The crowds will be withdrawing from the mountains today, leaving a colorful and solitary experience for a hiker heading into autumn on forest trails.
Wise hikers wear bright clothing in fall, including cheap fluorescent orange caps or vests. But hunting seasons that opened this week shouldn’t deter hikers from the blazes of color – scarlet huckleberry bushes, yellowing larch – that peak around early October.
Few places in the region offer more inviting hiking options than the upper Lightning Creek area just north of Lake Pend Oreille, where moose, huckleberries, five mountain lakes stocked with trout, and trails – high and low – are concentrated.
From Highway 200 about 12 miles east of Sandpoint, turn north just east of milepost 42 onto Trestle Creek Road 275. Drive the rough road 12 miles and note that Road 1091 takes off to the left toward Lunch Peak Lookout. This is a destination in itself.
The lookout is available to rent for $25 a night. (Plenty of openings remain until it closes for the season Oct. 10.) An excellent ridge trail heads north from the lookout three miles to Mount Pend Oreille. Check it out at www.recreation.gov.
Continue driving on Road 275 and turn left on Lightning Creek Road No. 419. Go about a mile and note the trailhead for Mount Pend Oreille and Lake Darling – you can bag both in an eight-mile loop hike.
Drive across the bridge over Lightning Creek onto Road 1022 and note the spur to the left leading to the trailhead for a steep 1.25-mile climb to Gem Lake.
Continue driving 2 miles to the end of Road 1022 and the trailhead for trails leading to three more mountain lakes: Estelle, Moose and Blacktail. Each is an overnight destination accessed by hikes of 2 to 3.2 miles.
If you haven’t been to this trailhead in a year or more, it’s worth the trip just to hike the trail recently revived by the Sandpoint Ranger District to link the lakes in a loop.
Here’s a plan for fit day-hikers:
Hike to Blacktail Lake (note the new puncheon walkways over the bogs and the tadpoles in the lake shallows), then retrace the trail a half-mile and branch right up unmarked Moose Mountain Trail 213. Hikers are rewarded for a steep mile-long climb with stunning views.
The former lookout tower site at the Moose Mountain summit, elevation 6,542 feet, overlooks the northern portion of the proposed Scotchman Peak Wilderness, including Scotchman itself, plus the Selkirk Crest to the west and the shark’s teeth skyline of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness to the east.
Continue down the mountain a mile to Moose Lake. Watch for its namesake.
As you continue the loop out toward the trailhead you’ll have the option of a four-mile out-and-back side trip to Lake Estelle.
Leaving Spokane at 6:30 a.m., you can hike this entire 9-mile loop and side trip and be home by 6 p.m. – tired, hungry and fulfilled.