Best spring hikes


Snowshoes tracks coming off Scotchman Peak.

By Don Otis
Reader Staff

Ten years ago I remember driving to a trailhead out of Upper Pack River to see the newly placed “Beware of Grizzly Bear” signs.

I have never seen a grizzly but I have seen their prints. I know they are out there, somewhere. Standing at the trailhead that day did not deter me from hiking out alone but it did give me pause, as it should. We are blessed to live in a wild place. As Gary Snyder writes in The Practice of the Wild: “Our place is part of what we are.” We are blessed with abundant water, snow covered peaks, and trails that are lightly trodden.

For those who have hiked the Mt. Whitney Trail, the peaks along the Front Range in Colorado or even the Grand Canyon trails, you know it is not unusual to see as many as 500 people. Our busiest trails are Mickinnick and Gold Hill and neither is ever too crowed by comparison. Our views are no less stellar and the challenges as comparable. The bigger question for me is why there aren’t more North Idahoans out?

For those of us who hike and climb in all four seasons, I have compiled a list of accessible hikes and climbs in our area along with detail about each.


Don Otis and Cathy Schuller on Scotchman Peak in late February. Courtesy photo.

Scotchman Peak – 7,009’
Vertical gain: 3700’
Roundtrip mileage: 8.0

Directions: Drive to Clark Fork on Highway 200 and turn left at the Chevron station (Main Street) and go past the school. The road eventually winds right until it starts going uphill at Forest Road 276. This eventually turns into Road 2294A but has signage for Trail 65. In the early season, expect the road to be muddy.

Comments: The monarch of the Idaho Cabinet Mountains is a climb everyone should take. It is a challenge but it is worth the effort once you reach the ridgeline at 6,400’. You can’t miss the trail. Thanks to Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, the beginning trail includes easier switchbacks. Be aware this trail is newly reopened after an unnecessary encounter with a mountain goat forced the closure. Bottom line: do not feed the goats and do not get close to them.

Goat Mountain – 6,390’
Vertical gain: 4,000’
Round trip mileage: 7.0

Directions: Drive to Clark Fork on Highway 20.  Turn left at the Chevron Station and follow Lightning Creek Road 419.  The trail head is about 3 miles (right after the “grizzly bear” sign) and marked only with a small sign, number 135 and a logo of two hikers. There is parking on the sides of the road.

Comments: This is not for the faint of heart. Expect a grinder until you reach the upper ridge. Once you reach the ridge that connects to the high point, the going is much easier but that takes effort. The view of the North Face of Scotchman is worth the climb. Expect some deadfall on Goat Mountain and other high peaks early in the season.

Star Peak – 6,400’
Vertical gain: 4,100’
Roundtrip mileage: 10.0

From the lookout on Star Peak. Courtesy photo.

From the lookout on Star Peak. Courtesy photo.

Directions: Take Highway 200 and pass through Clark Fork heading toward Heron, Montana.  At Montana mile marker 6 there is a wide turnout on the south side of the highway.  You can park here or proceed up a dirt road for about 100 yards that is almost directly across the highway (if you go past Big Eddy Campground you have gone a quarter of a mile too far).

Comments: The views from Star Peak are of the Clark Fork River as you ascend. It’s not until you reach the boulder field about 300’ below the top that you start to see views of the Cabinet Mountains open up. The old lookout at the top is a fun place to take photos and look out toward the higher peaks in the Cabinet Range to the east.

Mickinnick Trail – 4,300’
Vertical gain: 2,150’
Roundtrip mileage: 7.0

Directions: Take Highway 95 and turn left toward Schweitzer (near the Conoco) and head past the fairgrounds at the stop sign. Proceed as if you are going to Schweitzer but turn left before you go up the hill – at Woodland Drive and go about half a mile to the trailhead.

Comments: The best overall trail near Sandpoint. Well used and maintained. It is an easy trailhead with ample parking. The second bench is about halfway – 3,300’ but the views are terrific. From the top you can see Scotchman Peak and Sandpoint. The snow is hard-packed by now so crossing the upper meadow is more muddy than slushy.

Honorable mention:

Gold Hill Trail #3 – 4,042’
7.0 miles and 1,500’ of vertical


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