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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Chipmunk Rapids National Recreation Trail’s gentle grade makes for an ideal cross-country skiing loop during the winter months. It is inviting for a hike even in summer, particularly the sections along Kaniksu Marsh and the Priest River. To top it off, we added a short bushwhacking excursion to Mission Falls on the Upper West Branch of the Priest River.
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.
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.
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.
Round Lake is a small state park about 10 miles south of Sandpoint. It features 3 hiking trails of which the Trapper trail is by far the most picturesque, as it closely skirts the lake’s shore. Along the trail are frequent signs of beaver activity, including felled trees, lodges, and dams. There’s a good chance other wildlife, such as squirrels, turtles, deer, and many kinds of water fowl can be spotted, too.
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.