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.
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.
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.
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. Magnificient 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).
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.
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.