Exploring the American Selkirks

When people think of vacationing in North Idaho, they often think of the big lakes. But stretching from Mica Peak to the north are the Selkirk Mountains, a range that provides many opportunities for vacation adventures.

The American Selkirks are bordered on the west by Priest Lake, and the east by the Purcell Trench near Bonners Ferry. Within its boundaries are dozens of high-country lakes and peaks nearing 7,600 feet. The Selkirks’ foundation is granite. In many places, the granite slabs look like onion skin. Most of the lakes are lined in white granite that contrasts dramatically with the deep blue water.

The crown jewel of the American Selkirks is the Selkirk Crest (see hike description below). The crest is easily accessible above many high-country lakes. Another jewel is Chimney Rock, a monolith that sticks out high on the crest and is easily visible from Priest Lake. The climbing area at Chimney Rock draws elite climbers from all over the world. The shortest high-country lake hike is to Hunt Lake, on the Priest Lake side. At just 1 mile and 635 feet of elevation gain, this lake takes you into some of the most spectacular backcountry in North Idaho. On the northeast end of the Selkirks is Long Canyon. At 35 miles long, it is the largest drainage in Idaho that has never been logged. Along Long Canyon Creek are several pristine, old-growth forests and mountains as high as 5,833 feet above the creek.

Peaks and lakes that any family can access include Harrison Lake, Pyramid Ball Lakes, Mt. Roothaan, Roman Nose Lakes and Peak (lower Roman Nose Lake is ADA accessible), and Trout Lake. For hardy hikers and climbers, West Fork Lake, Peak and Old Lookout, Harrison Peak, Beehive Lakes, Fisher Peak, and Chimney Rock are places not to be missed. Camp sites at Priest Lake on the west side and Sandpoint on the east offer nice base camps with many amenities. Here is a closer look at a spectacular hike to experience on your next Selkirk vacation.

The Selkirk Crest High Country Loop Hike

This day hike involves three different trails, each to their own destination, that can all be looped together. Consider driving up the night before and staying at the Beehive Trailhead to get an alpine start. This way, you don’t have to walk up to the Harrison Lake trailhead after the loop hike. The Harrison Lake trail is about 2.5 miles long and gains about 1,435 vertical feet.

Just before you reach Harrison Lake, you break out of the timber onto Selkirk granite. Follow the cairns up to the lake. Enjoy yourself here with your first lunch and possibly a short nap on the rocks. As you photograph the lake, notice the far back ridge. There are two low notches on the ridge line. The second lowest notch is your goal. Walk around the left (or south) side of the lake and slowly gain elevation among the rocks. As you round the bottom of a small forest, cut straight up to the second lowest notch. Don’t power your way up. Just carefully play in the rocks to the notch. Above on your left (or south) is Peak 7033. Locate the “trail” heading up to it. As you climb, look around at the terrain.

After a photo op on 7033, head south down the Selkirk Crest. In the distance are Chimney Rock and Mount Roothaan. Continue for two more Sawtooth summits. The south face of the route down the third summit is not climbable. Enjoy your summit and walk back to your last low point along the crest. There are several safe routes down to the high meadows. Notice the sounds of gurgling water under your feet. South of the meadows you will see Little Harrison Lake next to a cliff. Wander the meadows to the southeast corner and sunbathe in the flat, white granite. The whole lake is lined with rolled granite. Take your time here and enjoy the view of the Sisters from below. Although the next hike is steep, it’s short. The view from the divide ridge is beautiful. From here, drop off the opposite side and head to Upper Beehive Lake. Take a moment to enjoy the lake. Eat your second lunch, then point your boots downhill. In 4.4 miles, you will be at your car. I’ve never measured this route, but I estimate that it’s near 15 miles and about 4,500 feet of elevation change.

Getting There 

Head north from Sandpoint to Samuel for about 10.5 miles and turn left (or west) onto the Pack River Road #231 just before the gas station. In 19 miles, watch for the Beehive Trailhead signs to the left. There is enough room to car camp here. If you have more than one car, you can shave off 1 mile by driving to the Harrison Lake Trailhead in the morning. //

Chic Burge lives to ski, but he also fills his time biking, kayaking, taking beautiful photos, and hiking. He wrote about Loulou’s Ski Museum for our January/February issue. 

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