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.
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.
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 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.
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.