Backpacking North Idaho
The trail leaves the Town of Mullan, re-entering the mountains at a State-run fish hatchery. The trail in this section follows 4×4 paths and crosses more roads than any other section of Idaho but does a relatively good job at staying wild. There are plenty of bushwhacking sections, especially toward the end when the trail begins to cross into the Selkirk Mountains.
Ridgeline to Clark Fork
Almost immediately after leaving Mullan, the trail ascends back into the steep mountains bordering Montana. High alpine lakes and hard to find trails make this section tiring but beautiful. Multiple road crossings keep the hike relatively close to civilization but the vast expanses of mountains stretch endlessly in all directions. The huge Clark Fork River which drains Flathead Lake and fills Lake Pend O’reille is a sight to see.
The city of Clark Fork is a beautiful little town that is growing fast thanks to its proximity to Coeur D’Alene. There is a long road walk into the town and after it as well. The trail was recently diverted from the mountains because of a private landowner rescinding hiking rights (Viggo Mortensen). This makes the trail follow a busy highway for a few miles which lacks shoulder space.
Lake Pend Oreille
The one silver lining is that this new route does take the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille. The 5th deepest lake in the nation and the largest and deepest lake in the state of Idaho, it is one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world. Highly accessible, her steep mountainous sides plunge straight into the water.
The trail leaves the roads (finally) and takes a maze-like route through a patchwork of private/public land until it finds its legs again in the mountains. Walking on top of ridgelines, the gigantic Lake Pend Orelle unfolds below and the Selkirks rise out of the horizon.
McArthur Lake Bushwhack
Here lies a brutal mountain bushwack. After a short road-walk, the trail disappears in the forest. Lacking a discernable road and any trail markers, it’s up to the hiker to make it to the top. Once there, a motorcycle track makes hiking fast again.
Backpacking the Selkirk Mountains
The Selkirk Mountains provide some of the wildest hiking in Idaho. Bulky and wide, their peaks are not much taller than 7-8,000 feet but they are mighty. The Selkirk Crest resembles granite waves frozen in time. There is some bushwhacking and excellent fishing in the high alpine lakes.
Priest Lake to Upper Priest Lake Falls
The small town of Coolin provides a great watering hole and plenty of room for stealth camping. The road walk along Priest Lake kinda sucks but it’s relatively flat. Upon hitting Upper Priest Lake, the trail diverges into the forest once again. The lake is gorgeous and quiet, providing a lovely backdrop for the tail end of the hike.
The last stretch of hiking to Upper Priest Falls takes boardwalks through old growth cedar forest. Huge trees, upwards of 1,000 years old stretch into the sky. At the terminus, the waterfalls cliff out, marking the end of the Idaho Centennial Trail
GRIZZLY BEAR WARNING
This entire section traverses grizzly country but keep vigilant especially in the Selkirk Mountains and the Priest Lake area. There are bear boxes – marked on the GPX file – which is a relief. I did run into a grizzly on the road just south of Upper Priest Falls.
Wild West Trail Notes
With more road walking and manicured trails than the rest of the state. The North Idaho Section is probably the most family-friendly part of the ICT. Don’t let the relatively benign days soften your resolve. There is still the chance of snow storms, forest fires, and wild animal encounters.