The mountains are waiting for hikers, boaters and campers to arrive on Fourth of July holiday weekend, but not necessarily with open arms.
Snow still plugs some of the high-country trails and access roads.
Swift-flowing water will make stream fording difficult if not impossible in a few areas.
Higher prices are being charged at some national forest campgrounds.
Nevertheless, most campers headed to the lakes and lowland areas will find their favorite places open, maintained and green following a spring flush with rainfall.
The Colville National Forest, for example, has timed major construction projects to wrap up this week so popular Swan Lake, Gillette and Lake Gillette campgrounds will be ready for campers on the busiest camping weekend of the year.
But the Long Lake Campground and boat launch on the Spokane River is closed for lack of a qualified campground host, the state Department of Natural Resources confirmed Wednesday. The facility is so popular, the DNR has set up a recorded hotline for updates in case a host is found: (509) 685-2755.
Note that rules change from year to year. Some national forest campgrounds that are contracted to private concessionaires operate under higher fees and different rules than those controlled by the Forest Service.
In a new twist this season, concessionaire campgrounds at popular destinations such as Sullivan Lake and in the Blue Mountains will be gated and locked from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Campers who need to get out during that period will have to contact the campground host.
Mother Nature likes to play games with access to our favorite backcountry areas, and she always holds a trump.
Although most roads are open to high-country trailheads, some of them have just become drivable in the past week or two. That means trail crews have had to focus on lowland trails and have not had a chance to get out and clear downfall of many of the higher backcountry trails.
Here are a few reports to help paint a picture useful in planning your outing.
Remember, in a week or two, the scene could be much different.
•Trail crews have been on the routes to Oregon Butte, the highest trails on the Pomeroy District, indicating that snow isn’t a major issue there. They report a light year for blowdowns.
Colville National Forest
•Knee-deep snow still covers short portions of the Kettle Crest Trail north and south of Sherman Pass. A trail re-routing project is under way and hikers may find some short cross-country detours.
•Pioneer and Panhandle boat launches on the Pend Oreille River are closed because of high water.
•Concessionaires – not the Forest Service – have raised campsite prices to $16 in the privately managed camps.
•Sullivan Lake, no longer has an RV dump station.
Kootenai National Forest
•Trails and roads in the Cabinet Mountains are open to around elevation 5,000 feet. For instance, Rock Lake trailhead and trail is snow-free but the road to Chicago Peak was still blocked by snow this week.
•The first half of the trail to Wanless Lake is snow-free, but hikers will be on snow once they get on the north side of the ridge and head down toward the lake.
•St. Paul Lake trail is open, but the lake is very full of water, reducing the area for camping.
Virtually all of the most popular destinations are open, including the Route of the Hiawatha near Lookout Pass and the Pulaski Trail out of Wallace.
•In the Pend Oreille area, the Trestle Creek Road recently opened all the way to Lunch Peak and Lake Darling trailheads, but there’s snow at all the area’s lakes, including Moose and Estelle.
Pack River Road access to Selkirk Mountains trailheads is open, but no trails have been maintained and there’s still snow at Harrison and other area lakes.
•On the St. Joe, the rugged road to Heller Campground opened this week, but crews were still unable to get through snow to reach trailheads for the Mallard-Larkins Pioneer Area as well as Surveyor’s Ridge and the Snow Peak Wildlife Area.
Road 301 to Freezeout Saddle is open, but expect snow and blowdowns beyond that.
The St. Joe River trail has been cleared on both sides of the river upstream about 5 miles to St. Joe Lodge.
However, crossing the St. Joe as well as Homestead Creek at Marble Creek is still dangerous or impossible.
•Near Bonners Ferry, the route to Roman Nose Lakes recently opened. Roads are open to popular trailheads for Trout and Bottleneck lakes, but no trails have been maintained as crews have focused on lowland trails as well those in the Boulder Meadows area southeast of Bonners Ferry.
“We’ve put our emphasis on the low-area campgrounds and trails and it already looks as though people are crawling out of the woodwork to fill them,” Pat Hart, Bonners Ferry Ranger District trails coordinator said Wednesday.
Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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