Long Canyon Loop Backpack
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Distance: 35 miles
Difficulty: Moderately difficult
Hiking time: 3 to 5 days
Season: July through Oct.
Maps: U.S. Pyramid Peak, Shorty Peak, Smith Falls, Smith Peak plus Kaniksu National Forest map.
Info: Bonners Ferry Ranger District, (2080) 267-5561
BACKPACKING TRIP NOTES
Access: From Bonners Ferry, drive north 15 miles on U.S. Highway 95 to the junction with Highway 1. Bear left on State Highway 1 and turn west at the Copeland turnoff. Drive about 7 miles - bearing right at the junction with paved Westside Road - and look carefully on west side of the road for partially hidden sign for Trail 14. Leave shuttle car or bicycle here. Then continue north on Westside Road about 3 miles, crossing Canyon Creek, and look for Trail 16 sign.
Attractions: Sometimes rugged but rewarding multiday trip on longest uninterrupted trail network in Idaho Selkirks. Route explores range’s last two major unlogged drainages. Start low among the ancient cedars, hemlocks and white pines of Long Canyon. Then climb high to “throne room of the peaks.” On 4 miles of ridge walking, one can see virtually every major Selkirk summit, plus countless peaks in Canadian Rockies and Montana Cabinets. Route leads hikers to several mountain lakes and puts them among North Idaho’s three highest points - Fisher Ridge, Parker Peak and Smith Peak - before returning down parklike ridge to Kootenai Valley.
Hazards: Three stream crossings, difficult until July. Possible grizzly bears. Remoteness.
Comments: Many improvements to Trail 16 in past five years well worth slight additional mileage. From parking area, hike on gated road short way to actual trailhead. Listen for Smith Falls after 1/2 mile. This route doesn’t lead to falls, but you can hear them.
At 2 miles, gentle trail turns rugged as it curves onto dry hillside in Canyon Creek drainage and heads up steep hillside through ocean spray and ninebark on sparsely timbered, southfacing slope. Grade reaches 35 percent in short sections. Climb 3/4 mile before trail levels slightly.
At 4 miles, trail descends to creek and campsite, then climbs away from creek again. At 5 miles, abandoned but still-useful trail heads southeast to Parker Ridge. In next mile, look for evidence of old marten trap sets on trees along trail.
At 7 miles, hidden metal sign indicates abandoned trail to Cutoff Peak. Bridges span bogs of fern and devil’s club short way before campsite and first crossing of Canyon Creek. However, creek must be forded (very difficult before July) or crossed on blowdowns that span from shore to shore.
At 9 miles, trail returns to Canyon Creek for second crossing and campsite.
Continue up on west side of creek into quietness rarely disturbed, except perhaps by shrill whistles of varied thrush. Small off-trail campsite at 9-3/4 miles. Large campsite at 12 miles, just before crossing outlet creek from Smith Lake.
At 13 miles, cross Canyon Creek third time. Two campsites between here and mile 14.
At 14-1/2 miles, maintenance ends on Trail 16. Head up on Trail 7, switchbacking toward westward views of Smith Peak, then southward views of Pyramid Peak. From junction with Trail 16, Trail 7 climbs 1,850 feet in 4 miles to unmarked, easy-to-miss junction with Trail 13 and Trail 221. (From here, Trail 13 heads south then plunges down Pyramid Pass.) Continue north on Trail 221, which heads steeply uphill 1/2 mile to saddle and scenic alpine setting on Parker Ridge.
Allow time to scramble ridges through heather, beargrass and huge white granite boulders for incredible views of Selkirks and entire Parker Creek drainage to Kootenai Valley.
From here, Trail 221 offers nearly 7 miles of scenic ridge walking. (It’s roughly 16 miles to end of route at West Side Road.) Personalities of peaks change from different perspectives.
About 1/4 mile from saddle (19 miles into trip), side trail heads down to campsites at Long Mountain Lake.
Hike another spectacular 3 miles on Trail 221 to junction with another side trail heading down 2/3 mile to campsites at Parker Lake. Camping possible on ridge, too.
Continue 3/4 mile on Trail 221 to junction with lightly used but excellent trail that leads 1/2 mile to Parker Peak. At 7,670 feet, it’s second highest point in North Idaho; former site of fire lookout built in 1939. You’ve come too far not to do this side trip.
From junction, Trail 221 begins rugged 2-mile, switchbacking descent off Parker Peak. Powerful view from boulder field below peak.
Once out of boulder field, trail begins steady descent to Kootenai Valley through parklike lodgepole forest. Trail can be overgrown in some areas if not maintained. At corner of switchback 5 miles from trailhead, small spring provides only yearlong water source between Parker Lake and trailhead.
Trail eventually makes broad switchbacks down mostly open, brushy slope with powerful views of Kootenai Valley. At junction with with Trail 14, continue 1/2 mile down to trailhead.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Long Canyon Loop Backpack
The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN - Routes: Classic Trips in the Inland Northwest