Chilco 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.
  • Coeur d’Alene Mountains
3.6 out of 5
Moderate (some uphill hiking)
11.0 miles
3:38 hours moving time (Hiking)
Elevation Gain
2,843 feet
High Point
5,657 feet (South Chilco Mountain)
Low Point
4,164 feet (trailhead)
  • Mountain
  • Meadow
  • Outing Type
  • Daytrip
  • Trail Type
  • Out-and-back
  • Trailbed
    Packed dirt, some talus
  • None
  • Camping
    • The best spot is likely the ridge, just before the fork to the North Chilco/South Chilco mountains.
    • North Chilco also offers a number of possibilities, but is windy.
    • There is a nice spot in the saddle between the two mountains, albeit close to the path.
    • Another possibility is just before South Chilco, on the left side of the trail.
    • Lastly, there are a number of potential sites near the location of the former lookout tower south of South Chilco (particularly in the trees at the south end as this also tends to be windy).
    • All sites are dry.
    • Recently maintained. Only had to climb over two trees.
  • Coeur d’Alene National Forest
  • Status
  • National Recreation Trail
  • Maps
  • Bayview
  • Spades Mountain
  • Fees & Permits
  • None required
  • (None required)
    Open To
  • Hikers
  • Dogs
  • Horses
  • Mountain Bikers
  • (non-motorized)
    From US-95 take the Bunco exit (aka Silverwood exit) and continue on Bunco road. At some point you have to take a left, because Bunco turns into Nunn road. Continue on Bunco into the National Forest, at which point the road surface turns to gravel (well graded, but some wash boarding). Continue for about 6 or 7 miles to a fork in the road. The trailhead is to your immediate right, going steeply uphill. It is marked.
    May – November
      September 11, 2016

      The Chilco mountains are really a series of peaks of a range marking the westernmost reaches of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains. The trail starts out on a decommissioned logging road, which immediately climbs the heavily forested flank of Chilco Mountain. Eventually a singletrack breaks away from the old road and here the ascent begins in earnest. Belying an incredible jumble of fallen logs, the tree cover remains dense and intact, and the forest floor is almost barren. There is a thriving squirrel population, however, which I sent flying into the trees while the Scribe, huffing and puffing, crept up the mountain at a snail’s pace. In the Scribe’s words, the trail stretches steeply uphill in a never-ending series of brutal, bone-and-muscle-crushing switchbacks. For clarification, there were about seven switchbacks, and they were easy and fun! Not to mention the squirrels! Anyway, we reached the ridge in about half an hour, consisting of a lot of coaxing and encouragement, and came upon a picturesque campsite, complete with fire rings and a perfect view to the west of the Rathdrum Prairie and the Selkirk range. Right afterwards, the trail split, with the left spur leading up to North Chilco Mountain in about a quarter mile and the right to South Chilco Mountain in about 3.5 miles. We took the left, where the forest receded and crossed a wide talus slope. Here we met a couple of small dogs, which I thoroughly inspected while the Scribe gabbed on and on. The talus slope then gave way to a grassy knoll, more rocks, and wooden and ferrous remains of an old lookout tower. The Scribe proceeded to photograph and document, while I scuttled here and there and sure enough corralled another dog!

      Soon we were on our way again, backtracking to the trail fork and taking the path to South Chilco. The trail dropped in a couple of switchbacks along the western flank of North Chilco, crossed another talus slope with some mighty nice aspens and clear views of the Selkirks in the distance, then ascended the ridge between the two mountains. The trail continued to decline down towards the saddle, with the coniferous cover overhead changing to larch and Douglas fir. There is a handy campsite in the saddle, complete with log stools, albeit close to the trail. From the saddle onward, the original, murderous, straight-up-the-mountain-come-what-may route was replaced with a meandering, gradually-rising, nicely-cushioned trail that climbed the east face of South Chilco in a number of switchbacks. What a pleasure to hike in the woods without the Scribe’s constant moaning and groaning! And we made good time, since the huckleberries were long gone and the arid ridge offered few of the fleshy fungi that the Scribe so pedantically loves to photographically catalog. In fact, he had to make do with but one miserably shriveled specimen of the magical variety Crimson Crown, pictured here.

      In no time did we reach the South Chilco ridge, which the trail followed quite diligently, offering filtered views of the Rathdrum Prairie to the right and wave upon wave of Coeur d’Alene Mountains on the left. At one point before reaching South Chilco, an idyllic little campsite opened up to the left, with a sweeping view of the Coeur d’Alene and Cabinet mountains (which, as you can see, I looked at extensively and longingly).

      The trail along the ridge pleasantly alternates between dense forest and minute glades carpeted with beargrass and huckleberry bushes. The South Chilco peak, as a matter of fact, was a bit of a letdown, as it consisted of one of these meadows, providing only filtered views of the surrounding mountains. We moved on, following the ridge for perhaps another quarter-mile until the forest opened up completely onto a rocky knoll, site of a long-vanished lookout tower, and splendid views, including Hayden Lake. Taking pictures left, right, north, and south, top and bottom, the Scribe suddenly noticed the storm clouds bearing down on us. It was time to head back.

      Off we went crossing the ridge, through the glens, down the slopes, switchback after switchback and soon were engulfed in pea-sized hail. We rushed further down the slope towards the saddle, the hail covering the path like snow, then turning to slush, and soon small rivulets formed. I forged ahead, and the Scribe tried (vainly, I might add) to keep up. We were almost at the saddle when the Scribe noticed a tan-colored movement out of the corner of his eye. Thinking it was a whitetailed deer, and assuming I would give chase (a very valid assumption!), he called me back. Not having anything better to do, and with no deer in sight, I trotted up to him. Seeing that his call didn’t scare the deer, the Scribe amended his theory. Might have been a cougar. He kept me close to his side until we reached the saddle. Here we stopped so that he could doctor his feet. I watched the woods behind us carefully, but saw nothing. The smells on the other hand…but they were confusing. There were old smells of bear and lion and wolves and newer ones of cheesy feet…

      And onward we moved, back up the other side of the saddle, through larch and Douglas fir, amidst huckleberries and dried-up beargrass stalks, across the talus slope, up the switchbacks to the fork, past the campsite on the ridge and down the murderous incline on the far side. The hail passed, the sun pushed the dark clouds aside and wave upon wave of panting and wheezing and gasping hikers pushed up the mountainside (alright, just four two-legged and three four-legged ones). Down the hill we came and emerged out onto the forest road to bright sunshine.

      Alternate Routes

        Things to Consider

          Not so great

            The first section heads uphill steeply
            View of the Selkirks
            North Chilco
            Lake Pend Oreille
            Remnants of the lookout tower on North Chilco
            The Coeur d’Alene Mountains
            The path to the saddle between North and South Chilco
            Campsite in the saddle
            Naughty looking at the Coeur d’Alene Mountains
            South Chilco proper is hemmed in by trees
            South of South Chilco
            Bad weather moving in
            A weathered stump on South Chilco
            The clouds are getting more ominuous…
            The magical Crimson Crown
            Hail turning to slush