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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once a wagon trail linking mining and logging camps to Lake Pend Oreille, Independence Creek National Recreation Trail #22 drops from Weber Saddle to its namesake creek and follows it closely through pristine forest and flower-rich meadows. Little evidence is left of the 1910 Great Burn, which turned much of the region into smoke and ashes. Today’s trail is shaded by Douglas fir and pine, clear water is waiting to be scooped up, and wildlife abounds, including whitetailed deer, elk, black bear, moose, cougars, and a plethora of birds.
Named after Isaac Stevens, first governor of the Washington Territory in the mid-1800s, Stevens Peak is the tallest mountain in this area of pristine alpine lakes, jagged crags, and stunning waterfalls. Stevens Lake and Lone Lake are exceedingly popular weekend destinations for hikers and campers, not least due to their close proximity to Mullan and I-90.
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.
The Blue Creek Bay trail combines an extensive network of former logging roads into a roughly six-mile lollipop loop. The trail is well-maintained, easy to hike, and mostly double-track. The forest is more open and interspersed with meadows than most in the inland northwest, making this more suitable for cooler weather than the very shaded Mineral Ridge trail across Lake Coeur d’Alene.
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.
The Chilco Mountains offer incredible all-around views of Lake Pend Oreille and the Purcell Mountains to the north, the Rathdrum Prairie and the Selkirk range to the west, Hayden Lake to the south, and the bluish haze of the Coeur d’Alene and Cabinet Mountains to the east.
A seventeen-mile loop hike through lush canyon bottoms and alpine meadows to the top of Graham Mountain, Idaho.