Backpacking The Pacific Northwest Trail
The newest National Scenic Trail in the country, as of 2009. The trail itself has been around since 1970 and is enjoying a surge in popularity over the last 10 years.
In recent years, the official route has been changed to make the hiking more palatable for newer hikers and more sustainable on the environment around it. This new management style and updated hiking map is proving to be a double-edged sword.
Hiking the Old PNT
The route I followed is what thru-hikers call “the old PNT”. It is the original trail, a slog up mountain ridges, bushwhacking, and through some of the most beautiful places in the country. Ever since the federal government got involved, the Forest Service has been re-routing the trail onto forest service roads. Why would they do this? The official story is that the trail is now more accessible for all styles of hikers but my more cynical side thinks differently:
- It costs less to do trail maintenance.
- It’s easier for the bureaucrats to sit behind their desks and proclaim they’ve built a new hiking trail.
Whatever you want to believe, this trail section guide is written to help you hike the Original Pacific Northwest Trail.
Hiking From Idaho To Glacier
The section of the PNT I completed starts at Upper Priest Lake and ends at Waterton Lake in Glacier National Park.
Total Mileage: 280.54
Upper Priest Lake
Some consider this lake the most beautiful body of water in the state of Idaho. Located in Grizzly country, there are bear boxes at marked campsites. Huge old growth cedar trees make this place beautiful and a breeding ground for mosquitos.
The trails are well maintained and there are plenty of day hikers and tourists in this part of the state. It is state-owned land but finding a place to hike and camp is easy and worry-free.
Selkirk Mountain Bushwhack
Hiking the Selkirk Mountains offers tremendous beauty and solitude. The majority of the range extends into British Columbia and Woodland Caribou still live among the peaks.
As beautiful as the granite peaked mountains are, the state of Idaho has not put any hiking trails connecting the western side to the eastern. This means summiting the Selkirk Crest without the assistance of any discernible trail. It’s fun and the views at the top are insane.
Bonners Ferry, ID
There is a road walk that makes it easy to hitch into Bonners Ferry. A small town with all the conveniences needed, including a post office and an outdoor store.
3 miles north of town, this corner store provides the best prices for hiker food. Bulk Clif bars, junk food, and even fresh fruit, an entire resupply can and should be conducted here.
Ruby Ridge And The Mt. Davis Bushwhack
The trail is a mix of forest service roads and extreme bushwhacking. The hike goes along Ruby Ridge and passes into the state of Montana. The entire hike is through Grizzly country.
Mt. Davis Bushwhack
Bushwhacking up the Mt. Davis Ridgeline is hard but completely worth it. There is not much vegetation and the hiking is mostly through boulder fields. At the top, the ridgeline features knife-edge hiking along boulders and no trail maintenance. However, the views of Western Montana are breathtaking and being that close to the edge of the mountain is one of the more memorable moments of the PNT.
Mt. Henry Lookout
At the top of Mt. Henry is a small lookout tower. When I was there, I shared it with 3 other PNT hikers. I highly recommend sleeping there. There is a spring at the top of the mountain for water.
Perhaps the most friendly trail town in America. The small town of Eureka, MT has opened its arms to the Pacific Northwest Trail. The Chamber of Commerce – in the center of town – provides a grassy lawn with free camping. There are also showers available during the day. Across the street is a 24hr gas station/ convenience store. The town has a grocery store and plenty of restaurants, perfect for a 0 day.
Ten Lakes Scenic Area, Montana
The “new” PNT skips the Ten Lakes Scenic area and opts to take a road walk instead. This is without a doubt, one of the highlights of the hike. Featuring manicured trails, stone trail markers, and gorgeous high alpine lakes, do yourself a favor and DO NOT SKIP THIS SECTION.
Cutthroat trout abound and the lakes are impossible blues, deep, and clean. Few people frequent the area which makes it as remote as it is beautiful. The mountains of Glacier National Park hang in the horizon, adding to the awesomeness of the area.
Bushwhacking Into Glacier National Park
The new PNT follows roads and runs through the small town of Polebridge, MT. But if you don’t want to walk roads and instead want to traverse the western flank of GNP, then hike the original route.
Crossing the Flathead River is not a problem during July and August, the water level is low and the river is fordable. However, I was lucky enough to snag a float with some rafters across it. Something that is not impossible as it is a destination.
The initial bushwhack into the park is brutal but short. Eventually, the trail shoots onto a dirt Park road and makes its way to Kintla Lake. From here, it is as simple as following the manicured trails of the National Park.