School’s out and summer has officially arrived this weekend. It’s time to work on your Inland Northwest must-do list.
The S-R Outdoors Department has compiled 15 summer activities essential to the rèsumè of any local outdoor enthusiast who expects to have any credibility in this region. Of course, this isn’t even the bare minimum. We didn’t include skinny-dipping in a wilderness lake. That may be on the expanded bucket list we’ll compile with your help. Email your top choices for the Inland Northwest outdoor activities bucket list to the Outdoors editor, firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. CATCH A SALMON
This is the year to hook an icon.
A record run of fall chinook is staging to run up the Columbia and Snake rivers this summer and fall.
This isn’t just the largest run since fish-counting began in the 1930s, it’s predicted to be a colossal flood of 1.6 million mostly 12- to 25-pound chinook.
That’s a 26 percent increase from the record run of 1.26 million in 2013 that allowed anglers to set harvest records from the lower river through the Hanford Reach.
Add to that a huge forecast of 964,000 coho to the Columbia plus 347,000 sockeye and you have the makings of fishing stories rivaling the Biblical loaves and fishes.
Braggin’ rights: Bleed the fish, ice it immediately and make it the best dinner your friends and family ever ate.
2. BIKE A RAIL TRAIL
The smoke-belching trains that helped develop the West have disappeared from many of their former routes, leaving hundreds of miles of mostly flat, truck- free and marvelously wild routes for cyclists to ride.
Few places in the nation have such a variety of choices, ranging from the 1.1-mile Ben Burr Trail in Spokane to the 253-mile John Wayne Trail (undeveloped but an epic trek for fat-tire bikers) from the Columbia River to the Idaho state line. Others:
• Columbia Plateau Trail State Park runs 130 miles from Cheney to Pasco. It’s not all developed, but a choice stretch of packed, crushed rock runs from Cheney through Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.
• Fish Lake Trail includes 10 miles of smooth asphalt from Government Way toward Cheney.
• Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, 72 miles from Plummer to Mullan, has the most variety and services. It runs past Lake Chatcolet, through Harrison (ice cream stop) into moose-infested marshes along the lower Coeur d’Alene River, past the Snake Pit at Enaville (refuel again) through the mining history of Kellogg and Wallace (possible overnight stops) to Mullan in the shadow of Lookout Pass.
Best bet: Route of the Hiawatha, 15 miles with seven trestles and 10 tunnels. Services based out of Lookout Pass Ski Area.
Braggin’ rights: Ride the Hiawatha both ways instead of taking the shuttle bus back.
3. SPOT A PREDATOR
An apex predator, that is. Outside of national parks and refuges, the Inland Northwest is among the few places in the country still wild enough to provide a home for grizzly bears, wolves and cougars – predators at the top of the food chain.
This will take a lot of outdoor time, homework and luck. Bear spray and binoculars are required equipment.
Best bet: Glacier National Park for grizzlies summer feeding in avalanche slopes.
Braggin rights: Stray west of the Cascades to the San Juan Islands and spot a pod of orcas.
4. CAMP FOR A WEEK
Weekend campers are a dime a dozen. Make the commitment to have a Thoreau-like experience.
Best bet: Sullivan Lake for water sports, hiking, mountain biking and wilderness opportunities within easy reach.
Braggin rights: Hang or store your food so it isn’t eaten by a critter.
5. PICK A GALLON OF HUCKLEBERRIES
Sissies settle for a couple of quarts. Set your sights on a full purple-fingered gallon.
Berries start to ripen in early July at low elevations and continue into September in the high country.
Best bets: If we told you our favorite spots, we’d have to kill you.
Braggin rights: Check off bucket list item No. 3 at the same time.
6. CLIMB A VOLCANO
Bucket list high achievers can’t rest until they’ve reached the lofty summit of at least one of Washington’s five major volcanoes. Only a handful of states offer this opportunity.
Required: conditioning, skills in glacier travel and ice-ax self-arrest and the mental attitude for an early start and long lung- and thigh-burning day.
Choices along the Cascades, from north to south, include Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier – the highest at 14,409 feet – Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams.
Best bet: Mount Adams, Washington’s second-highest peak at 12,276 feet, has a south-face route that crosses no glaciers (unlike Rainier and Baker), is more accessible than Glacier Peak and has no permit quota like St. Helens. Go for the summit from camp at the Lunch Counter.
Braggin rights: Time the corn snow conditions perfectly and ski down.
7. MOUNTAIN BIKE A SKI RESORT
Silver Mountain runs its gondola and Schweitzer fires up its quad to give mountain bikers a lift to a wealth of gravity-assisted mountain biking routes through the beargrass on the snow-free summer slopes.
Mount Spokane has good trails, too, but no lift service. Downhill enthusiasts drive a load of bikes up the Summit Road and coast down various roads or trails. The Nordic Ski Park’s trails are excellent for pedaling.
Best bet: Schweitzer Mountain, in the spotlight since it hosted the 2006 NORBA national championships, has some of the best downhill mountain riding around plus more than 20 miles of cross country bike trails.
Braggin rights: Test your mettle on the IMBA Epic Seven Summits Ride, which runs 36 kilometers from the Red Mountain Ski Area at Rossland, British Columbia, along the ridgeline of seven mountains.
8. HIKE TO A MOUNTAIN LAKE
The big powerboat lakes get all the attention and that’s the way hikers like it as they head to high mountain lakes for a little peace.
The Inland Northwest is full of options, especially in the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness in Okanogan County, the Idaho Selkirk Mountains, Bitterroot Divide and the Mallard-Larkins Pioneer area south of the St. Joe River.
Best bet: Harrison Lake, from the trailhead at the end of the Pack River road north of Sandpoint – 5 miles round trip with just enough elevation gain to make you appreciate the cool water in the shadow of handsome Harrison Peak. Details: “100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.”
Braggin rights: Take a swim.
9. PADDLE TO UPPER PRIEST LAKE
Get to this North Idaho gem as the trappers did, by muscle power in a canoe or kayak from the Beaver Creek paddlers’ launch, up The Thorofare to the 3-mile-long lake.
Best bet: Go early morning, ahead of the powerboaters who can’t read the no-wake sign.
Braggin rights: Camp at Trapper Creek and hike up the trail into the ancient cedars.
10. PADDLE THE SPOKANE RIVER
It’s our home water. You have to do at least one stretch. Lifejacket required.
The river runs 111 miles from Lake Coeur d’Alene to the Columbia River, with only 36 miles free-flowing. Check out options in guidebooks, “ Paddle Routes of the Inland Northwest” or “ Paddling Washington,” as well as the online Spokane River Water Trail website, spokaneriver.net/watertrail.
Braggin rights: Launch a kayak at the state line and surf Dead Dog Hole.
11. RUN A WHITEWATER RAPID
Don’t let David Thompson and the Lewis and Clark Expedition be one-up on you. Join one of several local outfitters, such as ROW Adventures or Wiley E. Waters and claw your way through the Spokane River’s Devil’s Toenail or live large on multiday trips in Idaho wilderness areas, such as the Hells Canyon of the Snake.
Braggin rights: Take The Fang straight on without flipping the raft.
12. VISIT A NATIONAL PARK
In addition, consider the Lake Roosevelt and Lake Chelan national recreation areas and the Whitman Mission (near Walla Walla) and Nez Perce (east of Lewiston) national historic parks, also managed by the National Park Service.
Best bet: Mount Rainier’s Paradise meadows during the late July wildflower eruption, rated as one of the best wild blooms in the world.
Braggin rights: Hike the 95-mile Wonderland Trail around Rainier, Washington’s highest peak.
13. OVERNIGHT IN A FIRE LOOKOUT
Talk about a room with a view. In their heydays of the 1940s and ’50s, fire lookouts were perched on the tops of more than a thousand Inland Northwest mountains that provided the best vantage for spotting forest fires. Just a few dozen remain standing. Some of these rustic cabins are rented for overnight visits at recreation.gov.
Best bet: Book any lookout during the Perseid meteor shower, Aug. 10-13.
Braggin rights: Some lookouts can be accessed by road, but hikers enjoy the ultimate escape to solitude by packing into remote lookouts such as Shorty Peak northwest of Bonners Ferry.
14. PACK INTO A WILDERNESS
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act by exploring one of the region’s protected areas where no roads, motors or even bicycles are allowed. Idaho has 12 official wilderness areas, Montana has 15 (some are very large), Washington has 31 and Oregon has 47.
Best bet: The Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeastern Oregon has great trails and lakes with numerous short and long-distance options.
Braggin rights: Hike to Ice Lake, a steep trail ascent in itself. Camp and get up early enough to scramble up Sacajawea or Matterhorn – the two highest peaks in the Wallowa Mountains – and return to camp before the thunderstorms move in.
15. JOIN A TRAIL WORK PARTY
You’ve taken a lot of pleasure from the outdoors to reach this point. Now join the growing ranks of volunteers who are giving a little back.
Best bet: Check the Washington Trails Association schedule, wta.org.
Braggin rights: Earn a WTA trail volunteer hard hat.
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