Best Fall Hikes

By: Bradley Beck, Robin Hartikainen, Derrick Knowles and Erika Prins
Autumn in the Inland Northwest is prime hiking time. The summer heat has passed, there are fewer people out on the trails, and the combination of fall colors, crisp air, and birds and other wildlife preparing for winter can make for an exhilarating hiking experience. To celebrate the turn of the seasons, OTM pulled together a list of some of the best fall hikes from across the Inland Northwest. From Sandpoint to Spokane and Nelson to Northeast Washington, there’s a trail in here for everyone to explore this fall.

Pax and Amy on the Pend O'Reille Bay Trail
Pax and Amy on the Pend O’Reille Bay Trail

Sandpoint: Pend d ’Oreille Bay Trail (Bradley)
Sandpoint, ID:
Until recently, the Pend d’ Oreille Bay Trail was something of a secret outside of Sandpoint. Thanks to the Friends of Pend d’ Oreille Bay Trail, the secret is out. Almost entirely on private property, the largely flat trail runs for two miles along the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille, linking Sandpoint, Ponderay and Kootenai. The friends group has been working to expand access, providing bear-proof trash containers, “mutt mitts” for picking up after dogs, trash patrols for picking up after people, and benches for sitting and enjoying the views of the lake and Scotchman Peaks. Expect to share the trail with cyclists when it’s warm and snowshoers and x-country skiers in the winter. Follow Sandpoint Avenue from City Beach to the water treatment plant for access.


Fall Colors: Upper Priest Lake, Navigation Trail (Bradley)
Nordman, ID:
A fall hike along Navigation Trail provides plenty of beauty as the  colors emerge from the tamarack and cottonwood amid the various pine and fir trees. The trail provides access to two campgrounds on the upper lake: Plowboy (6-miles roundtrip) and Navigation (12-miles roundtrip). The most scenic and challenging part of the trail is the second mile between Plowboy and Navigation campgrounds as it follows the shoreline and includes the only sustained climb. Otherwise, the trail is largely flat. The trailhead is at Priest Lake’s Beaver Creek Campground. Water is a must, though dogs can find their own. Bear spray is a good idea, just in case. Take Idaho Highway 57 north from Priest River. Follow Reeder Bay Road 14 miles to Beaver Creek.


Coeur d’Alene: Tubbs Hill (Bradley)
Coeur d’Alene, ID:
Highlighted by the 2.2-mile interpretive trail along its perimeter, Coeur d’Alene’s Tubbs Hill and its summit trail and fire roads epitomize the notion of a hiker’s nirvana in an urban wilderness, offering plenty of variety in its 120 acres. The best trait of the park, among the rock outcroppings, the towering trees, and the suspension bridge, is its sense of solitude, particularly when the trail is more lightly used in the fall. This solitude is enhanced by views of the lake and the distant shoreline. With the interpretive trail guide, hikers can learn about the area’s history and the flora of the park. While McEuen Park is under construction, park at City Hall or the Sanders Beach entrance to the trail. Leashed dogs okay. No bikes. Download the interpretive guide here:


Educational Trail: Spokane House Interpretive Trail , Riverside State Park (Bradley)
Spokane, WA:
Found near the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane Rivers, the Spokane House Interpretative Trail tells of the first permanent white settlement in what would become Washington. The trail is flat and one-third mile long with five interpretative sites providing a sense of what Finan McDonald encountered while living and trading among the region’s tribes. There is another one-third mile trail leading to the Little Spokane River Peninsula that also contains interpretative sites, one of which is the oldest structure in the state. The park entrance is about a mile north of Nine Mile Dam on Highway 291. The center is open summer weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Week day access from boat launch. Discovery Pass required. Leashed dogs okay.


Hike with Kids: Bowl & Pitcher, Riverside State Park (Erika)
Spokane, WA:
Spokane mom Sara Callan takes her kids out hiking for one reason: “Getting energy out!”  And at ages two, four and six, she admits that there’s a lot of energy to get out. “They’re just so much happier when they’re out in nature than when they’re at home, cooped up in the house,” she says. When taking kids out hiking, Callan recommends looking  for easy trails with no major safety hazards like steep drop-offs. “Trails that follow interesting things – along the creek or river – keep them busy too,” she says. The Bowl and Pitcher area of Riverside State Park is a favorite hiking spot for Callan’s three children. “They love going across the swinging bridge,” she says. The wooden pedestrian bridge above the Bowl and Pitcher rapid offers safe, easy river viewing. At the top of the new stairs across the bridge, the trail upriver to the left is an especially fun and interesting trail for kids, with many basalt rock formations and river views.

Hannah, Evan and Jamie on the Sandifur Bridge

Urban Hike: Spokane River Gorge (Erika)
Spokane, WA:
Easy to access from either side of the river, squeeze in this short Downtown Spokane hike after work or early in the morning. Start your hike at Riverfront Park if you’re already downtown or from  People’s Park on the south side of the Sandifur Bridge if you’re driving. From People’s Park, cross Sandifur Bridge over the Spokane River, then follow the singletrack trail just past the bridge east upriver and into the “Lower Crossing” neighborhood. Walk along Falls Avenue up the hill to Ohio, where you can follow the new section of the Centennial Trail along the bluff in front of Kendall Yards, where the views of the city and the falls are stunning at sunrise and sunset. Cross the river at Maple, Monroe or through Riverfront Park. Then follow Riverside, then First through Browne’s Addition to Coeur d’Alene Street, where you’ll find the Overlook Park Trailhead a few blocks west of Coeur d’Alene Park. The trail switchbacks its way down to Latah Creek and a gravel path leading back north to People’s Park.


Hike with Dogs: Bead Lake Trail  #127 (Erika)
Newport, WA:
Dogs totally bring the party to a hike – where do they get all that energy? In exchange for the companionship, be sure to consider your dog when choosing a hike. “You want to be around areas, generally, with water sources that are also easy on the paws,” says Craig Romano,  author of the book Best Hikes with Dogs Inland Northwest. Romano and Spokane’s Rich Landers also recently published Day Hiking in Eastern Washington, which includes icons indicating dog-friendly hikes.

Romano recommends the Bead Lake Trail near Newport as one of the region’s premier dog-friendly hikes. “For some reason, it’s not overly popular,” he says. That’s great news for dogs. “Really busy places can be tough for dogs for a lot of reasons. Places where there’s a lot of mountain biking – that can be pretty traumatizing.” The Bead Lake Trail is along the lakeshore for a lot of the hike so there’s a lot for a dog to enjoy, says Romano. “It’s a trail that opens up fairly early in the spring and well into the fall. Even with a little bit of snow, it makes a nice hike.” No matter where you hike, Romano recommends bringing items to keep your friend comfortable, like a collapsible water bowl, treats and first-aid supplies.


Nelson: Pulpit Rock Trail (Robin)
Nelson, BC:
If you are one of those people who likes to get out when the air is just starting to get cold and fall colors are starting to change, Nelson, BC is your place. October is one of the best months to get out into the mountains around Nelson because the weather is still warm, the crowds are gone,  and the changing tree colors surrounding this small mountain city are fantastic. I like to recommend Pulpit Rock to anyone who visits my hometown because it’s a nice little hike with amazing views and easy access. The Pulpit Rock Trail is an energetic but approachable 1.6 km day hike that offers a bird’s eye view of Nelson from the mountains above town after a 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The well-marked trailhead is located a short drive north from historic Baker Street just across the Big Orange Bridge and down Johnston Road. The first section of the hike is a well-maintained trail that traverses the forest up the side of Elephant Mountain. The pitch is challenging, but there are plenty of switchbacks. If you want more of a challenge there is also an option to continue the hike to the flag pole perched high on Elephant Mountain.

Top of the World
Top of the World

Backcountry Views: Big Eddy Trail to Star Peak, Scotchman Peaks (Derrick)
Clark Fork, ID:
The Scotchman Peaks, like the Selkirks and Lake Pend Oreille, are a Sandpoint  icon. Sprawling northeast of town along the Idaho/Montana border, the Scotchmans are one of the region’s biggest wild areas and offer some of the best trails for fall colors and highway-side, year round access into the high country. The Big Eddy Trail is a popular and challenging 5-mile (one way) hike up Star Peak to stunning views. The trail climbs around 4,000 feet from near Highway 200 and the Clark Fork River up to 6,158 foot Star Peak. The lower section of the trail follows an old mining road, but the final reward at the top as described by Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness will make it worth the work: “During the final climb, the views continue to expand into an absolutely stunning panorama. By the time you are at the old fire lookout, you will know – this is the top of the world!”

Bring plenty of water for this one, and be sure to check the weather before heading out. To find the trailhead, take Hwy 200 east from Sandpoint 6 miles past the state line into Montana to a wide turnout on the south side of the highway. Park there and carefully cross the highway to the trail (old mining road at the start) on the other side. More info:


Wildlife Hike:  McDowell Marsh Trail, Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge (Derrick)
Colville, WA:
The McDowell Marsh Trail is a 1.2 mile environmental education trail that tours through several different wildlife habitat types, from pine forest to marsh. Many species of wildlife take advantage of the 40,000 acre Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge near Colville, including migrating waterfowl, several types of songbirds, eagles and osprey, otters, elk, moose and many other critters. The McDowell Marsh Trail follows along an elevated boardwalk and includes an observation blind, both of which can increase your wildlife spotting and viewing chances. With many species of waterfowl and other birds on their way south, and the heat of summer behind us, fall is an excellent time to visit the refuge’s many trails and wildlife viewing areas. The refuge is located 13 miles southeast of Colville in the Selkirk Mountains. Directions and more info about the refuge and other nature trails are available online here:


  • Know what hunting seasons may be open in the area
  • Wear “hunters orange” or other bright colors.
  • Avoid colors that could make you look more like a wild animal (like brown or black).
  • Stick to trails and make enough noise to identify yourself as human.
  • Keep dogs on a tight leash or consider leaving them at home when hiking places where wolf hunting and trapping are allowed.

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