Fishtrap Lake


Why? Easy early and late season hikes with a fine waterfall, great scabland landscape, and the possibility of seeing a lot of bitterroot in bloom.

Season: Year round given that there could be snow in the winter months.

Ease: Each of the hikes at Fishtrap is easy to moderate, with little elevation change.

Choosing a hike in the Fishtrap and Hog Lakes area near Sprague, Washington, depends on what you want to see and how much time you have. There’s a fair amount of variety in the area, and all of the hikes are short, all but one coming in at under 4 miles.

The first is a 2.7-mile loop through an open grassy area east of and above Fishtrap Lake. While I couldn’t see the lake itself from the trail when I hiked it, there were more than enough other attractions to compensate. There were several types of flowers in bloom, including camas, lomatia, prairie star, larkspur, tritelea, phlox, iris, and bitterroot. The basalt outcrops along the way were short, looking quite like little scabs, and the trees, primarily ponderosa pine, were well off the trail. In summary, it’s a lovely open spot with lots of sky, interesting basalt, and flowers in season – in particular, the bitterroot.

The second hike is a 1.7 mile out and back trip above Hog Canyon and along Smick Meadows. It starts at one end of a meadow that it then crosses, then drops down to follow a flat area between the edge of various groves of ponderosa pine and Hog Canyon. The rock is, of course, basalt, and varies from an outcrop here and there to a nice cliff in places above Hog Canyon. This is a hike that feels like it has great wildlife potential. I saw deer and many birds on my evening hike, and heard many, many more kinds of the latter.

The third hike is a 2-mile each way out and back along and above the west side of Fishtrap Lake. This hike, like the first, is in the open and definitely has scabland characteristics. But from this hike, the lake is visible on occasion, at least after the first mile. The trees are again ponderosa pine, the rock basalt and the wildlife deer – several deer. The flowers included bitterroot and prairie smoke.

The fourth hike is an extension of number three, in a sense. I hiked it as a 4-mile, give or take, circle, heading toward the lake and Farmer’s Landing at the start. At the trail junction with the continuation of hike #3, turn left and continue until a second trail junction, at which you turn left again heading back toward the road. The final leg is along the road.

Except briefly near the first trail junction, the hike is in the open. There are ponds, lovely with colored vegetation around them in the fall.

The fifth hike is a short loop above Hog Lake that is perhaps my favorite of the five.  The draw is a fine set of waterfalls at the lakes northeast end. They occur over a long stretch of creek that first splits the meadow it flows out of, then drops into the lake via a series of pools and falls through the rock. The other highlight was a small pond rimmed with yellow flowers and watched over by yellow-headed blackbirds.
The sixth is a 1.3-mile out and back to Folsom Farm, a destination you also can drive to from the other direction. It offers fine views of Smick Meadow, a place that’s probably hopping with wildlife early and late in the day. The farm itself is a couple of old buildings and some implements that were used when the area was farmed during the first half of the 20th century. That’s when the wet area that is now Smick Meadow was drained. There’s a blind that overlooks the meadow, making wildlife watching even easier if you’re there at the right time of day.

Trail notes:
Hike 1: I suggest that you hike counter clockwise. Go through two gates, then follow the old road down the hill and turn right. The first junction, about 1 mile later, is easy to miss. The main trail appears to go straight ahead to the right of a small grove of trees and the left of a snag. There’s a small pointy knoll in the foreground. Look left, for tracks that head off before the knoll. They are the actual trail. Though the tracks will become faint in places, they are generally visible. If you miss the turn, you’ll come to two small lakes and the rocky area where I saw lots of blooming bitterroot.

Hike 2: After the trail passes through Smick Meadows, it comes up to a fence. Go through the gate at your left. In about 200 yards, there’s a well-worn track off to the right – that’s the trail.

Hike 3: At the start, take the road, not the single track. There are gates at the start.

Hike 4: There is one slightly confusing spot on the first leg. Stay to the left, into the few trees, rather than heading right.

Hike 5: After you see the falls and pass the small pond, there’s a fork. Stay right on the more road-like track rather than left on the more worn single track that heads down to the lake. The last part of this hike is back along the road.

Directions: Fishtrap is off exit 254 on Interstate 90. From it, drive a bit less than 1 mile on the Old State Highway to its intersection with the Lake Valley Loop Road.

Hike 1: Continue on the Old State Highway another 1.5 miles, turn left on Fishtrap Road, left again just before that road’s end at Fishtrap Resort, and drive 1.3 miles to the trailhead at the top of the hill, on the right.

Hike 2: As for Hike 1 except drive just 0.8 miles on Fishtrap Road, then turn left onto the road to Folsom Farm and find the trailhead immediately on the right, just after you turn.

Hike 3: As for Hike 1 except drive just 0.7 miles on Fishtrap Road to find trailhead on the right.

Hike 4: On the Old State Highway, continue 1.3 miles south past Fishtrap Road. Turn left onto Miller Ranch Road and right when it ends 0.2 miles later. The trailhead is 1 mile later on the left. (If you have two cars and want a shorter hike, leave on at the gate at the Ranch House at the end of Miller Ranch Road.)

Hike 5: At the intersection with the Lake Valley Loop Road, turn left and drive 1.7 miles to the trailhead on the left.

Hike 6: At the intersection with the Lake Valley Loop Road, turn left and drive 1 mile to the trailhead on the right.

Information: BLM Spokane, (509) 536-1200.

Map: The BLM maintains a web site, Under “Recreation,” click on “Recreation Sites,” then scroll down to “Fishtrap” to find the map and information about Fishtrap. Once you have them, the directions above will make more sense.

Notes: The Fishtrap Resort is not exactly the Coeur d’Alene. It’s a small place with a boat launch and a small, primitive campground.

The bitterroot (lewisia rediviva) was named after Meriweather Lewis. He collected it in 1806 in Montana and sent it back east. One of his dried specimens revived quite nicely when planted, hence the “rediviva” part of the name. It means “restored to life.”

Bitterroot blossoms are quite amazing, looking like nothing as much as mini water lilies. They sit right on top of bare, dry ground and look very out of place. Their leaves sprout and wither away before the flowers appear.
Bitterroot was an important plant to the Native Americans. Its roots were dug in the spring, when the roots were tender and full of starch. They were boiled or backed or dried for winter storage.

As the name suggests, the roots taste bitter when raw and, to some such as Lewis and Clark, also when prepared.