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A Guide To Northern Idaho’s Panhandle

Jake and I spent a whole summer exploring some of Northern Idaho’s greatest wonders. We picked up some summer jobs and adventured in our free time around this beautiful part of the country.

With a mix of Pacific-Northwest vibes and hot sunny summer days, this place was a real treat. And one of the best parts of hiking in this area is the complete solitude along many of these stunning hikes. We created a guide to Northern Idaho’s Panhandle with some of our favorite spots in the area.

Snow Falls- Bonner's Ferry, ID

Many of the hikes in the area won’t be as crowded as many popular destinations, which can make some of the trails less maintained. Some do require a bit of hiking experience and bushwhacking along certain routes.

But if you are up for an adventure then many of these hikes should be high on your Northern Idaho’s Panhandle hiking list. 

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Bear Safety

Do note that you will be hiking in bear country. Both black bears and grizzly bears live in this area. If you spot a bear along any of these hikes, be sure to keep your distance. And you should always carry bear spray on every hike in the area. 

If you plan to camp or backpack around the area, then you need to have proper food storage such as a bear canister or bear hang bag.  Or verify that there are bear boxes provided.

Learn a more in-depth details for Bear Safety.

Hunt Lake:

Hunt Lake, Northern Idaho Panhandle

First on the Guide To Northern Idaho’s Panhandle is Hunt Lake. This is our favorite hike in the area but get ready for a rugged trail. Hunt Lake is located on the east side of Priest Lake, ID. 

The drive up to Hunt Lake trailhead is best accessed with 4×4 and high clearance, but Jake and I did it in our 2010 Ford E350 van. The road getting pretty rough the last 4 miles or so. We stopped about 1 mile before the trailhead when the road got a little too challenging for us, which added on an addition 2 miles roundtrip. Therefore, you can travel in a 2wd vehicle and just stop when the road gets too rough and add on the extra distance of hiking the road. 

The hike is 2.2 miles with 583 feet elevation change. But don’t let the distance fool you, this hike is a bit challenging. The majority of the hike is over a boulder field that requires a good deal of scrambling to navigate the rocks. And the trail can be tricky to follow because you need to locate orange spray paint on rocks and ribbons on trees to guide you to the lake. And you will likely encounter some snow on the trail until July.

But you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of an alpine lake. If you want a birds eye view from above you can continue climbing up the boulder field to the right of the lake. We believe Hunt Lake is one of the most stunning alpine lake hikes in the area. 

There also looked to be a couple good places to set up camp if you are interested in backpacking. But do note, carrying a heavy pack over the boulders would be a challenge for even the fittest backpackers.

The Wigwams:

The Wigwam's On Northern Idaho's Panhandle

If you want a stunning view above Priest Lake and a view among the mountain tops, this hike is for you. The Wigwams is located East of Priest Lake near Coolin, ID. The hike is 3.2 miles with 1204 feet elevation change. 

Do note, you will need a 4×4 high clearance vehicle to make it all the way up to the trailhead. But a 2wd, high clearance vehicle will get you “almost there”. We parked our van about a mile from the trailhead and added about 2 miles roundtrip to the whole hike. 

The hike is maintained and offers stunning views along the way. There is also an awesome view over a cliff right before the last climb up to the panoramic view. Be sure to stop here either on your way up or way back down. 

Snow Lake:

Snow Lake- Northern Idaho Panhandle

Located just West of Bonner’s Ferry, ID is Snow Lake. It is another stunning alpine lake in our guide to Northern Idaho’s Panhandle. The hike is 7.3 miles with 1587 feet elevation change. The trail is well maintained all the way to the lake. 

But, at about 1.5 miles you will come to a “Y” in the trail. The trail to Snow Lake is the the left, and Bottleneck Lake is to the right. (We only hiked to Snow Lake). If you follow the trail to the left, it is about another 2.3 miles til you reach Snow Lake. 

There is also a very nice backpacking camp up near the lake. We noticed many fisherman up at the lake, so if you enjoy fishing, bring along your rod!

There are a few river crossings, but depending on the time of year, you may be able to keep your feet dry (Spring and Early-Summer you will probably get wet, Late-Summer and Fall you can stay dry). You can also get a birds eye view of the lake if you have interest in climbing the boulder field to the right of the lake. 

If one lake wasn’t enough, there is Bottleneck Lake that continues right at the “Y” you hit at 1.5 miles into the hike. It is about another 3 miles roundtrip if you decide to check out Bottleneck Lake. 

Snow Falls:

Snow Falls- Northern Idaho Panhandle

On the same road as Snow Lake, you will also find Snow Falls. And it is one of the cooler waterfall hikes in the area! The hike is 1.2 miles with 285 feet elevation change. At about .5 miles you will come to a “T” in the trail. To the right (up) will lead you to the Upper Falls and left (down) will lead you to the Lower Falls. 

Jake and I only visited the upper falls as we assumed it was the cooler of the two waterfalls. And we were on a time crunch to get back on the road. But if time isn’t an issue, it is just a short hike to the lower falls as well.

American Falls:

American Falls- Northern Idaho Panhandle

American Falls is a full-on adventure on the Ultimate Guide to Northern Idaho’s Panhandle. It is also known as Upper Priest River Trail. It is the closest Jake and I have ever gotten to Canada thus far. The drive to this hike is long and steep but can be done in a 2wd vehicle. And the trailhead is truly at a dead-end road, just before the Canadian border.

There are two different ways you can get to this hike, but we will mainly be talking about the shorter route. If you drive up to the north trailhead, the hike is about 2.6 miles with about 1024 feet elevation change. 

This is one of the prettiest trails we had been on in the area, as it has Pacific Northwest Vibes. Many of the trees are covered in a beautiful green moss and much vegetation growing on the ground. 

Right before getting to the falls, we noticed a great camping area if backpacking is of interest. It is along the river, with a fire pit already set up. 

Shortly after the campsite, is the waterfall you came for. With pristine water flowing down the rock into a large pool entices you for a swim. But unfortunately, the day we went, it was pretty cold. But on a hot summer day, this would be the perfect place for a quick dip. 

American Falls From The Cave

There is also a cool cave to the right, but it can be challenging to get to. There is a steep dirt path to the right if you are looking at the falls. We decided to sit in here to enjoy the view of the falls and have a little snack. 

If you are looking for a longer hike, or not interested in driving up the road, then you can hike from the lower trailhead making the hike a total of 18.6 miles with 2,395 feet elevation change. Follow the directions from Alltrails to find the lower trailhead. 

Lionshead Natural Rock Slides

One of the coolest activities we did while traveling in Northern Idaho’s Panhandle was the Lionshead Natural Water Slides. The hike is 3.1 miles with 459 feet elevation change. The drive up to the water slides can be rough, as there are many “speed bump” like dips in the road every few hundred feet. 

The trail is well maintained but does have a couple of river crossings. We suggest wearing river hiking shoes because the last river crossing is about knee-deep on a rock path. Once you reach the rock slides you are in for a true adventure.

Water glides over a rock face where many people can slide down about a 100-foot slide. If you want to go even faster, many people bring along trash bags so it seamlessly glides over the rock face. But, please pack out your trash bag after use. We noticed many people leave their trash bag behind, making the place look like a disaster. 

Do note, we went in August when the water levels were lower. Many people have stated the water is too intense earlier in the season June/July. Take the water slides at your own risk.

After the water slides, venture up the trail about another few hundred feet to a waterfall. We didn’t venture much further from there, but there might be a path leading along the river. 

Priest Lake:

Priest Lake- Northern Idaho Panhandle

Priest Lake is the main attraction in this part of the country. It’s a beautiful lake with mountain views in the background. No hiking is involved to get to this location as there are many beaches, resorts, campgrounds and cabins that line the shores. 

Kayaking on Priest Lake

If budget isn’t an issue, we highly suggest renting a boat to explore this stunning lake. Or even rent a kayak, SUP or canoe just to get out on the water. If you are looking for a rental in the area, check into Elkin’s Resort Rentals

If you are trying to find a remote beach along Priest Lake, drive up Reeder Bay Road/NF 2512. There are a few pull-offs along the road where you can hike down to the beach. 

There are also many campgrounds surrounding the lake that offer great views and access to the lake. Such as Reeder Bay, Beaver Creek, Luby Bay, etc. Or if you are looking for a cabin in the area, check into Elkin’s Resort. 

Elkins Resort:

Elkin's Resort on Priest Lake

And if you are on the lake or around the area, be sure to stop at Elkins Resort Restaurant! They have some of the best food on the lake! A must-try is their Pork Nachos, but bring friends to share it with because they are HUGE! 

Elkin's Resort On Priest Lake, Idaho

Jake and I had the pleasure to work for Elkin’s Resort one summer, and the food and atmosphere can’t be beat for the area. With one of the most stunning views on the lakeshore, Elkin’s far surpasses the others around the lake. Don’t forget to grab one of their famous Huckleberry Daiquiris for a tasty drink and a Huckleberry Crisp for dessert. 

Takeaway For This Guide To Northern Idaho’s Panhandle

Northern Idaho’s Panhandle is not always a place on travelers bucket list, but it sure does have beauty. It is such a remote area, you actually get the feeling on solitude, and a true “up north” atmosphere. We enjoyed our time exploring it’s beauty and hope you enjoy our Guide To Northern Idaho’s Panhandle. 

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