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Hiker’s dozen

12 choice dayhikes around Idaho’s largest lake

A boat isn’t the only toy useful for enjoying Lake Pend Oreille. A pair of hiking shoes will keep a lake visitor busy for days.

Sandpoint residents and lake lovers from around the world have found a piece of heaven around Pend Oreille’s 85,900 acres of deep blue water and roughly 145 miles of shoreline. However it’s surprising how many of them don’t know the range of hiking routes just minutes from the lake.

Even those who check into the 11 public campgrounds within 25 miles of Sandpoint rarely turn their attention from Idaho’s largest lake.

Farragut State Park trails at the south end cater mostly to mountain bikers, but walkers can find plenty of elbow room. Head uplake 40-some miles to the Clark Fork River Delta and you’ll be looking skyward to Scotchman Peak, the highest point in the neighborhood with one of the most challenging — and rewarding — trails.

The best trails are among the 270 miles of routes developed by Kaniksu National Forest trail crews. For example, a 16-mile drive north of Hope into the headwaters of Lightning Creek brings hikers to a minor Mecca of trails leading to Moose, Blacktail, Estelle, Gem and Darling lakes, not to mention the extension up to Mount Pend Oreille, where a hiker can gaze westward at the Selkirk Mountains crest and dream up another summer schedule of trips.

Many of the hikes begin right off the lakeshore. The route up Gold Hills is premium.

Considerable thought went into this trail. While there’s never any doubt it heads uphill, the path offers many moments of relief, undulating rather than keeping hikers in a steady grind. It passes dank, mossy rock outcroppings, into dense evergreens and through open stands of deciduous trees.

Wildflowers are prolific in May and June, from Oregon grape, clematis and yellow violets in the lower reaches to fairyslippers and huckleberries near the top.

Four viewpoints along the way offer increasingly delightful views of the lake, the Selkirks and Sandpoint below. A breeze generally helps keep mosquitoes at bay at the openings on top of the hill.

Time the hike for early morning or sunset, and you’re likely to have Gold Hill or almost any of the Pend Oreille hikes to yourself.