Beargrass Ridge


Forest Service Trails #383, #384 and #313

Why? History and a nice walk in the woods

Season: Late June through October.

Ease: Difficult. It’s a 6-mile hike, with 1,000 feet down and 300 up to Peterson Creek.

Just as the trailhead sign suggests, you have two distinct choices when you start hiking trail #383 in the Gospel Hump Wilderness. One is toward John’s Creek (hike 52) and the other is toward the Buffalo Hump. If you choose the latter, you’ll get a little history and a pleasant walk in the woods, at least over the first five miles or so.

I didn’t know the history until after I’d hiked. But I found the trail to Buffalo Hump interesting none-the-less. Sometimes it was a single track, sometimes it was double. The tracks varied from narrow to wide until the Peterson Creek area, after which they remained wide. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to the changes such as I’ve seen in other places where a trail might start wide on an old road but become and then stay a narrow, single track.

When I found out later that in fact the trail to Buffalo Hump is an old wagon road, the oddity made more sense. The alternating areas of wide and narrow track are due to the pattern of trail use after the road was closed.

The wagon road was used year-round during the 1900s to bring heavy equipment and supplies into Gospel Hump mining area. In the summer, they used wagons. In the winter, sledges. Either would have been hard work, for this is a trail of numerous ups and downs. I’d also hazard a guess that the road wasn’t in much better shape then than it was when I hiked over its numerous rocky areas and washouts.

I met a couple of backpackers from Lewiston on the trail. They told me that there are views if you hike to the Squaw Meadow area and beyond. Before that, you mostly see open woods with a low, grassy understory. There are numerous small streams, a wet meadow with what looked to be prairie dogs but were probably Columbian ground squirrels, and lots of monkey flowers. The latter, in my experience, are always found in obviously wet places.

I did see elk along the trail. The first was a long way off, but clearly visible through the trees. The second was just about impossible to miss since it was standing in the trail. The rest of the wildlife, including the probably Columbian ground squirrels, was primarily rodent, enough in number if not variety to fill a guide book.

Trail Notes: Hike trail #383, then #384, for about 3 miles to trail #313. Turn left to the Buffalo Hump or right to Moore’s Guard Station via Anchor Meadows. (Trail #381 to Square Mountain Lake goes off to the left first, in about a mile. Trail #383 continues on to Twin Lakes about ¾ mile after that, when you should take the right on #384.) All the junctions are signed.

There’s a shortcut to the trail, though I’m not sure I recommend it. But since you’ll probably see it, here it is. The shortcut drops precipitously off the ridge about 50 yards from the Square Mountain lookout. It stays steep until it picks up the main trail at a rock cairn you’ll need to remember to spot on your way back.

If you take the shortcut, be sure to check out the scenery in the Square Mt. Lake drainage.
If you take the #383 trail at the start, there are nice views at its beginning into the Anchor Creek drainage and toward Sheep Mountain and the saddle below it.

Directions: Turn right onto Road 221 after driving through Grangeville, then go straight on the same road about 1 mile later at the drive-in-movie screen. Stay on 221 for 41.2 miles, turning left before milepost 30 to the Gospel Hump. This road ends 14 miles later at the Square Mountain Lookout.

The trailhead for trail #383 is 1.1 miles back down the road from the lookout. (It’s on the right going up, signed for John’s Creek and Buffalo Hump.)

Information: Nez Perce National Forest, (208) 983-1950

Maps: USGS Marble Butte and Sourdough Peak, Idaho; Forest Service Gospel Hump Wilderness Map.

Connections: Trail #313 continues east for a total of about 9 miles from the #384 trail and connects with trails #299 and #233 at Humptown, just below the Buffalo Hump.