At 1,291 acres, Sullivan Lake is the largest natural lake in the Colville National Forest, but the lake isn’t necessarily the main attraction. Brilliant day hikes all around the lake entice hikers and trail runners every fall season because the changing leaves are so intense. Many of the hikes in that area feature a variety of distances and difficulties, but the most splendid hike of them all is the Shoreline Lake Trail. The trail runs 4.2 miles one way along the lake. Some people opt for a shuttle, but most prefer to hike it or run it both directions for the full 8-mile experience.
On the southern end of the lake, hikers begin at the Noisy Creek Campground. Perhaps the creek is noisy in the springtime, but in the fall there’s seldom even a trickle. Continue past several ancient mining roads before briefly breaking out onto a couple of rockslides. From there, the trail rarely comes close to the actual shore. Most of the hiking takes place about 200 feet overlooking the water, and the majority of the trail is in the shade.
The Shoreline Trail frequently surprises first-time hikers because of the variety of trees and shrubs. Whereas many Eastern Washington hikes pass through miles of ponderosa pine, this trail showcases hemlock, western red cedar, as well as birch and pine. Portions of the trail are lined with ferns and moss, and other portions are lined with grasses and shrubs. If you time it just right for the later part of October, the western larches shine at their peak golden luminescence.
Near the north end of the lake, when the trail dips into the Hall Creek drainage, the damp moss floor creates shades of green that look like you just entered Middle Earth. There’s even a portion of the trail that appears to be carved right out of a cliff wall. Then the trail climbs out of the drainage and curves toward the East Sullivan Campground and boat launch. Right before the turnaround point, there’s a 0.6-mile self-guided interpretive nature trail detailing the forest processes at work. This side trail creates the only fork in the primary Shoreline Trail, and it could derail a trail runner if they didn’t see the sign.
Hall Mountain towers above the Shoreline Trail and is home to lots of wildlife including whitetail and mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and black bear. There have also been a few rare sightings of grizzly bear, Canada lynx, and the endangered woodland caribou traveling through the area. A growing number of bald eagles winter in the vicinity, and Sullivan Lake is a popular fishing spot.
The Shoreline Trail (also called Lakeshore Trail 504) is featured on page 152 in the Day Hiking Eastern Washington guidebook written by Rich Landers and Craig Romano. They made special mention of an old mining adit: “Forest Service biologists have put a bat-friendly gate on the entrance to keep people out while allowing Townsend’s big-eared bats to continue using the cave.”
This hike offers beautiful views, wonderful flora, incredible terrain, and opportunities to see lots of wildlife. Both campgrounds remain open year-round for hiking, fishing, and camping, but the fall season is the best time to visit. Sometimes it’s still warm enough for a little swimming, and it’s worth repeating that the larch are so beautiful when they change to gold. Without a doubt, this hike belongs on everyone’s fall hiking calendar.
Directions to Sullivan Lake
Sullivan Lake sits 95 miles due north of Spokane. Take Highway 2 north and follow the signs to Metaline Falls. Turn right onto Sullivan Lake Road and continue to Noisy Creek Campground or East Sullivan Campground for trailhead access. Be prepared for a $5 Day Use Fee. //
Jon Jonckers serves on the board for the Friends of the Centennial Trail and is also an assistant cross country coach at Shadle Park High School. He is the co-author of “Climbing the Rocks of Sharon,” available at Mountain Gear. Jon profiled photographer Woods Wheatcroft in August.