Isabella Creek


Forest Service Trail #95

Why? A fine woods walk with occasional views of the Mallard-Larkins high country.

Season: June through October.

Ease: Moderate to difficult, depending on how far you hike.

The trail along Isabella Creek will take you up and into the Mallard Larkins, to trail #399 to Mallard Peak or the Nub. But it’s also a fine creek hike and worth the walk even if you’ve no interest in heading uphill. It stays low and in the cedars for its first 4 miles or so, to Falls Creek. Most of the trees along the way are far from being old growth at two to three feet in diameter, but there are larger, old growth cedar and white pine here and there. Especially if you take the short side trip up Elmer Creek and visit the Heritage Cedar Grove.

The trail up Isabella Creek starts as a road, as do many trails. But after 20 minutes or so, the trail swings left, down and into the trees. About half way to this junction you’ll pass a creek with a small waterfall, the first of many drainages the trail traces in and out. Often the areas above and below the stream crossings are stacked with years of tumble-down logs.

The valley below the trail is heavily wooded and green, and for much of the way to Falls Creek, Isabella Creek isn’t visible. Mostly the trees are cedar, but you’ll also find some fir and some Pacific yew, especially the farther in and higher you go. (If you’re ambitious and hike uphill after Falls Creek, you’ll get hemlock at the ridge.) I imagine this hike would be relatively cool most anytime in the summer due to the shade.

The higher areas of the Mallard Larkins are visible above the
trail and across the creek. First, there’s Goat Ridge, then Isabella Point. Later, both Heart and Mallard Peaks can be seen. All have rocky outcrops with some vegetation, lots of which will be dark huckleberry red in mid-September.

The trail is wide and in excellent condition. There are mile markers at miles 2,3 and 4, but they measure mileage from the old trailhead and thus suggest that you’ve hiked farther than you actually have. At about mile 4, the trail turns up Falls Creek and heads uphill and into the Mallard Larkins. It’s steep but not a bad 2 ½-mile climb to the ridge.

In the early summer, expect to see wildflowers, in the fall, berries and mushrooms and fall color. In the lower reaches, watch for devils club, a species more often found in the Cascade Mountains.

Name Note: The name “Isabella” may have come from the nearby Isabella mine or from the Nez Perce name for the stream, Hisboy, which means Isabella.

If you look at the map, you’ll note that the Isabella Creek drainage is the inset in the oddly-shaped Mallard Larkins Pioneer Roadless area, an island of green in an area of sometimes heavily industrialized forest. The reason for the inset isn’t too hard to grasp: it held marketable timber stands.

Directions: Turn left over the bridge into Orofino and onto the Grangemont Road. Drive 26 miles to its end and turn left onto Highway 11and left again onto the Beaver Creek Road at Headquarters. When that road crosses the North Fork, continue on Road 700 rather than turning and following the North Fork upstream. Turn onto Road 705 in 3.3 miles. You’ll cross a bridge 1.5 miles later, and the road ends at the trailhead 2.2 miles after the bridge. There’s a sign.

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

Maps: USGS Mallard Peak, Idaho.

Connections: Isabella Creek could serve as an alternate entry or exit from the Mallard Larkins area that surrounds it.