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!
The hike to Leigh Lake is short but steep and leads right into the heart of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness to a lake huddling beneath the near-vertical cliffs of Snowshoe Peak, the highest mountain in the Cabinets. The dramatic setting and the short hike ensure that you will have plenty of company: It’s the most popular hike in the Wilderness.
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.
Flower Point is an old lookout tower site easily accessible via a singletrack from the Cabinet’s Flower Creek trailhead on the edge of the northeastern Cabinet Wilderness. The lake is an eye-pleasing but marshy affair where you likely might find moose and bugs. This being October, we found neither.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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…
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!
Bramlet Lake promises a nice, quick hike to a beautiful alpine lake lying just barely inside the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. Access is relatively easy, but visitors are few, making it that much more appealing. The only “population” we encountered was a couple of cougars.
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.
With fabulous views deep into the Montana Cabinets, Engle Lake makes a grandiose destination at 7,500 feet. Add in a bit of camping at fantastic and pristine Engle Lake, and you have the makings for a perfect weekend, whether you like the long slug up from McKay Creek or prefer the drive to the 5000-foot Orr Creek trailhead.
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!
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.
The Mineral Ridge trail is one of our favorite hikes, but it’s rather short and we’ve always wondered whether it’s possible to extend it beyond the Wilson and Lost Man spurs. This tour explores the Coeur d’Alene National Forest out to Elk Mountain, a former lookout tower site destroyed in 1957.
Goat Mountain stands in the shadow of taller Scotchman Peak, but the views from the top are just as superb compared to its more well-hiked brother. The ascent is steep, though, gaining over 4,000 feet over 4 miles and you’ll likely have the peak to yourself. We sure did.
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.
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!
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.
Little Ibex Lake sits amidst a dramatic surrounding of tall peaks near the highest points of the Cabinets, with excellent views of Snowshoe Peak, the highest point. The lake is fed by permanent snow fields, remnants of what once was Ibex Glacier. Be prepared for a difficult slug uphill, though, as the steep trail is littered with blowdown, and ferocious hoards of mosquitoes await anyone or anything with an ounce of blood.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Granite Peak, literally a pile of granite rocks, serves up incredible all-around views of the Coeur d’Alene and Bitterroot Mountains as well as of Revett Lake at its feet. The hike could be a pleasant ridge hike, were it not for the dilapidated trail conditions that turn parts of the ascent into a serious bushwhack.
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.
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.
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.
Located in the heart of North Idaho’s Gold Rush country, Revett Lake is a popular weekend destination for campers and anglers. The shortest route is only about 3 miles roundtrip, traversing extensive talus slopes and crossing a frolicking small creek, shaded on and off by the typical coniferous canopy.
Lake Estelle and Gem Lake are only a bit over a mile apart, but lack a connecting trail. Both lakes are at an altitude just under 5,800 feet, divided by a saddle at 6,400 feet. From the Estelle side, this route ascends an expansive talus slope, then steeply climbs a grassy, open hillside inhabited by ground squirrels. The Gem Lake side is heavily overgrown but less steep, with the top half comparatively easy and the bottom half a much more tedious bushwhack.
Char Falls is more of a stroll than a hike, but if you happen to be hiking in this remote area of the Idaho Cabinets you may as well pay a visit. You’ll find a nice cool spot on the rock slabs amidst the upper falls, and a short scramble brings the not-so-faint-of-heart to the bottom of the 50-foot main waterfall.
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 Monarchs consist of a forested ridge rising a steep 3,000 feet out of Lake Pend Oreille’s eastern arm. Starting from Johnson Saddle, trail #69 hops along the ridge, climbing first an unnamed viewless peak above 5,000 feet, then Green Monarch Mountain with spectacular views across the lake, the Cabinets, and into the Selkirks. The last hop is Schafer Peak, which once served as a fire-lookout, and provides views southwards towards massive Packsaddle Mountain.
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.
The Kingfisher Trail hugs the southeastern shore of Lake Lowell in Idaho’s Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge for about three miles, then adds another mile alongside the New York Canal. The refuge, created more than 100 years ago, includes over 10,000 acres and provides crucial habitat for wildlife, especially birds. We saw lots of mallards and geese and a little bunny.
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.
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.
Of the many ways to ascend Canfield Mountain, the north side is by far the nicest. Most of the trail is closed to motorized traffic, the ascent is gradual via liberal use of switchbacks, and the route allows for views of Tottens Pond, Hayden Lake and Lake Coeur d’Alene.
The Killarney Mountain trail isn’t much of a hike during summer months, since most of the route follows well-established forest service roads. During the winter months, however, the area south of the freeway is off-limits to motorized traffic, resulting in an snowshoe trek par excellence!
Gem Lake fully lives up to its name, cradled in a bowl opposite the Pend Oreille Divide of the Cabinet Mountains northeast of Sandpoint. Though the hike is short, the elevation gain is substantial, and most of that is up in a straight line with few alleviating switchbacks.
If you’re looking for grand views, a serious workout, a well-shaded trail, lots of wildlife, and a trailhead right in the city, then look no further than Canfield Mountain. Accessible from Mountain Vista Drive, the trail covers the 1,900-foot climb in just 1.8 miles and rewards you with views of Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, and the Rathdrum Prairie all the way out to Spokane.
A fairly steep hike on a well-groomed trail, shaded by the coniferous tree canopy so typical for the Coeur d’Alene Mountains.
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.