Best Hikes in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests (ID)


The Idaho Panhandle National Forests were created in 1973 to jointly administer the Coeur d’Alene, Kaniksu, and St. Joe National Forests which encompass 2.5 million acres. The majority of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ lands are located in the panhandle but small portions enter eastern Washington and western Montana.

The Selkirk, Cabinet, Coeur d’Alene and Bitterroot mountain ranges feature glacial cirques and gem-like lakes high above timberline and craggy ridgetops. The country, remote and rough to travel, is a special place for those seeking solitude. There are many special places in northern Idaho, from popular lakeside campgrounds to high wilderness.

The best hikes in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests are described below. If hiking isn’t your forte, consider biking the Route of the Hiawatha. The Route of the Hiawatha mountain bike or hike trail is 15 miles long with 10 train tunnels and 7 sky-high trestles. The ride starts with a trip through the 1.661 mile long St. Paul Pass Tunnel, also known as the Taft Tunnel. It is a highlight of the trail that follows the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains near Lookout Pass Ski Area.  The best part is…. it’s mostly downhill with shuttle buses available to transport you and your bike back to the top. More recreational and historical information on the forests can be found on the Official Website.

StateIdaho; Washington; Montana
Nearest Metro AreaSpokane, WA
Area Size3,222,077 acres
EstablishedJuly 1, 1908
Hiking Trails1,400 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in the Idaho Panhandle’s National Forests

  • Harrison Lake Trail #217 – 4.6 miles out and back
    • One of the most popular trails on the Sandpoint Ranger District, this trail provides access to a beautiful mountain lake. There are views of the Pack River drainage and the Selkirk Crest along the entire route. There are several nice campsites and a bear proof food storage container at the lake.
  • Mickinnick Trail #13 – 7.0 miles out and back
    • The trail is 3.5 miles long (one-way) and switchbacks around huge rock outcroppings, goes through grassy and mossy meadows and past old growth timber. Spectacular vistas all along the trail include Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint, the Cabinet Mountains and the Pend Oreille River.
  • Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail*** – 3.3 mile loop
    • This trail, located on BLM land, offers an invigorating hike and stunning views of Lake Coeur d’Alene. An interpretive trail guide describes the plants, animals and interrelationships of the forest at 22 marked stations along the trail. Each winter from November through February, a migrating population of over 200 bald eagles visit the area to feed on the spawning kokanee salmon.
  • Pulaski Tunnel Trail – 4.0 miles out and back
    • The Pulaski Tunnel Trail traces part of the route that Edward Pulaski’s crew followed during their escape from the 1910 fires. The trail’s two-mile course brings hikers to an overlook across the creek from the Nicholson mine entrance – better known as the Pulaski Tunnel – where “Big Ed” Pulaski saved all but six of his 45-man firefighting crew in August of 1910. 
  • Scotchman Peak Trail #65*** – 8.4 miles out and back
    • This is a very steep trail providing views of rugged alpine scenery and vistas of Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River Valley. This is the high country and a family of mountain goats can often be seen or heard from the summit.
  • Stevens Lakes Trail – 5.2 miles out and back
    • Difficult trail that climbs up to Lower and Upper Stevens Lakes. The trailhead is located just south of I-90. Part of the trail requires a rock scramble over shale that can be difficult without the proper footwear.
  • Upper Priest River Trail #308*** – 16.2 miles out and back
    • This is a very scenic trail and receives heavy use. It is an easy hike and offers excellent views of old growth cedar and lush river bottom vegetation. The length of this trail follows along the Upper Priest River and ends at the junction of Continental Creek Trail #28 which continues on to the Upper Priest River Falls also know as the American Falls.

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