Bead Lake, Colville National Forest

It’s wonderful to save Bead Lake for the shoulder season, when the majority of the boaters have placed their pleasure crafts into winter storage and the mosquitoes have quieted down. There are usually a few warm days in September when it’s still nice to jump in the lake at the end of a hike. Even if the temperatures have cooled too much to make that enjoyable, the fall colors will be getting started and there will be plenty of animal activity to enjoy near the water. Be sure to bring binoculars for bird watching, and keep an eye out for any lingering huckleberries along the trail.

While the west side of Bead Lake is private and developed, the east side is bordered by the Colville National Forest, and the lake-hugging trail is long enough to provide a day hike for almost anyone’s taste. Prefer to keep it short and play in the water? There’s a spot with good water access within the first mile from the trailhead, and it doubles as a pack-it-in, pack-it-out campsite for anyone seeking an easy overnight excursion. There are several similar spots along the trail, and for those who venture to the far northern end of the lake, the resulting out-and-back is approximately nine miles in total length. Since the trail follows the shoreline for the majority of the distance, the total elevation gain is only about 1,300 feet.

The trail includes enough up and downs to make it interesting, and the surrounding forest includes a wide variety of trees. There are large ponderosa pines with their vanilla-scented bark in the early miles, several large white pine trees (look for their long cones on the ground, then look up to spot their delicate needles), and a nice cedar grove at the farthest end of the lake. The short climbs into the treed sections keep the hike shady, but the trail always returns to lake level and offers a few options for hikers who want to take a break that includes a dip.


Photo of Bead Lake by Holly Weiler.
Photo: Holly Weiler

A rugged spur trail at the northern end of Bead can add a little extra to bring the distance up to 10; watch for the “more hiking” sign at the end of the lake. This last portion along the lakeshore is rarely maintained and can be narrow and rough. Another trail leads north and away from the lake, connecting to a Forest Service road in about another mile of hiking. To avoid repeating any of the hike, use this second access point to run a shuttle. Otherwise, turn around and enjoy seeing the shoreline from the opposite direction as you retrace your way back to the start. This is a multi-use trail popular with hikers, runners, backpackers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders, and sometimes hunters might use the trail in the fall. Brush up on trail etiquette and hunting seasons, and consider adding some orange to your fall wardrobe before you go.


Up to 10 miles round-trip.

Getting There

Travel Highway 2 north to Newport. Cross the bridge toward Old Town and enter Idaho, then turn left immediately after the bridge and travel northwest on LeClerc Creek Road. Watch for the marked intersection with Bead Lake Road on the right at 2.7 miles. Continue to Bead Lake. The best (free) access for hikers is via the dirt access road to a trailhead and parking lot above the lake, with a short and steep hike to the boat launch area. Hiker access from the boat launch itself requires a day use fee.

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Holly Weiler is the Eastern Region Coordinator for the Washington Trails Association. She wrote about hiking the Kettle Crest in August.

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