If snowmobiling is in your future, it really doesn’t get much better than being a sled head in Idaho. Statewide, Idaho offers an incredible 7,200 plus miles of snowmobile trails. North Idaho represents not only a large portion of those trails but some of the best snow conditions and terrain.
This computes to millions of acres with groomed trails and access to open riding on U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, State and private lands.
Snowmobiling is one of the fastest growing sports in the area. Silver Valley provides the most groomed trails with thousands of miles. SnoWest Magazine recognized the area as “one of the best full service snowmobiling hotspots in the world.” Boundary County has two major areas including Roman Nose in the Selkirk Mountains and Canuck Basin in the Purcell Mountains. Kootenai County snowmobilers travel to several popular trails in the Fernan Saddle area.
Priest Lake communities and resorts are prepared for the snowmobile crowd with rentals, gas, food, and accommodations. There are over 400 miles of groomed trails that range from 2,500 to 7,000 feet reaching up to several of the Selkirk peaks. An interesting excursion is to travel up the west side of Schweitzer Mountain. Riders can make a day of it by using the ski lift for lunch down at the ski resort and then up the lift and back to Priest Lake. Another day trip option is a ride encircling both Priest Lake and Upper Priest Lake.
Maps of Priest Lake snowmobile trails show an extensive network of red lines that allows exploring of many areas to the west, north and east. Snowmobilers can ride different mountain trails for days. Experienced riders can get off the groomed trails, especially on the east side of the lake, around 7,000 feet.
Craig Hill, manager of Hill’s Resort, has lived in the area most of his life and snowmobiling remains a passion. He knows the trails and off-trail rides well. In the winter, when he is not working at the resort, he is on a snowmobile. Because of his passion for snowmobiling and affection for the area, he has volunteered many hours of personal time as a member of the Priest Lake Trails & Snowmobile Club.
He encourages newcomers to join the club because the best snow trails are pointed out. Also beginners, for safety, will be with experienced people who know the area. The club has two groomers and maintains three warming huts around the lake.
Recently members placed latitude/longitude markers at trail junctions and long trail sections. Snowmobilers that get disoriented because of inexperience and are in unfamiliar territory, lost in a snowstorm or fog, can use a GPS unit to pinpoint their location.
A map produced by the West Bonner County Groomers Committee provides numerous GPS markers on their “Priest Lake Winter Recreation Trails Map.” The map also provides 31 color-coded groomed snowmobile trails, each with its length in miles. For example, Nickelplate Mtn. Trail is orange and runs for 4.7 miles, Indian Ck/Mollies Loop is blue and runs for 26.1 miles. Both trails have GPS markers at both ends of the trail. The map can be picked up at area businesses and resorts.
Hill said that snowmobile licensing pays for the groomers, signing, warning huts, ambulance, and plowed parking at staging areas. A license costs $31.50. Eighty percent of the fee goes to the area indicated by the user. The Priest Lake area is designated as “9A.”
The club says money is crucial to maintain the snowmobile programs offered at Priest Lake. Hill says that a bonus in the “9A” district is that the season goes well into spring, sometimes the end of April, when other areas have lost their quality snow conditions.
Area resorts offer “sled & bed” packages. Snowmobiles can be rented and delivered right to the resort. Overnighters can leave from their front doors on a snowmobile. Groomed trails pass by the various resorts. Also rented snowmobiles can be delivered to a trail head of your choosing.
Winter activities in North Idaho provide several ways to cure cabin fever. Whichever area is chosen, snowmobiling provides a way to take in some breathtaking scenery. There are many options using comfortable, flat-tree lined trails though heavy timber or climbing a challenging off-trail route above the tree line through deep-powered snow. After a day of magnificent views of snow bowls, ghost trees, windswept ridges and fresh cold air, a good night sleep is guaranteed.