Autumn, the colors, the temperature, even the air itself are changing. I feel like Mother Nature, exhausted from all the busyness of summer, has just brewed a cup of herbal tea, settled into her favorite chair and admonished everybody and everything to settle down, breathe deep and watch the leaves turn from glossy green to rich shades of yellow, orange and red.
Poets call it the season of transition and reflection. Hikers call it the best time to hit the trails as we transition from shorts and t-shirts to fleece and sturdy hiking boots. We know the trails will be quieter, the deer will come down to feed and the cooler air will give us energy to spare. There’s no better time to fall in love with North Idaho.
When you set out for hike, don’t forget water, layers of clothing, good shoes and a sense of adventure. You won’t need a map or compass for the simpler hikes but be sure to download or buy a map for Scotchman Peaks.
In addition to sitting at the edge of stunning, 25-mile long Lake Coeur d’Alene, Tubbs Hill is within walking distance of The Coeur d’Alene Resort. The craggy, heavily wooded, 162-acre park is encircled by a two-mile long hiking trail that weaves up and down, around and about, with ever-changing views of the lake.
This immensely popular hiking spot seems to change its personality from season to season. In summer when the influx of visitors is highest, Tubbs Hill wears a raucous persona. It spring, it’s quietly energetic, with grassy hillsides dotted by an array of purple pink, white and red wildflowers. Contemplation and silence descend when winter snow dusts the rocks, trails and hillside.
Q’emiln Park and Post Falls Community Forest
Don’t let its nearly unpronounceable name discourage you from discovering Q’emiln Park’s hiking trails and river views. Just say “ka-mee-lin” and head for this Post Falls jewel. At the end of the Spokane Street Bridge on the edge of the Spokane River, the sprawling riverside park is a favorite in the summer with picnic shelters, a boat launch, beach and a protected swimming area.
But its real treasure is the adjacent Post Falls Community Forest where hiking trails lead past popular Q’emiln climbing wall, through a natural area with grasslands, evergreen forests, granite cliffs, rock outcroppings and the Post Falls Dam. Most paths deliver you to the Spokane River, running cold and low in the fall. Hike quietly and watch for deer. www.postfallsidaho.org.
Add some elevation to your fall hike at Canfield Mountain. Located within a 24-acre natural open space, the 5.6-mile loop starts with a gentle climb and ends with a steady descent back to the start. In between, you’ll see fall colors and sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, Rathdrum Prairie and the towns of Hayden and Coeur d’Alene. Look for a mining cave at the end of the trail.
Wear sturdy shoes and watch your step where trails are sometimes uneven and rutted. If possible, schedule your Canfield Mountain hike for a weekday or early in the morning because the area is frequented by mountain bikers and four-wheelers. In spite of its popularity, you might spot moose, elk or deer along the way. www.cdaparks.org.
Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail
Rated “moderate,” this 3.3-mile long loop is uphill to the summit but worth every boot fall when you reach the top and absorb the panorama of fall colors and the expanse of Lake Coeur D’Alene, with Beauty Bay and Wolf Lodge Bay below. If you’re hiking here in November or December, you’ll be treated to the site of as many as 150 bald eagles perched on the surrounding trees, watching for spawning kokanee salmon fighting their way upstream to spawn.
Located on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Mineral Ridge is a little over 10 miles from The Coeur d’Alene Resort. An early start or a weekday hike is advised since the trail is popular with mountain bikers. More information at www.blm.gov.
Hiking meets history on this stunning hike a half mile south of Wallace on Forest Service Road 456 (50 miles from Coeur d’Alene). Before you go, read The Big Burn by Timothy Egan for the fascinating story of the 1910 fire that devastated 3 million acres of forest land as it swept through western Montana, northern Idaho and parts of eastern Washington and southern British Columbia. Men, women and children living in the silver towns were hurriedly evacuated on train and horseback, and many miners and firefighters were trapped in caves amidst heroic acts of bravery.
The two-mile Pulaski Tunnel Trail follows a rushing stream and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At the end of the trail, you’re rewarded with an overlook view of the legendary Pulaski Tunnel. If you read The Big Burn, you will be doubly impressed.
Nice to know, the first 725 feet of the trail are accessible to visitors with disabilities. More info at www.fs.usda.gov.
Only the strong need apply. With a very steep ascent of four miles and a 3,700-foot elevation gain, this hike isn’t for wimps or young children. Located at the highest point in Bonners County 77 miles from Coeur d’Alene, the rocky, scree-scattered hike delivers you to breathtaking views of Lake Pend Oreille and the surrounding Cabinet Mountains.
Long ago, the mountain goats that hang out at the top figured out that sweaty hiker’s bodies and the straps of their backpacks are yummy salt licks, but do not be lured into trying to make friends with these wild animals. They can be aggressive and nasty, so steer clear. Be sure to bring lots of water, rain gear and warm clothing. For more info, www.scotchmanpeaks.org.
Farragut State Park
With kids back in school and campgrounds beginning to empty, 4,000-acre Farragut State Park on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille turns chilly and serene. The lakeside park’s 40-miles of hiking trails wind through deep forest, sometimes skirting the water’s edge, offering stunning vistas of surrounding mountains where larch trees (also known as tamaracks) turn from deep emerald to yellow alongside the stately evergreens.
Located 37 miles from Coeur d’Alene, Farragut State Park has a fascinating history. During World War II, nearly 300,000 sailors were trained on the 1,200-foot deep lake at the Farragut Naval Training Station. The base closed in 1946 but the brig remains and has been turned into a museum with relics from the boot camp, naval and war memorabilia. The Brig Museum has limited off season hours, so check in advance if you’re interested in visiting it.
Not a serious hiker?
If fall color is on your agenda but walking shoes are more your style, simply stroll out of The Coeur d’Alene Resort, turn left or right, and two premier city parks are within an easy walk. To the west, 16-acre City Park and Fort Sherman Playground edge the lake and border North Idaho College. To the east, McEuen Park sprawls over 22-acres at the bottom of Tubbs Hill. It’s less than a mile walk around the park. Look for a veterans memorial, numerous sculptures and plaques. www.cdaid.org.