Fish Lake


Forest Service Trail #419

Why? Lovely Lake, when it’s quiet, and wildflowers in season.

Season: July through September

Ease: Moderate to difficult. It’s 6.5 miles and 1,500 feet up to the lake.

You won’t see much of Lake Creek as you walk the trail along it toward Fish Lake near the North Fork, but what you do see when you’re close enough is lovely and clear enough for counting the pebbles on its bottom.

Hiking to Fish Lake is a pleasant way to spend a day, as long as it’s not fishing or hunting season (see below) or a weekend. The trail cuts a wide and open swath through the woods and follows a gentle grade. The scenery along the way isn’t rugged peaks but rather the gentle, dark green slopes of Osier Ridge and Wapito Point. For relief, there are the brighter greens of the shrubs and meadows.

Stream crossings are no problem, though the boards for walking across one were broken and sagging into the water when I hiked the trail. An open meadow that surely should host big animals morning and night hosted only ground squirrels in the middle of the day when I passed through.

The trees along the way are mainly spruce and fir, with some hemlock marking the higher areas. And there are lots of wildflowers, at least in June. I especially enjoyed the fields full of bluebells, more than I’d ever seen before. And the field carpeted with magenta shooting stars that I walked through just before reaching the lake.

The lake has little or no beach but is surrounded by cloud-covered peaks on the shore opposite the campsites. The campsites include grills and there are nearby pit toilets, and the area obviously is well- if not over-used.

Trail Notes: The trail to Fish Lake has been adopted and is maintained by the Clearwater Road and Trail Committee. It is open to motorized vehicles and I’m told it’s especially busy when the fishing season opens in August, then again in October. I’m sure it can be busy on summer weekends, but during the weekday I went in late June I met no one else.

There are 2 trails off to the right along this trail, for horse and foot traffic only.

Directions: Turn left on Highway 11 off of Highway 12 at Greer, just past milepost 51. Turn right on French Mountain Road just before mile marker 29. The North Fork Clearwater River is 30 miles later. Turn right on the road along the North Fork for 18.8 miles to the Kelly Forks Work Center, then turn left to stay along the North Fork on Road 250.Between 18 and 19 miles later, turn right on Road 295. When that road forks, turn right for the trailhead that’s about 2 miles later. There’s a pit toilet uphill on left.

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

Map: USGS Bruin Hill, Idaho.

Connections: It is possible to connect to the Bitterroot Divide Trail from Fish Lake, but I have not done that.