Strychnine Ridge


Forest Service Trail #319

Why? Nice woods walk

Season: Mid-June through October.

Ease: Moderate. It’s 3 ¾ miles and 1,600 feet up to the top of Little Bald Mt.

Strychnine Ridge sounds an unpleasant destination, but it’s not. The trail along it travels through pleasant woods and offers many of the values that woods have to offer.

The day I hiked, the value I appreciated most was shade and the coolness it brought, for it was an extremely hot summer day. The shade was provided by a mixture of tree species: cedar, lodgepole and ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, hemlock and others. Mostly the trees were modest-sized, but just when I’d start to overdose on the one- to two-foot diameter little guys, a nice, big three-footer would loom trailside.

I enjoyed watching the changing assortment of plants in the understory as the canopy opened and closed, and I especially liked one open area with nothing but white-flowering nine bark bushes under the tall trees. Nine barks always remind me of the Eastern high bush cranberry.

Nine bark was only one of many white flowering plants I saw that day. The list began with strawberries and bunchberries, then expanded to include a mix of queen’s cup, false Solomon’s seal, starry Solomon’s seal, thimbleberry, mitreworts and a bunch of others I can’t find in my flower guides. Even the meadowrue was white.

The trail has a couple of unrelenting uphill stretches that are separated by a half hour of gentle slopes and level areas. The open area on top of Little Bald makes a good lunch and turnaround spot. The view of the back side of Moscow Mountain is nice, but in other directions you see a heavily used landscape, at least partly the result of the area’s varying ownership. Don’t do this hike for the scenery, do it for the woods.

I didn’t go on to Bald Mountain. That would have meant relinquishing some of the altitude I’d gained, crossing a road and then hiking up a hill that was fully exposed to the afternoon sun. My advice is to hike to Little Bald. If you want to go to Bald, drive.

Strychnine Ridge is named for the creek it parallels. According to Idaho Place Names, the creek was so named because the stream had been poisoned with strychnine in order to eliminate the Chinese miners who successfully worked the area after it had been abandoned by white miners.

I’ve always liked meadowrue with its delicate foliage and interesting flowers. In the domesticated form, the flowers are fluffy looking, usually yellow or lavender or white. I recently looked up meadowrue in my field guides because I’d noticed that, in the woods, sometimes the flowers look one way, sometimes another. It turns out that makes sense, for the male and female flower parts are on separate plants. It’s the male flowers I like, for the pollen-bearing stamens hang down and wiggle in the wind much like miniature hula skirts.

Trail Notes: I think this trail might be noisy on a weekend day when I’m sure it’s a lot busier, possibly with motorized vehicles.

Directions: Turn right off Highway 6 north of Harvard, Idaho, onto the road to Laird Park. Stay on this road, which turns into gravel after the campground, 1.8 miles to the bridge over Strychnine Creek. Turn left just before that bridge on Road 768, then go straight 2.3 miles later on Road 1427. The trail is on the right 1.8 miles later - there’s a small sign just visible in the trees, and a wide spot in the road on the left for parking.

Information: Palouse Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 875-1131.

Map: USGS Emida and Sand Mountain, Idaho, and the Recreation on the Palouse booklet.