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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Contrary to its name, the Liberty Lake loop trail does not actually circumvent the lake. Rather, it follows meandering Liberty Creek closely, at first through marshes, then deciduous woods, and finally extensive patches of towering Western red cedar. The trail then steeply ascends a flank of Mica Peak and dazzles the hiker with a series of waterfalls slipping and sliding over smooth rock slabs. While views are limited mostly to the Idaho mountains, the trail’s moss-covered riverbanks, beaver-built marshes, gurgling waterfalls, and varied wildlife make this a popular destination.
Azure-blue skies. Emerald-green slopes. Towering pines. Fields of bracken fern. Lazily meandering rivers. Lush moss-covered tributaries. Steep talus slopes. Picturesque alpine lakes. Tumbling rapids and waterfalls. Lichen-covered logs. Endless stretches of huckleberries and beargrass. No wonder the St. Joe was designated a Wild & Scenic River.
Combining the Caribou Ridge National Recreation Trail with forest service trails 227, 257, and 258, this hike forms a loop of just under 20 miles. While views are limited, the hike is pleasant all around, well-maintained, and offers a rewarding combination of scenery, altitude, vegetation, and wildlife.
A seventeen-mile loop hike through lush canyon bottoms and alpine meadows to the top of Graham Mountain, Idaho.