Sand Mountain


Forest Service Trail #330

Why? Pleasant woods, versatile hike.

Season: Mid June through October.

Ease: Moderate to somewhat difficult. The entire trail is 9 miles long, with 2,100 feet in elevation gain and 1,700 loss.

The Sand Mountain Trail is a bit unusual. Hiking usually takes you further from civilization, but this trail takes you directly into it no matter which end you hike it from, Moose Creek or Laird Park. That’s because Sand Mountain itself is on private property and has been selectively logged. The trees that remain stand stiffly up from the ground, looking much like the head of a person with stiff but thinning hair who’s just had a crew cut. It’s not pretty, but if it’s what you want to see, it’s a whole lot easier to check it out from the highway as you approach the Laird Park trailhead. Sand is the two close together crew-cut peaks you see to the east.

Which is not to say that the trail isn’t worth hiking. The first 3 to 4 miles of the trail to Sand from either end are well worth some time. Both ends are through woods: grand fir, cedar, hemlock and even some white pine that escaped the saw. Both ends also are largely uphill.

From Laird, the trail follows Sypah Creek, a pleasant waterway that keeps you company with a small, quiet gurgle. In open spots, there are views of Gold Mountain and its surrounds.

After 3 miles, the trail junctions with that up Disalto Creek, then goes steeply up and out of the public land and into private land. The border is well marked, but needn’t be. The change is obvious, from forest to crew cut.

Coming from the other direction, the Moose Creek Reservoir, I hiked the trail early in the year. This end, too, is primarily in woods, with few views the day I hiked because of overcast and distant rain. We spent a lot of time that day looking at unusual wild flowers (see nature note, below).

You also can get to Sand Mountain via a trail up Disalto Creek,Trail, #3610, or from the connector trail #330A. The latter section of trail passes behind Mica Mountain, something that might be obvious without the sign. The trail in that area sparkles with small pieces of mica. The trail also has more thimbleberry than I’ve ever seen before, lots of toads, all looking normal, and a couple of snakes.

The several trailheads make this trail versatile. The two ends and the connector are the most enjoyable, while the trail up Disalto Creek is at best just OK, for it has many views of cut areas. But do keep in mind that the trail also is used by bikes both with motors and without. In a few places, especially those that are steep, there is severe trail erosion. The trail probably is noisy on weekends.

I’ve seen many old logging photos that show sawyers standing above the ground on boards that jut out from the tree they’re cutting. These trees are always big, too wide at ground level to cut easily. Notches were made in the trunks several feet up from the ground, and spring boards were wedged into them. When the sawyer stood on the spring board, he could reach a diameter easier to cut.
There’s the stump from one of these trees that sits alone in a small meadow near the Moose Creek Reservoir trailhead. It’s a good place to stop and think about the area’s history and the effort that it took to fell these giant trees by hand.

Nature Note: Wild ginger is a plant that hides its flower on the ground, under its large, dark green leaves. The flowers are brownish purple in color and shaped like a thimble with three long tendrils. As the flower matures, the top folds back a bit, showing three white dots.

The “local” brown and white mountain lady’s slippers and both the striped and spotted coralroots are all orchids. All are saprophytes, plants that live on decayed organic matter rather than making their own food from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. They are completely dependent on a fungus that decays the organic matter so that they can eat it. Both coralroots are pinkish in color and both usually grow in small groups of tall stems that have the small flowers arranged down them. I especially like the spotted ones, for the flowers really do look like tiny orchids.

Directions: To the Moose Creek trailhead: Take Highway 8 to Bovil, but turn left on Road 381 to Moose Creek Reservoir just short of Bovil. Stay right at the fork just past the reservoir sign. (The left fork continues around the reservoir.) Turn right about 6 miles from the start. (The left is gated a few yards past.) The trailhead is on left less than a mile in. It is signed, but the sign was down on ground when I hiked it. The connector is on the left 3.6 miles further along the same road.

To the Laird Park trailhead: Take Highway 95 north to Potlatch and turn right on Highway 6 toward St. Maries. Turn right into Laird Park and stay on this road past the campground and over the bridge over Strychnine Creek, which is 1.8 miles in. Turn right, go 1.5 miles to the second gravel road on the left, Road 4784. The trailhead is a few feet up this road on the right and is signed. The sign at the trailhead says: Sand Mountain 3, Mica Mountain 5, Moose Creek Connector 8, Moose Creek Road 10, Reservoir 12.

To the #330A Connector and Disalto CreeK #3610 from Laird: Cross the bridge over Strychnine, then go left on the Palouse River Rd. In 2.3 miles, stay right on the 381 Road. The Disalto Creek Trailhead is 1.4 miles further along, and the connector #330A is 6.3 miles after that.

Information: Palouse Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 875-1133

Maps: USGS Sand Mountain, Harvard, and Abe’s Nob, Idaho. The Recreation on the Palouse map booklet also shows the trail. All the trail junctions are signed.

Connection: You can also reach the Sand Mountain Trail via the Mica Mountain Trail. From Highway 9 (between highways 6 and 8), turn north on Mica Mt Road after 2.2 miles. Stay on it 1.6 miles later when Vassar Meadows Road goes off to right. Go right on the 3848 Road in 0.2 miles, stay right 1 and 1.2 miles later. Basically, drive until you decide to stop and hike. You will top out on Mica Mt., then head a bit down for 100 yards or so to a sign. Go left and down to intersect with the Sand Mt. Trail.
There are some views, but my best memory of the Mica Mt. Trail is due to hiking it in a serious overcast. When we topped out above it, we were looking down at a white ocean with a few forested islands.