Elmer Creek to the Heritage Cedar Grove


Forest Service Trail #96

Why? Great old cedar.

Season: July through September, but see Trail Note below.

Ease: Moderate. It’s 2 miles and about 800 feet up from Isabella Creek to the cedar.

Hiking up Elmer Creek brings you closer to Isabella Creek – you actually cross it – than the trail up that creek does (hike 16). But the real reason to hike it is to see the fine cedar tree at the trail’s end.

That tree has a huge trunk at the base, maybe 12 feet in diameter. A short way up, the trunk splits into two, and each of those splits into two more trunks farther up. A lovely, corkscrew-shaped branch on one side completes the picture. And it’s easy to enjoy, for there are benches next to and across from it that make great lunch spots.

The couple of miles up Elmer are primarily in the woods once you cross Isabella, which at the time of this writing has no bridge. At one time, a log served the purpose, but it has since washed away. And prior to it, the more substantial bridge that used to cross Isabella was the victim of a washout after one of those heavy snow years of the mid-1990s. Some of its supports are still visible a bit downstream. But it takes a bit of imagination to envision how what in the summer is a small creek could be big and strong enough to take out the bridge those supports once held.

The woods always seem to sport cedar, often with Pacific yew underneath, along with some fir and a pine or two. (I didn’t see pines, but did see pine cones.) The farther you go, the bigger and better the cedar get, culminating with that big one at the end of the trail. You’re between Heart Peak and Isabella Point as you walk along Elmer Creek, and you can see Black Mountain from near the end of the trail.

There actually is another bench along this trail but, like me, you might not notice it on the way in. It’s a large log that has been flattened at one end for easy seating, and it’s on the bit of trail between that along Isabella Creek and that creek itself. When I noticed it on the way out, the only occupant was a fuzzy, cream colored caterpillar.

My only other wildlife was a bird group: a pileated woodpecker, a couple of flickers and two ravens all on the ground together near the trail. They took off as a group at my approach.

Note: The Heritage Cedar Grove was one of my first hiking destinations after I moved west in 1988. A friend and I car camped where the road to the trailhead crosses Isabella Creek, then day hiked to the grove the next day. It was a memorable trip.

The night we camped I experienced my first thunder and lightening storm in a tent. I didn’t get much sleep. I’m always nervous when the thunder and lightening happen simultaneously, no matter where I am. And a tent is just about my last choice for place to be.

Our only hiking map was the forest map, something I wouldn’t put up with now. But we did ok, reaching Isabella and John Creeks before we could no longer tell which direction the trail was going. (It’s since been reworked.)

We took turns going first on our way in, using a stick to bat the spider webs out of the way. Both of us were nervous about spiders, so leading wasn’t first choice for either of us. It poured as we hiked out, and we met a family of hikers huddled under a big rock, waiting out the storm.

Trail Notes: At the time of this writing, it appears possible that a new bridge may be built crossing Isabella Creek. The forest service told me that the trail would be extended to reach the trail along Smith Ridge that heads into the Mallard Larkins (hike 15) by 2016 or so.

Directions: The trail starts about 1 mile up the Isabella Creek Trail (hike 16).

Information: North Fork Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 476-4541.

Map: USGS Mallard Peak, Idaho.