skills in rough terrain.
Hoodoo Lake is a quick but uphill 1.5-mile hike to one of many superb alpine lakes in the Bitterroot Mountains. The water is refreshing, there’s camping, there’s fish, and you’ll likely have the place to yourself. We sure did!
The Crystal Lake loop in the St. Joe Mountains is rather pretty and surprisingly popular given the rather tediously long drive up Rochat Divide. The trout-filled lake, gorgeous camp spots, and huckleberry-carpeted hillsides make it certainly a worthwhile endeavour, topped off with sweeping views from Pearson Peak across the Coeur d’Alene Mountains and the Palouse.
Rock Lake is a pleasant hike to a phenomenal lake in the midst of the Cabinet Wilderness. Steep talus slopes frame the lake on both sides, with the sheer granite face of Ojibway Peak looming high above. The water is much warmer than you’d expect, and the utter lack of mosquitoes turns this high alpine valley into a piece of paradise. Plus, inspect a thunderous waterfall and old mining equipment along the way.
Berray Mountain, whose trailhead is easily accessible off MT-56, is a former lookout-tower site presenting spectacular 360-degree views of the Montana Cabinets, including the highest peaks in the center of the Cabinet Wilderness and Star Peak, also a former lookout tower site, located across the Bull River Valley, southwest of Berray. The uphill climb surprised with a variety of flora and features, including a brook and small pond.
Little Ibex Lake sits amidst a dramatic surrounding of tall peaks near the highest points of the Cabinets, with excellent views of Snowshoe Peak, the highest point. The lake is fed by permanent snow fields, remnants of what once was Ibex Glacier. Be prepared for a difficult slug uphill, though, as the steep trail is littered with blowdown, and ferocious hoards of mosquitoes await anyone or anything with an ounce of blood.
There really is only one downside to the Stevens Lakes trail, the result of all its upside: the trailhead is easily accessible, right off I-90, it’s a short hike in well-shaded woods, there are lots of camping opportunities, and two cooling and picturesque lakes await you, nestled up high below Stevens Peak. The downside? Everyone goes there on a sunny day, so expect heavy foot traffic!
For all its fame, Scotchman Peak is neither the tallest mountain in North Idaho nor in the Cabinets. It is, however, the tallest crag in Bonner County and in the Idaho Cabinets. Once home to a lookout tower, it boasts of phenomenal views across Lake Pend Oreille, the Montana Cabinets, and the Coeur d’Alene Mountains.
The southern trail system at Heyburn State Park was clearly designed with equine users in mind. It makes for good hiking nonetheless, particularly during the colder months when you have it to yourself. That said, it’s mostly in the woods, with just a few locations with views across the lake, making it more suitable for very hot days.
Virtually constant access to water, lots of shade, a phenomenal flora, and a comparatively easy climb make this a pretty summer hike, despite its low elevation. The lake is perfect for a quick dip, if you can take the ice-cold chill!
This 38-mile loop served as our inaugural hike into Montana’s Cabinet Wilderness Area. Magnificent views, picturesque alpine lakes, plenty of wildlife, and some of the best ridge hiking you can dream of all packed into a day of fun!
The Beach Trail extends from Outlet Bay to Kalispell Bay along Priest Lake’s western shore. It traces the lake’s shore closely, running in front of many summer homes and presenting fabulous views across the lake. The Woodrat trail, a neat mountain biking path through the woods, completes the loop.
Heavily logged in the early twentieth century, the Marble Creek region is now blanketed with a mix of fir, larch, cedar, spruce, and hemlock, with little evidence of the coveted giant white pine stands that once covered the hillsides. The route commences at Gold Center Creek, which drains into the Clearwater system, then crosses the divide and drops beneath Grandmother Mountain to Marble Creek, which empties into the St. Joe. The way back moves past a splash dam and remnants of a bygone logging camp.
Nestled in the forest near the Idaho-Montana state line, the Glidden Lakes are as popular with campers–if not more so–as Blossom and Revett further north. The hike follows the Idaho State Centennial trail for much of the way and tosses in excellent views into Montana and Idaho and the Lookout ski area.
Exceedingly popular with mountain bikers, the Mount Spokane Loop covers most ground within the state park without actually ascending Mount Spokane. From the park’s entrance, the trail climbs to a saddle southeast of Mount Spokane, criss-crosses the ski runs and chairlifts, then drops down the north side only to ascend anew for fantastic views from Day Mountain. A quick visit to Mount Kit Carson, a steep decline in dense forest above Burping Brook, and a short excursion to the south of Deadman Creek round out the hike.
Combining a well-shaded stroll along pristine Upper Priest Lake with a steep climb of 4,300-foot Plowboy Mountain, this loop is sure to satisfy all tastes. Watch out for bears, though we saw neither scat nor bruin, just plenty of ground squirrels darting between the ruins of the lookout tower atop Plowboy.
Once covered by huge stands of white pine, the Big Creek drainage was targeted by miners and loggers in the late 19th century. The 1910 Great Burn wreaked havoc, however, downing precious stands of giant pines and burning what was left, including more than two dozen firefighters who were temporarily interred on Cemetery Ridge. Today, much of the drainage is covered by brush, which attracts elk and wolves, though the pine and fir stands are improving. Much of the trail system is National Recreation Trail.
The Odessa to Lakeview Ranch trail dissects a 12,000-acre parcel of BLM land in the midst of Washington’s farmland. For a desert hike, it sure offered a lot of water, including some wading, and sparkles with wildflowers and wildlife in the right season. Translation: avoid summer heat at all cost!
Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park consists of 2,500 acres of arid rocky hills in Orange County, occupying what used to be part of a cattle operation started by Jose Serrano in 1842 and later purchased by Dwight Whiting. Convenient access from Portola Parkway makes the 17-mile trail system exceedingly popular with mountain bikers. This guide explores the eastern section along Serrano Creek, but you could extend the trail for another hour or two by exploring the western Red Rock Canyon sections as well.
Not to be confused with its namesake chasm, home to the Snake River, Hells Canyon is a comparatively tame canyon feeding Hayden Creek. The old trail, hugging the creek, is mossy and green and reminded us of Coal Creek on Graham Mountain, while the new, upper trail offers vast views across the canyon and as far as the Selkirks. Nicholas Ridge extends the hike further, with sweeping views of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains.
BLM’s Escure Ranch property offers an extensive trail network that not only surprises with wildlife–we saw deer, snakes, coyotes, pheasants, and hawks–, but also features impressive basalt rock formations that poke like giant squat mushrooms out of the ground. The icing on the cake is Towell Falls, where Rock Creek slides over multiple edges of a rock table. Definitely a must-do hike in spring and fall.
The 530-acre Dishman Hills Natural Area consists of a fir-studded rise dotted with ponds, granite rock formations, and several deep parallel ravines. It is almost entirely surrounded by residential housing and accessible from three sides. There are many loops, ranging from a short quarter-mile stroll to this 7-mile loop encompassing both the inner and outer trails.
McLellan is a 410-acre pine-covered property tucked into an elbow formed by the Spokane River. The slow and wide river is actually called Lake Spokane and abuts the conservation area on three sides. The four-to-five mile loop moves along a bluff overlooking the river, skirts a decaying log cabin, winds through thick stands of pine saplings, and includes a comparatively open spot on the river’s edge. The local white-tailed deer population is almost as dense as the pine saplings.
This 6-mile loop explores the northern portion of the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, meandering through open Ponderosa forest and marshy meadows, and taking a few side trips for closeups of area lakes.
The Scroggie Loop is a 3-mile track on the eastern bank of Fishtrap Lake, meandering through scrub steppe, deep coulees, thin Ponderosa stands, and windswept rock benches. It’s best hiked in spring and fall to avoid summer heat and rattlesnakes.
The Lakeshore Trail is the northernmost section of a trail stretching along virtually the entirety of Priest Lake’s western shore. Most of the lakeshore land in this section is publicly owned and thus the trail hugs the lake closely and offers numerous opportunities for camping.
Higgens Point is located at the terminus of the North Idaho Centennial Trail, jutting out into the east end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. While not very long, the hike is nonetheless an ideal leg stretcher if you’re just travelling through this area, especially during the colder months (November through February) when bald eagles feast on Kokanee salmon spawn. It’s a fun spot during the summer, too, with views across the water, a nearby osprey nest, a gravel-and-sand beach, picnic areas, and moorage.
Reports of the Canfield Mountain trail system would be incomplete without mentioning its cave. Located perhaps a mere 50 yards from the trailhead, it’s up a one-way trail (the wrong way) and thus we hiked this 3.5 mile loop to get there the long way!
The McKenzie Conservation area covers nearly 500 acres along the northwestern shore of Newman Lake. Host to deer, moose, raccoons and a plethora of birds, including eagles, the conservation area features around five miles of trails through cool cedar forest and along the marshy lakeshore.
Much of Priest Lake’s shoreline is privately owned; nevertheless, there is an almost continuous trail along the western shore, of which the Lakeview trail is but one section. It leads through mixed coniferous forest with occasional views across the lake to a quiet beach near Elkins resort. For even better views, trail #269 ascends Lakeview Mountain.
Wedged between Lake Pend Oreille and Cocolalla Lake, Blacktail Mountain perches almost 3,000 feet above the lakes, thereby virtually guaranteeing grandiose views in all directions. A bit of help from the weather gods is required, though, as we learned the hard way after climbing a trail switchbacking along the steep western flank of the mountain. The view was superb as long as you like the color white.
Maiden Rock is a bare granite knob overlooking Lake Pend Oreille. The trail meanders downhill for 2 miles through dense cedar forest alongside Maiden Creek. It terminates at a pebble-strewn beach with expansive views of the rock outcropping, across the water and south along Little Blacktail Mountain towards Evans Landing, a similar boat camping site.
Kamiak Butte is forested knob that rises some 1,000 feet out of the rolling Palouse wheat fields. The 300-acre property used to be a state park and is now a Whitman county park, offering a haven for wildlife, camping and hiking for humans, and spectacular views across the Palouse. The trail climbs to the peak, then follows the open ridge northbound (“Pine Ridge Trail”) and drops down to the trailhead through mixed coniferous forest. It is a National Recreation Trail.
The highest point in Kootenai County is right on Latour Peak, which means incredible views since the peak is pretty much bare. Steeply below it huddles Mirror Lake in a forest-ringed cirque and to the east are the remains of the Twin Crags lookout tower.
Connecting two former lookout tower sites, the relatively level ten-mile Shoshone Ridge loop dishes out phenomenal views across the Coeur d’Alene River drainage and towards the Idaho-Montana state line. Little Guard Lookout is still standing and on the National Historic Lookout Register. The first iteration was built in 1919, and today’s version is available for rent during the summer months.
The Four Mile Cove hike is a short boardwalk loop through a dense mangrove forest on Florida’s gulf coast with two short excursions out onto the Caloosahatchee River.
Towering more than 2,000 feet above Chelan, WA, Chelan Butte serves up sweeping views of Lake Chelan, a patchwork of apple orchards rimming the lakeshore, and the Columbia river on the eastern side. Lacking somewhat in taller vegetation, the mostly bald hill is artificially ornamented with a studding of sky-reaching antennas.
Hidden away in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains are two waterfalls along Yellow Dog Creek, the further cascading 25 feet over moss-covered rocks and logs.
Lake Wenatchee State Park covers almost 500 wooded acres along the eastern shore of Lake Wenatchee near the outlet. Open year-around, the park’s activities include camping (almost 100 sites), swimming, horseback riding (for rent), biking, kayaking (for rent), cross-country skiing, and, of course, hiking. This loop meanders through the northern section of the park, along the lake’s shore and a short distance next to the Wenatchee River.
This short trail outside Leavenworth, WA, follows an old pipeline that in the early 1900s carried water from the Tumwater dam through a tunnel and alongside the Wenatchee River to a powerhouse near today’s trailhead. The electricity generated there was needed to power a Great Northern Railway train through a Cascade Mountains tunnel (couldn’t use coal-powered trains because the smoke was deadly inside the tunnel).
Ancient Lakes is a cluster of at least 5 lakes, maybe more, depending on the season, huddling beneath sheer basalt cliffs at the end of a coulee near the Columbia River. A network of trails loops around the basin, climbs the basalt cliffs, and reaches down into the Columbia River.
A string of tree-lined alpine lakes cuddled below steep granite cliffs near the highest peaks of the Selkirk Crest; what’s not to like about that? This route visits three of the lakes, each one offering opportunities for camping and swimming, and with only 1000 feet of elevation gain the trail is ideal for a family trek.
A favorite among visitors to the American Selkirks, the Big Fisher Trail serves up two crystal-clear ice-cold alpine lakes, enormous granite outcroppings and boulders, and wildflower-strewn grassy meadows straddling Fisher Ridge. If you’re lucky you may even see one of the rare species that found a last refuge in this corner of Idaho, including grizzlies, woodland caribou, and wolverines.
The Pyramid Pass trail isn’t particularly spectacular on its own, but it’s an important connector to several trails leading to breathtaking alpine lakes in the northern American Selkirks, connecting the Long Canyon and Parker Ridge trails with those in the Trout Creek drainage.
Whether it’s lush creek bottoms smothered in devil’s club and ferns or sweeping views from high ridgetops, the Long Canyon – Parker Ridge loop promises to satisfy every hiker. Long Mountain Lake, cuddled in a picturesque granite cirque near the highest peaks of the American Selkirks, is merely the icing on the cake, as are the centuries-old cedar and hemlock trees in the only two unlogged drainages in the American Selkirks.
Granite Peak, literally a pile of granite rocks, serves up incredible all-around views of the Coeur d’Alene and Bitterroot Mountains as well as of Revett Lake at its feet. The hike could be a pleasant ridge hike, were it not for the dilapidated trail conditions that turn parts of the ascent into a serious bushwhack.
Two gorgeous alpine lakes and a bare-granite peak, it can’t get much better than that! A gently-ascending trail leads to Snow Lake, a cirque just north of the more popular Roman Nose basin. From there, a cross-country scramble leads steeply uphill through huckleberries to a ridge connecting to Bottleneck Peak and its sweeping views of the American Selkirks. The descent via Bottleneck Lake requires a bit of non-technical climbing and the thick shrubbery ringing the lakes might be something to remember for a while.
The Two Mouth trail climbs the side of a mountain and skirts the Slide Creek basin to a massive ridge overlooking the Two Mouth Creek headwaters. Crossing the ridge, you’ll find two breathtaking alpine lakes, one ringed with wildflowers, the other with smooth granite slabs that appear to be sliding right into the lake. Bring your camera and your swimsuit!
Cooks Peak stands guard, literally, over the divide between the Myrtle Creek and Snow Creek drainages. It is a former fire lookout, with the footings of the tower still intact and a decaying cabin rapidly disappearing. The bare peak serves up phenomenal views of the surrounding mountains, including Roman Nose and Myrtle Peak, and the Kootenai River Valley.
Just like the Myrtle Creek drainage to the north, the Snow Creek drainage also features a waterfall. Two, in fact, not counting the gorge immediately below the upper falls. It’s not even a two-mile hike to both falls on a well-cared-for packed-dirt path shaded by giant pines and western red cedar.
Easily identifiable on clear days from as far away as Myrtle Peak or Priest Lake, the distinct shape of Chimney Rock makes this one of the most popular hikes in the southern Selkirk Crest. The views are superb and if you’re into rock climbing you won’t want to miss the technical climb to the pinnacle.
The St. Regis Lakes are Montana’s twins of Idaho’s Stevens Lakes, nestled close together just across the stateline. This trail conveniently starts out near the Lookout Recreation Area and visits both lakes, then climbs an avalanche chute to the stateline and its sweeping views. It follows the stateline eastwards, up an unnamed knob and steeply downhill into the Copper Lake basin. An easy hike along Copper Gulch and the Nor-Pac trail completes the loop.
The Pulaski Tunnel trail is a great history lesson, chronicling the events of the 1910 Great Burn that consumed 3 million acres across the northwest in only 2 days. Just a half-inch of rain had fallen in June of that year, followed by none in July and by August 1,400 fires were burning across the western states. On August 20th, hurricane-force winds fanned the flames into an inferno. A crew of 45 men, led by Ed Pulaski, fought the fires near West Fork Placer Creek, some 10 miles southwest of Wallace. Pulaski’s crew retreated towards Wallace, but was trapped by a newly sprung-up fire. As a last resort, Pulaski ordered his men and two horses into the Nicholson adit, a small prospecting mine only 250 feet deep. Miraculously, all but 6 of the men survived.
The Mullan Loop is an easy half-mile interpretive trail showcasing parts of the old Mullan wagon road, built in the 1860s to connect Fort Benton with Fort Walla Walla, and newer Highway 10, built in 1916.
Located in the northwestern-most corner of North Idaho, the West Fork Mountain trail jumps from one lookout tower site to another, visits a string of picturesque mountain lakes, and plunges through old-growth forest and huckleberry-studded hillsides. If you’re lucky you get to spend a night at the magical West Fork Cabin, originally built in the 1930s to house smokechasers, but burnt down in 1998. It was rebuilt true to its original and is available on a first-come-first-served basis. Take good care of it!
Perhaps annexed by Canada, Triangulation Smith is the last and lowest “peak” of the Smith ridge. A pack trail, dating back to the days when Triangulation Smith featured a fire lookout tower, meanders along the ridge, plows through extensive patches of rhododendron and beargrass and skirts a cliff overlooking Canyon Lake.
Although only 3 miles one way, the Cutoff Peak trail nonetheless dishes out all the makings of a great alpine hike. The hike up is pleasant among beargrass, huckleberries and alpine fir, with frequent filtered views of the Parker and Smith ranges. At the top awaits an old log cabin, phenomenal views of the entire Parker range, line-of-sight of neighboring lookout tower sites, including Shorty Peak and Red Top, and the distant silhouette of the southern Selkirk Crest. A true gem!
Situated just a few miles south of the Canadian border, the Shorty Peak lookout tower perches atop 6,500-foot Shorty Peak with commanding 360-degree views across the northernmost parts of the American Selkirks, well into Canada, and eastwards across the Kootenai River Valley and the Purcells. It was refubished in 2005 and can be rented during the summer months.
The Coeur d’Alene River National Recreation Trail (#20) is easily one of the nicest hikes in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains. It follows the playfully-meandering North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River for about 15 miles through coniferous forest and conveniently connects to area trails to create this 26 mile loop.
Harrison Lake is the quintessential alpine lake, cuddled in a perfect cirque, ringed on three sides by steep mountains, and overshadowed by hook-nosed Harrison Peak. The longer Myrtle Creek route ascends Harrison’s lower flanks, then traverses a basin beneath Harrison Peak and meets up with the shorter Pack River trail just before converging onto the lake.
Located in the heart of the Selkirk Crest, Myrtle Peak towers over Myrtle Lake, a pleasant alpine lake stocked with cutthroat trout. The mountaintop, once home to a fire lookout tower, serves up commanding views across the mountain range, including Kent and Harrison lakes to the south.
Much of the Blossom Lakes loop is in fact part of the Idaho State Centennial trail, a footpath stretching from Canada all the way to Nevada. Besides being rich in lakes and scenery, the area is also rich in history, as Thompson Pass served as the gateway from the railroad station in Thompson Falls to then-thriving Gold Rush town Murray. Today’s Murray is little more than a ghost town, hidden behind enormous dredge tailing piles lining Prichard Creek.
The trailhead to Myrtle Creek Falls is located just across the road from the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. A gentle trail switchbacks less than half a mile uphill to a viewpoint looking straight into the gorge and the cascading waterfalls.
Located in the heart of North Idaho’s Gold Rush country, Revett Lake is a popular weekend destination for campers and anglers. The shortest route is only about 3 miles roundtrip, traversing extensive talus slopes and crossing a frolicking small creek, shaded on and off by the typical coniferous canopy.
This loop visits three picturesque mountain lakes in this northeastern corner of Idaho. It includes the “Moose Loop”, which veers off to the south for a stop at Blacktail Lake, the smallest of the three, then ascends Moose Mountain, 6,500 ft, with commanding views across the cabinets. The trail then drops down the eastern slopes towards sprawling and marshy Moose Lake. From Moose Lake it’s a just 3-mile sidetrip to the Lake Estelle cirque.
Lake Estelle and Gem Lake are only a bit over a mile apart, but lack a connecting trail. Both lakes are at an altitude just under 5,800 feet, divided by a saddle at 6,400 feet. From the Estelle side, this route ascends an expansive talus slope, then steeply climbs a grassy, open hillside inhabited by ground squirrels. The Gem Lake side is heavily overgrown but less steep, with the top half comparatively easy and the bottom half a much more tedious bushwhack.
Char Falls is more of a stroll than a hike, but if you happen to be hiking in this remote area of the Idaho Cabinets you may as well pay a visit. You’ll find a nice cool spot on the rock slabs amidst the upper falls, and a short scramble brings the not-so-faint-of-heart to the bottom of the 50-foot main waterfall.
Trail #64 is a short hike mostly downhill through a mixed coniferous forest to a gravel-and-sand beach on Lake Pend Oreille. The trail is well-shaded yet still provides ample unobstructed views across the lake towards the Monarch ridge and north towards Maiden Rock and the distant Cabinets. The beach is the perfect spot for a quick swim, with Lake Pend Oreille cold even on a hot day, or an overnight camp stay.
The Monarchs consist of a forested ridge rising a steep 3,000 feet out of Lake Pend Oreille’s eastern arm. Starting from Johnson Saddle, trail #69 hops along the ridge, climbing first an unnamed viewless peak above 5,000 feet, then Green Monarch Mountain with spectacular views across the lake, the Cabinets, and into the Selkirks. The last hop is Schafer Peak, which once served as a fire-lookout, and provides views southwards towards massive Packsaddle Mountain.
Nelson Peak is located just east of Avery, population 25, sandwiched between the St. Joe River and its north fork. The Milwaukee Railroad put Avery on the map in the early twentieth century by routing a railroad through Montana and down the North Fork St. Joe and St. Joe river valleys. The North Fork section is now a rail-to-trail called Route of the Hiawatha. From its beginning at the St. Joe River, the Nelson Ridge trail climbs the eastern flank of Nelson Peak, traverses the southeastern face below the peak, drops down the western side along Telichpah Creek and returns to the trailhead following the St. Joe North Fork. It is a National Recreation Trail.
The Chipmunk Rapids National Recreation Trail’s gentle grade makes for an ideal cross-country skiing loop during the winter months. It is inviting for a hike even in summer, particularly the sections along Kaniksu Marsh and the Priest River. To top it off, we added a short bushwhacking excursion to Mission Falls on the Upper West Branch of the Priest River.
The Deep Creek Canyon loop trail winds around the northern section of Riverside State Park without actually crossing Deep Creek. Open Ponderosa forests, fields of wildflowers, sweeping views from the edge of basalt cliffs, and the cooling waters of Deep Creek are just some of the highlights of this loop. The return leads through a moonscape of basalt talus and sky-piercing spires and along the smooth flow of the Spokane River.
The Independence Creek National Recreation Trail uses an old wagon trail roadbed that connected loggers and miners in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains to Lake Pend Oreille in the olden days. The loop starts at the eastern trailhead and hugs the creek closely to Ermine Ridge, where it hops onto that ridge and climbs to Faset Peak, site of a former fire-lookout tower. For the return trip the path drops down along the southwestern flank of Faset, riding a ridge separating the Declaration Creek and Surprise Creek draws. It reunites with Independence Creek on the approach to Snowbird Meadows and follows the creek all the way back to the trailhead.
Bead Lake is a hidden marvel, stashed away in this northeast corner of Washington state. Trail 127 traces the eastern shore of the lake beneath a cooling canopy of cedars and pines to West Lodge Creek, then presents the option to hop onto trail 127.1, a spur trail leading to a secluded bay perfect for a cooling dip. For the most part, the hillside drops steeply into the lake, but a number of flat places are available for camping, making this ideal for a family backpacking trip.
The Slavin Conservation Area covers 628 acres of Ponderosa forest, rolling meadows, marshes and a lengthy pond much treasured by waterfowl. The site of the pond and wetlands was in fact farmland for most of the past century, drained by early settlers (you won’t find the pond on the older USGS maps), and now restored to provide wildlife habitat. The trail circumnavigates most of the lake, but skips the last quarter due to heavy flooding. Instead, it loops back through fir and pine forest in a figure-eight loop and climbs the bluffs along the eastern shore for a bird’s eye view of the area.
Located about 20 miles north of Moscow, ID, McCroskey State Park stretches along Skyline Ridge to the Washington state line. The land was donated to the Park Service by Virgil McCroskey in 1955. Worried about maintenance cost, the state of Idaho only accepted on the condition that McCroskey maintain the land at his own expense for 15 years. He accepted, maintained the property for 15 years, and died a few weeks later at age 93. The park is named after his mother, Mary Minerva McCroskey. The loop trail ascends the southeastern flank of Mineral Mountain in the easternmost section of the park, then follows the ridge to Mission Mountain, and completes the loop by returning via the Korth Trail, a logging road that contours along the side of the ridge.
The Mickinnick trail climbs the southeastern flank of Bald Mountain just north of Sandpoint. The name is a distillate of Mick and Nicky Pleass, who donated the mountainside to the forest service to create this trail, and the Kinnickinnick plant, a low-growing native evergreen. The trail consists of a series of switchbacks that ascends the mountainside in just over three miles, with about 2,000 feet of total elevation gain. It terminates at a large rocky knoll, offering incredible views of Lake Pend Oreille, the Cabinet Mountains, and prominent Gold Hill to the south.
Heyburn State Park on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s southern tip has a lot to offer, be it hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, camping, you name it! It’s the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest, carved out of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in 1908. The figure-eight loop hike combines a number of popular trails in the northern section, including Lakeshore, Plummer Creek, Indian Cliffs, Shoeffler Butte, Whitetail, and a piece of the Appaloosa equestrian trail.
The Kingfisher Trail hugs the southeastern shore of Lake Lowell in Idaho’s Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge for about three miles, then adds another mile alongside the New York Canal. The refuge, created more than 100 years ago, includes over 10,000 acres and provides crucial habitat for wildlife, especially birds. We saw lots of mallards and geese and a little bunny.
The Deer Flat Reservoir near Boise (aka Lake Lowell) was built from 1906 to 1909 to irrigate the surrounding countryside. Lacking any local water sources, it is fed by the 40-mile New York canal (so-named because New York investors financed it), which draws water from the Boise River. The trail leads to an observation hill above the lake with good views across the reservoir, and then crosses the dam to Lake Lowell Park.
Mount Spokane offers an extensive web of snowshoe and hiking trails. The Mount Spokane loop starts at the very bottom of the park and meanders through evergreen forests to the grandiose vistas atop Mount Spokane with a little side trip to Mount Kit Carson and its splendid views to the north and west.
Green Bay is a minute campground on a picture-book pebble beach, clinging to the northern-most edge of the Kaniksu National Forest on Lake Pend Oreille’s west side. It is the perfect starting point for a vista-filled hike along the bluffs overlooking Lake Pend Oreille and a visit to two charming lakes hidden in the woods.
Gold Hill lies just south of Sandpoint, across Lake Pend Oreille. Much of the ascent is densely forested, but the hill’s higher reaches boast of majestic views of the northern portion of the lake, the Cabinet and Selkirk mountains, and the city of Sandpoint. The incline is modest, as 52 switchbacks make short work of the 1,500-foot ascent.
Situated northwest of Spokane, Riverside State Park stretches along the Spokane River and covers some 14,000 acres. It’s Washington’s largest, beating Mount Spokane by a few square feet. Trail 25, so-named due to it’s 25-mile length, closely hugs the river to the Nine-Mile area, then loops back atop the high bluffs and along the base of the basalt cliffs overlooking the park.
This figure-eight loop hike along Hog Lake and Fishtrap Lake explores the activities of the settlers in this area, the Hog Creek waterfall and numerous ponds and wetlands teeming with birds and aquatic life.
Palisades Park is on the west side of the Spokane River, just south of Riverside State Park. Its 700 acres feature the same basalt rock formations that the state park is known for, as well as extensive views of downtown Spokane. To top it off, Indian Canyon Creek boasts an impressive waterfall, viewable from top and bottom.
Named after French-Canadian voyageur and ferry operator Antoine Plante, the Antoine Peak Conservation Area was established in 2007 and covers more than 1,000 acres. The loop trail ascends the almost 3,400-foot peak, offering sweeping views across the Spokane valley, Liberty Lake, and the distant Selkirk and Coeur d’Alene Mountains.
Ideal for skate skiing, the Tripp’s Knob Loop is a fun excursion along a lesser-traveled trail in Mount Spokane’s Nordic Ski Park. It leads to a cozy, little-used warming hut on Tripp’s Knob.
Established in 1937, the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a 17,000-acre sanctuary for migratory birds, located south of Cheney, WA. The loop hike stretches across the southern half of the public section, an area of scattered lakes, seasonal wetlands, open grasslands, and Ponderosa forests.
At just under six miles and less than 400 feet of cumulative elevation gain, the Shadow Mountain loop is an easy beginner’s trail in Mount Spokane’s Nordic ski area. For much of its length, the trail winds along a forested ridge, then curls around Shadow Mountain, which opens up a broad vista of the Twin Lakes area.
Of the many ways to ascend Canfield Mountain, the East Flank is perhaps the least pleasant. That’s because the entire hillside is riddled with a web of trails used, mostly, by dirtbikes. During the winter months, however, the absence of motor and mountain bikes makes this an excellent snowshoe route close to town.
The Mount Spokane Perimeter Loop follows the outermost trails of the Mount Spokane Nordic Ski Area in a counterclockwise fashion. The tour extends just over 16 miles and includes 1,300 feet of elevation gain on trails groomed for tracked or skate skiing.
The Quartz Mountain Lookout Loop offers perhaps the best views of any trail in the Mount Spokane Nordic Ski area. On excellently-groomed trails, the 5.5-mile loop winds through pine and fir forest to the base of Quartz Mountain. Then it’s either skiing through virgin snow or snowshoeing up to the former fire lookout tower and its sweeping 360-degree views.
At an elevation exceeding 4000 feet, Mount Spokane offers prime conditions for cross-country skiing. Groomed trails exceed 30 miles and include two warming huts. Grooming is typically exceptional and accommodates classic (track) as well as skate skiing. Plus, a patrol is on duty, just in case. In short, Mount Spokane offers some of the best cross-country skiing in the Inland Northwest.
Cougar Bay is a conservation effort, with the Nature Conservancy and the BLM contributing two almost-adjacent parcels of land. The area is particularly well-known for a large variety of waterfowl, nesting ospreys, beaver, and otters. The trail winds 3+ miles along a wetland and through forest to a lookout platform with views of Coeur d’Alene, the lake, and the Spokane river.
The Eagle Hut Loop is part of Fourth of July Pass’s winter recreation area. The 8.5-mile loop leads along both groomed and ungroomed trails and culminates at a back-country warming hut. The A-frame, built by Ian Truscott in 2007 as an Eagle Scout project, comes complete with benches and a small wood-fired stove.
Glenrose Cliff is a new addition to the Dishman Hills area in Spokane, situated in between the Dishman Hills and Iller Creek conservation areas. The trail reaches a highpoint early on, then crosses an open ridge and drops lower and curls around the mountain to end near granite rock formations with commanding views of the Spokane valley.
Jeanette’ Jaunt is an excellent showshoe trail for beginners, following an old logging road along the side of a mountain paralleling I-90. For most of the trail the incline is negligible, signage is superb, trail maintenance is much improved, and heavy usage turns much of the trail into easily-traversed packed snow.
At just over 3000 feet altitude, snow-sufficiency can be hit or miss at the Fourth of July Recreation area. When there’s enough, this is a convenient and popular cross-country skiing and snowshoeing area, located just minutes from I-90. The trail system south of the freeway is entirely reserved for non-motorized recreation, and some of the trails are groomed for tracked cross-country skiing.
Lake Darling is one of five lakes situated in this northwest corner of the Cabinet Mountains. A pleasant trail leads through an evergreen forest of fir and spruce to the lake, which comes with a pretty campsite and a good chance of seeing a moose. The ascent to the Pend Oreille Divide opens up views of the Selkirks, Cabinets and Purcells, while the return trip through alpine meadows high above Gordon Creek rounds out the loop.
East Canfield Butte is West Canfield’s less famous and less tall twin. Access is from the Fernan trailhead, which is certainly less used and a bit more tranquil, especially during the winter months, when dirtbikes are absent. It is fairly densely forested, though, with limited views. If the weather cooperates a short sidetrip to West Canfield is almost a necessity.
Iller Creek is one of the most interesting loop hikes close to Spokane, leading to spectacular outlooks across the Spokane valley and the Selkirks to the north and only a short distance later the sprawling Palouse to the south. The trail continues to the Rocks of Sharon (Big Rock) area, featuring oversized boulders popular with rock climbers. On the return trip there’s the option to turn it into a figure-eight loop and ascend the flank of Tower Mountain.
The Saltese Uplands are a grossy knob situated in the southernmost reaches of the Selkirks. Located between Spokane and Liberty Lake, the conservation area offers generous views of urban sprawl and the remnants of the Saltese Flats, a marshland drained in favor of Timothy hay in the late 1800s.
Farragut State Park sits at the southern tip of Lake Pend Oreille on the the site of a former naval training station. During World War II more than 293,000 soldiers received basic training here, and at its peak the base had a population of 55,000 people. After the war, the site served second duty as a college, which eventually floundered. The land was turned over to the state of Idaho in 1949 and became a state park in 1965. Few of the original structures remain; what does remain, however, is miles and miles of superb hiking trails.
Round Lake is a small state park about 10 miles south of Sandpoint. It features 3 hiking trails of which the Trapper trail is by far the most picturesque, as it closely skirts the lake’s shore. Along the trail are frequent signs of beaver activity, including felled trees, lodges, and dams. There’s a good chance other wildlife, such as squirrels, turtles, deer, and many kinds of water fowl can be spotted, too.
Of the many ways to ascend Canfield Mountain, the north side is by far the nicest. Most of the trail is closed to motorized traffic, the ascent is gradual via liberal use of switchbacks, and the route allows for views of Tottens Pond, Hayden Lake and Lake Coeur d’Alene.
English Point is a small enclave of National Forest land on the west side of Hayden Lake. As such, it is surrounded by residential housing and offers over five miles of hiking trails close to the city of Hayden. Though somewhat lacking in either a spectacular destination or interesting sights along the way, the trail is a pleasant walk in the woods close to the city. It is a National Recreation Trail.
The Killarney Mountain trail isn’t much of a hike during summer months, since most of the route follows well-established forest service roads. During the winter months, however, the area south of the freeway is off-limits to motorized traffic, resulting in an snowshoe trek par excellence!
Great hiking trails lead to outstanding destinations. Spectacular pinnacles with 360-degree views. Hidden cirque lakes nestled high up in the mountains, ringed by majestic larches against azure blue skies. Roaring waterfalls, spraying mist and projecting full-spectrum rainbows. Other trails don’t lead to anywhere particular at all. They surprise the visitor with simple things along the way, like moss-covered riverbanks, gurgling, frolicking brooks, fungi sprouting en masse on decaying logs, inviting meadows, out of which a rabbit suddenly darts and quickly disappears in the undergrowth, a dollop of mountain elixir, trapped in the funnel of a bright-orange mushroom, a jumble of logs, splintered and entwined, blocking the course of a creek, a cluster of old-growth cedars, grown together for decades in closer and closer embrace, an uprooted tree-giant, its lichen-covered roots reaching skywards like begging hands, the sudden flapping of wings and quick flash of an airborne grouse, precious glens, lavishly carpeted with succulent ferns, mounds of sawdust and a checkerboard of holes in a tree, relentlessly pecked and gnawed, the sun piercing a cloudy sky and illuminating the tattered curtain of old man’s beard clinging to the pines.
Marie Creek trail #241 definitely is in that latter category: The journey becomes the destination.