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Outdoor plans for holiday depend on lingering snow

Conditions are ripe for heading outdoors during the holiday weekend, but the field is by no means wide open for recreation.

“I’ve worked out of Sandpoint since 1978,” said Mary Ann Hamilton, Forest Service trails coordinator. “I can’t remember a year when people weren’t at least getting close to Harrison and other Selkirk Mountains lakes by the Fourth of July. This year the road access is still blocked miles away from many trailheads.”

A few high-country attractions are open, however, including the Route of the Hiawatha rail trail near Lookout Pass.

The pocket list of considerations for the masses headed out this weekend:

  • Idaho requires out-of-staters to have their boats inspected as they enter the state. Locations are online,

  • Idaho invasive species stickers are required on ALL watercraft except inflatables that are shorter than 10 feet. Purchase online.

  • Snow and blowdowns still clog many high-elevation roads and trails throughout the region;

  • Some higher trails are accessible, but creek crossings can be treacherous.

  • Washouts are a major problem on some forest roads in areas such as the Okanogan.

Forest Service road and trail crews say conditions are starting to improve rapidly with warmer weather in the high country, but not fast enough for Fourth of July visitors.

Forest websites are decent sources of information, but they’re often slow to be updated. People planning more adventurous outings should call district offices for the latest conditions.

Here are a few snapshots I’ve pulled together to help you plan outdoor activities in this late transition to summer.

Watersports: Most lakes, such as Pend Oreille, are brim full or higher. You can camp at Whiskey Rock with no problem, but the dock is underwater.

The Pend Oreille River is still out of its banks. Lake Roosevelt’s drawdown is history and it’s refilling fast, so beware of where you camp or beach a boat.

Fishing: Lake fishing conditions are generally good, with access opening to higher lakes. Browns Lake on the Colville National Forest northeast of Newport is accessible. It’s also filled with water for the first time in years.

The Coeur d’Alene River has been coming down steadily until Tuesday’s hot weather evened it out at high but fishable flows.

The St. Joe River has more snow at its headwaters causing flows to spike more noticeably with this week’s warm-up. But anglers were finding soft water for fishing success in the lower river earlier this week.

Montana rivers are still in serious runoff stage. Clark Fork Trout and Tackle Shop in St. Regis cleared its schedule of guided trips through July 11 and, with fingers crossed, has been rebooking them starting the 12th.

Mountain passes: Moon Pass out of Wallace is open to the St. Joe River country, but neither Gold Pass out of St. Regis nor Hoodoo Pass out of Superior will be open over the Bitterroots for another week at the earliest.

Pass Creek Pass east of Sullivan Lake is rough but drivable with four-wheel drive vehicles.

That brings up a point: The first drivers of summer to motor up snowy, muddy forest roads into the high country aren’t necessarily heroes. These upper roads need time to dry and firm up. The damage done by early drivers is costly to all of us.

Hiking trails: Generally, low-elevation trails are open and logged out, but trail crews haven’t been able to get very high. Examples:

  • Blue Mountains: Tucannon River and Panjab areas are open, and the Skyline Road is mostly open, but snow still blocks road access to Oregon Butte and Mount Misery trailheads.

  • Colville National Forest: Hikers reported walking on snow up to 3 feet deep in stretches earlier this week on trails above Sherman Pass. But they found open ground on the south-facing slopes of Columbia Mountain.

    The first 4 miles of Noisy Creek Trail have been cleared up from Sullivan Lake toward Hall Mountain.

  • Priest Lake: The Navigation Trail to Upper Priest Lake has been snow-free for a while and crews will have it cleared by the weekend.

    The road is open to the trailhead for the Upper Priest River trail. It hasn’t been logged out, but it’s not a bad year for blowdowns, trail crews report.

  • Sandpoint: The Pack River Road is blocked miles away from the trailhead for Harrison Lake. You can get to the trail to Hunt Peak, but the runoff down McCormick Creek might keep hikers from continuing.

  • Bonners Ferry: Lowland trails are open, such as access to Copper Falls and even to Snow Creek Falls. But snow still blocks the road to Roman Nose Lakes. You can drive to the trailhead for Shorty Peak Lookout, but the trail itself remains covered by 3 feet of snow.

  • Mount Spokane: All trails are open except for Trail 135 from the Mount Kit Carson Road up to the summit. Target date for getting the road open to the summit is July 9. Quartz Mountain lookout should finally be open for those who have reservations by the weekend.

Hamilton said a lot more people will be competing for lowland campsites and recreation, since much of the high country is still off limits.

Roads will lure visitors into the forest, she said. “But if your destination is too high, you probably won’t get there.”

Contact Rich Landers (509) 459-5508 or email

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