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.
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!
Beauty Bay Overlook is a quick leg stretcher with decent views across Beauty Bay. It is not nearly as dramatic, or popular, as nearby Mineral Ridge, but give it a try anyway: it’s only half a mile and features excellent picnic facilities.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Mullan Loop is an easy half-mile interpretive trail showcasing parts of the old Mullan wagon road, built in the 1860s to connect Fort Benton with Fort Walla Walla, and newer Highway 10, built in 1916.
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.
Much of the Blossom Lakes loop is in fact part of the Idaho State Centennial trail, a footpath stretching from Canada all the way to Nevada. Besides being rich in lakes and scenery, the area is also rich in history, as Thompson Pass served as the gateway from the railroad station in Thompson Falls to then-thriving Gold Rush town Murray. Today’s Murray is little more than a ghost town, hidden behind enormous dredge tailing piles lining Prichard Creek.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of the many ways to ascend Canfield Mountain, the East Flank is perhaps the least pleasant. That’s because the entire hillside is riddled with a web of trails used, mostly, by dirtbikes. During the winter months, however, the absence of motor and mountain bikes makes this an excellent snowshoe route close to town.
The Eagle Hut Loop is part of Fourth of July Pass’s winter recreation area. The 8.5-mile loop leads along both groomed and ungroomed trails and culminates at a back-country warming hut. The A-frame, built by Ian Truscott in 2007 as an Eagle Scout project, comes complete with benches and a small wood-fired stove.
Jeanette’ Jaunt is an excellent showshoe trail for beginners, following an old logging road along the side of a mountain paralleling I-90. For most of the trail the incline is negligible, signage is superb, trail maintenance is much improved, and heavy usage turns much of the trail into easily-traversed packed snow.
At just over 3000 feet altitude, snow-sufficiency can be hit or miss at the Fourth of July Recreation area. When there’s enough, this is a convenient and popular cross-country skiing and snowshoeing area, located just minutes from I-90. The trail system south of the freeway is entirely reserved for non-motorized recreation, and some of the trails are groomed for tracked cross-country skiing.
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.
East Canfield Butte is West Canfield’s less famous and less tall twin. Access is from the Fernan trailhead, which is certainly less used and a bit more tranquil, especially during the winter months, when dirtbikes are absent. It is fairly densely forested, though, with limited views. If the weather cooperates a short sidetrip to West Canfield is almost a necessity.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
A seventeen-mile loop hike through lush canyon bottoms and alpine meadows to the top of Graham Mountain, Idaho.