Upper Priest Lake

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.
  • Selkirk Mountains
3.1 out of 5
7.3 miles
2:15 hours moving time (Hiking)
Elevation Gain
345 feet
High Point
2,758 feet (trailhead)
Low Point
2,419 feet (Upper Priest Lake)
  • Grove
  • Lake
  • Structure
  • Outing Type
  • Daytrip
  • Trail Type
  • Out-and-back
  • Trailbed
    packed dirt, boardwalk, gravel
  • Ruby Creek and a few smaller tributaries; Upper Priest Lake
  • Camping
    • Dispersed camping at the trailhead
    • Numerous opportunities along Upper Priest Lake (bear boxes and pit toilets at Trapper Creek campground)
    • Very good
  • Kaniksu National Forest
  • Priest Lake State Forest
  • Status
  • Scenic Area
  • Maps
  • Upper Priest Lake
  • Fees & Permits
  • None required
  • ()
    Open To
  • Hikers
  • Dogs
  • Horses
  • Mountain Bikers
  • ()
  • From Priest River, take ID-57 north past Nordman. The road gets renamed West Side Road (NF-302) and soon turns to gravel. Past Granite Pass, take NF-1013, the middle of a three-way fork. Continue for about 10 miles, then turn right onto NF-655. After half a mile, the trailhead will be on your right. There is camping and parking on the other side. It’s about 25 miles total on gravel roads.
  • Season
    June – November (winter access to the trailhead might be difficult)
      June 9, 2019

      The trail immediately enters the forest, it being a nice singletrack that meanders through many cedar groves. Hiking is easy as the terrain is largely flat with a few ups and downs here and then, particularly in the first mile and just ahead of the lake. About 1.25 miles into the hike you’ll cross Ruby Creek, which is accomplished via a nice wooden bridge that is almost eaten up by an ocean of ferns.

      Not far from the lake, you’ll stumble upon the remains of a trapper’s cabin (Coolin’s cabin?). There isn’t much left of it and the mosquites love it, so you might want to speed along to the lake, where a nice breeze keeps the beasties away. The beach is prettily graveled and begs for a swim, an urge Naughty could not resist. The views across the lake are excellent, with Plowboy Mountain to the south and Navigation Campground straight across.

      Alternate Routes

      • From Upper Priest Lake the trail continues south, eventually turning into trail #58, which ends at Lion Head Campground
      • You can connect to the American Falls trail on the northern end, but that entails hiking on a forest road for several miles
      • You could turn this into a one-way by combining it with trail #58, but it makes for a rather lengthy shuttle drive

      Things to Consider

      • The trail, as well as #58, is part of the Pacific Northwest Trail and the Idaho State Centennial Trail

      Not so great

        The trail near the trailhead
        There are a few cedar groves
        Ruby Creek
        Crossing Ruby Creek
        The trail is mostly flat singletrack with the occasional boardwalk
        Decaying trapper’s cabin
        Not much is left of the cabin. Mosquitoes love it
        Naughty going for a swim
        The north end of Upper Priest Lake
        Upper Priest and Plowboy Mountain
        Wild roses
        The obligatory carcass