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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.