Indian Mountain Lookout Hike, Priest Lake, Idaho

     Indian Mountain was one of those places at Priest Lake that would come up from time to time. I had seen road signs pointing the way, looked at it on topographic maps and satellite images, had heard of it by word of mouth, even seen a few pictures here and there. Recently, a longtime friend, Barb Conboy had shared some pictures that had rekindled my interest. I love going to the lake, but I’m just not one to sit around, especially when surrounded by god’s country. With an upcoming trip planned to Priest Lake I had everyone on board for making the short trek to Indian Mountain lookout. I recently acquired a map for the Kaniksu National Forest, had a text message with a vague route description to the trailhead, a GPS, and we still managed to miss the trailhead! Eventually we did find the access road to the trailhead but to our surprise the gate was closed! Oh well, we went anyway.

     I had all the confidence in the world we would make it to the top of Indian Mountain, but still had no idea how much we would be biting off with the added road walk. I was ok with the the predicament, just happy to be out, we didn’t need to make the summit. I’m almost 40 now, but when I first started hiking failure wasn’t an option. Nowadays, it’s not about me, It’s all about my 8 and 5 year old kids, my lovely wife Robin, and keeping them happy. In addition, this trip also included Robin’s parents, Steve and Mary. I just wanted everyone to have a good time, it’s all about creating memories with the ones you love. We departed the Highlander at the closed road, and all made our way over, under, or around the gate, there was 6 of us.

     We picked up the good road, the walking was easy, and the grade good. Quickly we spread out, grandpa playing the roll of the hare, grandma the tortoise, with everyone else spread out somewhere in between. The weather was perfect, we got a late start giving the temps time to crawl into a comfortable zone, fall color was all around us with red huckleberries and golden larch stealing the show. Right off the bat we had views down to Priest Lake and across to the Selkirk Crest. We covered the first 1.3 miles in a respectable amount of time. Grandpa was ready for a break so we found a good stump for a seat at a primitive camp near the road end and summer time trailhead. We sat for a while which gave me time to scout out the route, it was steep, I was worried about the grandparents so I went to work finding hiking sticks for them to use as trekking poles.

     We started our way up the unsigned jeep track, the going was steep, and i mean steeeeep. We took our time, we had all day, and I had fully intended to take that much time if we needed it. Steve was doing well despite his lack of balance. We passed a sign on the left that showed a motorcycle with a line crossed through it, my kind of place. Soon I reached the top of the first steep pitch, and waited for everyone else, the kids were handling themselves nicely, especially Kylie, she had lungs of steel!  Once we had regrouped we took another break before pressing on. The grade had eased a bit, but for only a bit, as we had approached the next steep section. Again I repeated the process hiking ahead with the kiddos to the top of the steep grade where we waited for the grandparents and took another break. After our break, walked through another flat stretch adorned with red underbrush and golden larch, it was absolutely beautiful. The views were beginning to really open up as we could make out more of the scenery along the granite peaks of the Selkirk crest to the east. The good grade soon ended at the foot of what appeared to be a climb to no end. I wondered if this would be the deal breaker, but everyone in time made it to the top of the relentless slope, myself doing the best I could to chase Kylie to the top, wow she is in good shape! We could make out blue skies near the top and before long found ourselves at the end of the last climb with the lookout tower of Indian Mountain just out of reach. I pointed out huckleberries to the kids and they quickly got to work. I knew the picking was less than stellar, but that wasn’t the point, we all needed to reach the summit together. I enjoyed the break and eventually hollered down to Robin to make sure they were on the way, they were close. With most of the work out of the way our summit was within reach.

     I was really proud of the grandparents for not giving up and pushing themselves beyond their limits to reach the top, it was very cool to see. At the base of the lookout tower I followed Jameson and Kylie up the stairs to the top, but unfortunately the lookout tower was closed, but the view from just below the lookout deck was spectacular nonetheless. To the east the entire Selkirk crest including the infamous features of Lookout Mountain, Lion Head Ridge, The Sisters, Chimney Rock, Roothaan, Gunsight, Hunt, and Sundance Mountain. To the north I could make out the tallest peaks deep into Canada and to the south layers of blue green summits and connecting ridges rolling across the landscape like waves on an ocean, and of course, far below stretched Priest Lake, the crown jewel of north Idaho.  After taking in the views we carefully made our way down the rickety steps to the bottom of the tower where we explored the few outbuildings used to supply the still manned lookout tower. I always get a kick out of the outhouses, they are so full of character. We spent some time at the top while the kids enjoyed a snack, but eventually it was time to say goodbye.

     We took it easy on the way down and after a few breaks eventually regained the forest road, a welcome site. From here on out the hike was a nice stroll along a seasonally abandoned road. Eventually we reached the car, quickly loaded up, and made our way to the lake where we found cold beers and nachos on the patio overlooking the lake at Grandview. The hike to Indian Mountain was awesome, and a memorable one, nice to see the grandparents out enjoying one of our families pastimes and getting a little quality time in with the grand kids. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor the recent loss of another local historic lookout tower on the lonely summit of Little Snowy Top Mountain to fire just to the north of us. We hiked around 4.5 miles round trip with about 700 feet of elevation gain, well worth the effort. Go see for yourself! For more pictures click the link. Indian Mountain Lookout Pictures

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