Grave Peak


Forest Service Trail #45

Why? Views

Season: Mid-July through September

Ease: Strenuous. It’s 5+ miles and almost 3,000 feet up to Grave Peak, plus it hikes harder than it sounds.

It goes without saying that hiking to an old lookout site will be a view hike. Grave Peak also has a funky bit of history added. Norman McLean of “A River Runs Through It” fame spent a summer manning the lookout on Grave Peak. At the end of that summer, he hiked from nearby Elk Summit into Hamilton, Montana in one very long day, a hike he detailed in his story “A Cook, a Ranger, and a Hole in the Sky.” I’ve done that hike too – but it’s a multi day, 28-mile trek for me (hike xxx). Getting to and from Grave Peak can easily – well, maybe not exactly easily – be done in one day.

The high points of the Grave Peak hike start early, with a traverse along one edge of Kooskooskia Meadows. I hiked it the first time in the fall, when the meadow was gorgeous with the muted colors of huckleberry, sedges, dock and other low plants, all set against light colored granite and dark evergreens. The second time it was summer, and the meadow was a tapestry of greens, crying out for the grazing and browsing wildlife that wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

Next come the views back east that you’ll have as you turn around during your rests on the way up from the meadows to Swamp Lake, a somewhat steep ascent of more than 1,000 feet in a bit over a mile. Based on my always somewhat questionable reading of the maps, you can see the Bitterroot Divide all the way from Lolo to past El Capitan, the latter set a bit behind the divide itself.

One of those odd little spots you find when out hiking occurs as you approach Swamp Lake. It’s a sparsely populated boulder field with rocks as tall as 20 feet that look as if they’d been thrown there by the proverbial mountain giant bowling or playing marbles.

Swamp Lake is a jewel, a gorgeous little body of water at the base of Friday Ridge. Big chunks of white rock tumble down the hillside behind it, maybe some of them left over from that giant’s game, and a small green meadow sits in front. Right at the edge, in the lake, is a great sitting rock, a place to look up Friday Ridge toward the pass of the same name, the next destination on your journey.

Friday Pass, once you reach it (it’s another skunky bit of uphill to get there), offers views. The first is of Grave Peak in front of you, then of the Wind Lakes below. In the distance, you can see much of what you also see from the Peak, once you reach it: the Bitterroots, the Lolo Motorway and Rhodes Peak areas. The big difference is that once you’re at the Peak, you can see pretty much everything in every direction, especially if you use the small flat areas on either side of the old, boarded up lookout building that sits on its summit. Even back to the flat ridges of Pot Mountain, in the North Fork Clearwater country.

As you hike to and from Grave Peak, you’ll also have fine views of your immediate area, the ridges you’re walking around or over or to. Don’t forget to check them out.

With so much going for it, you might think that the trail to Grave Peak is going to be crowded with hikers headed for the views. Don’t worry, it won’t be. For one, the hike is almost 6 miles each way, with 3,000 feet in elevation gain and loss. And then there’re those steep uphill stretches, the one out of Kooskooskia and the one from Swamp Lake up to Friday Pass. Like the former, the latter also covers about 1,000 feet in a mile or so over rocky, washed out, rutted trail. From Friday Pass to the Peak, the trail is classified as a way trail, narrow and rarely maintained.

The last bit of the climb up to the Peak itself, although short, is through rock with steep drop offs below, and once you get almost to the top, you have to scramble over rocks. Not to forget that, on the way back to your car, the last mile or so of trail is on an old road and uphill. Hardly seems fair, that last bit of uphill.

Name Note: Grave Peak is so named because it is reportedly the site of he grave of Levi, an Indian killed here in 1877.

Trail Notes: The trail junctions with the trail to Elk Summit at about 1 mile in, the trail to Friday Ridge at about 3 miles in. A junction with a trail to Wind Lakes is on the maps, but I didn’t see it either time I hiked to Grave.

The trail begins on an old road, turns right onto a single track at a sign just shy of Kooskooskia Meadows, then heads uphill to Swamp Lake, and again uphill to the Pass. On the route to the pass, near the top, a more distinct trail might lead you past an intersection you won’t notice to an open pass with a few trees and disappearing trail. If you get there, turn back and look for the faint trail now off to your left that goes to Friday Pass, which is just to your side of a couple of black rock structures, one a long pyramid and one just a pile.

At the end of the trail, at Grave Peak, be sure to check out the small, flat areas on both sides of the old lookout in order to get the best views.

Directions: Drive Highway 12 east out of Lewiston to the Elk Summit Road about a mile past the Powell turnoff. Zero your odometer when you cross Colt Killed Creek. Turn right 4.1 miles later, at the sign for Elk Summit. Turn right at 13.9 miles on the Kooskooskia Meadows Road #358. The trailhead is 2.2 miles up the road, where the road ends.

Information: Powell Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 942-3113

Maps: USGS Grave Peak, Idaho. I’d also take a Clearwater National Forest Map, cause you’re going to see a lot you might want to identify.