When choosing a fall hike, my biggest considerations are always seeing the best fall colors and finding safe trailhead access in case of changing weather conditions. That last one also suggests a third consideration: keeping myself comfortable and warm, prepared for whatever our temperamental fall season may choose to throw at me.
That’s why Snow Peak Cabin ranks high on my list of hikes to complete in the fall. In an area still recovering from the 1988 White Mountain Fire, one of the main tree species to reestablish in the burn zone is western larch. A deciduous tree in a land of conifers, larch becomes especially notable in the fall as it transitions to yellow-orange before ultimately dropping its needles. The trailhead at Sherman Pass starts high at 5,574 feet elevation and therefore could see early-season snowfall, but it doubles as a winter SnoPark (parking permits go on sale beginning November 1; check ahead to see when they will be required). Layer up to make the day comfortable, and be sure to include an outer layer of blaze orange because this easy-access trailhead is also popular with hunters.
To begin the hike, walk out the parking area drive and cross to the south side of Highway 20. The trail begins a gradual switchback ascent until it comes to a fork at approximately 1 mile. The trail to the left contours around the east side of Sherman Peak and boasts views of some of the best larch groves in the Kettles. The trail to the right contours around the west side of Sherman Peak, where on a clear day the views can extend to the eastern flanks of the Cascades, and the fall colors are nearly as good as the other side. Both options rejoin on the south side of Sherman, so make your choice based on cloud cover or pick one for the way out and the other for the way back.
When the loop trail comes together again on the south side of Sherman Peak, continue south on the Kettle Crest Trail toward Snow Peak Cabin. Here the trail passes beneath Snow Peak and through an eerie forest of silvery snags, remnants of the 1988 fire. Bald Mountain is the pyramid-shaped peak to the right, and nestled in a low area between the two is Snow Peak Cabin. If the cabin is not rented out to someone else, it provides a sheltered spot for lunch before returning to the trailhead. An even better option is to plan ahead and reserve the cabin for an overnight stay (rentable through recreation.gov), making this an easy overnight trip since this dog-friendly cabin comes with a wood-burning stove for heat, a propane stove for cooking (plus cookware and utensils), and cots for up to four overnight guests. Round-trip distance is approximately 8 miles.
Getting there: Travel north on US-395 through Colville. Cross the Columbia River just west of Kettle Falls and bear west on Highway 20 toward Republic. At the summit of Sherman Pass, turn north into the trailhead parking lot and SnoPark. //
Give Back to Our Trails: October 30th at Antoine Peak Conservation Area. Sign up at wta.org/volunteer.
Holly Weiler is an avid trail runner, backpacker, and hiker. She is the race director for the Foothills Scenic Five fun run every June that supports a scholarship fund and community events.