(Selkirk Mountains, North Idaho)
Hughes Fork and Jackson Creek share a trailhead near Hughes Meadows in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. Each can be a stand-alone day hike for visitors to nearby Priest Lake, remaining low to enjoy the old growth forest’s lingering huckleberry patches in September or fall mushroom season as rains return in October. The area is home to numerous wildlife species, from lowly western toads to massive moose and relatively rare grizzly bears.
Those looking for a more challenging hike can opt for the backpack loop version, a route to rival the nearby and more popular Salmo Loop. With maintenance projects planned for late summer into early September by area nonprofit groups, the Hughes Fork and Jackson Creek Loop will likely be in the best condition it has been in for several years just in time for fall backpack trips. The trail passes through a recovering forest following the Hughes Fork Fire of 2017. The fire’s impacts are evident on large portions of the loop, but most of the giant cedars along the route survived the blaze.
The best way to hike the full loop is counter-clockwise, heading up Hughes Fork. The trail starts parallel to and providing peek-a-boo views of Hughes Meadows before gradually beginning to climb toward the Shedroof Divide. The trail enters the Salmo Priest Wilderness at the Washington/Idaho state line, and pops out onto the Shedroof Divide at a shared intersection with the Shedroof Cut-off Trail (an alternate starting location from the Washington side). Turn south on the Shedroof Divide, enjoying the ridgeline views in a portion of the trail that saw the most severe fire impacts but also contains some of the best fall colors. The trail passes beneath Thunder Mountain, a fun side-hike option to a former fire lookout via an unmaintained spur trail. At the shared intersection with Thunder Creek (secondary alternate starting point from the Washington side), turn east on Jackson Creek Trail to descend and complete the loop.
At 26 miles total, this is best for a 2-3 day backpack trip if completing the full loop. Day hikers can turn back at whatever distance is desired. Once back at the start, it’s worth the nearby side-trip to continue to the dead-end of NF 1662 to see the old Hughes Meadows Cabin.
USGS Maps: Upper Priest Lake, Continental Mountain, Salmo Mountain, and Helmer Mountain.
From Nordman, Idaho, continue on N Nordman Road. This turns into West Side Road, or NF 302. The road crosses back into Washington, passing Stagger Inn Campground at 12.9 miles north of Nordman. The road re-enters Idaho at 4.4 miles past Stagger Inn; continue straight on NF 1013. Continue 2.2 miles, then turn left on NF 1662. Continue 1.5 miles to an unmarked NF 1399 on the left. When the gate is open, this road leads to trailhead parking for Hughes Fork and Jackson Creek Trails. The gate is closed from late summer through spring to protect grizzly habitat, but there is a small parking area to the side for hikers, adding roughly 1 mile roundtrip to the hike.
Holly Weiler is a long-time contributor to Out There Outdoors.