The Trails at Heyburn State Park


Why? Nice views and rocks plus a bit of history

Season: Year round, given that you might find seasonal snow.

Ease: Easy to moderate, with three short trails to choose from.

The three trails at Heyburn differ in a number of ways. One is scenic, one is not. One is steep, one is not. One is historical, one includes a nature trail. Both are worth hiking. It just depends on how much time you have and what you want to do with it.

The 2½ mile Indian Cliffs Trail is the best hike. It’s easier, has that extra ¾ mile of nature trail and rewards your with great views. You’ll see Mt. Baldy to the east and the St. Joe River, which divides two of the four lakes that make up the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Those four lakes and the St. Joe used to be separate bodies of water. When they built the dam at Post Falls, the water level rose seven feet and connected them all. Perhaps of interest to those who keep track of this kind of things, the river is the highest navigable river in the world. Amazing, and here it is almost right next door.

Most of the uphill in the Indian Cliffs hike is after the nature trail, which is a one-mile almost-circle through a mostly level area featuring many species of trees. Needle trees alone include white and ponderosa pine, hemlock, Douglas fir, larch and cedar. It’s a good place to hone your tree identification skills, maybe see if you can do it by just looking at the bark.

Once you leave the nature trail and hike that uphill, you’ll reach the top of cliffs and walk a long time in the open where you can enjoy the great views. If you look down at the talus slope you crossed earlier, you’ll notice that the rock’s all covered with white lichen, the trail through it set off with rock borders. There’s even a rock that looks like an easy chair.

Eventually, you’ll head back down and rejoin the stem of the trail, so to speak (The Indian Cliffs trail actually is lollipop- shaped), and the route back to your car.

On the other hand, the 1-mile Shoeffler Butte trail is narrow and often a bit steep, especially if you contemplate traveling it in a mule-drawn wagon as the settlers did. It follows a portion of the old Mullan Road, which was the first road across this part of the state. It’s also not the most exciting hike I’ve ever done. There aren’t many views along the trail, just a few glimpses of the lake and wheat fields to the north. Even the top has trees. But it’s good exercise (over 1,000 feet elevation change from start to the top, a distance of 1 ¼ miles) and a time to think about some of the things you see as you walk in the woods. For instance, how old is a ponderosa with a waistline of well over three feet? Who makes each of the various sized holes I see in a snag? Obviously lots of different animals appreciate trees that are left standing after they die. And how in the world can huge trees usually stay attached to the earth by the shallow root masses I see on those that don’t?

The Lakeshore trail out of the campground at Hawley’s Landing is 0.6 mile long one way. It’s nice and flat, following the lakeshore the entire way around a marshy spot that can be a good place to see birds.

Name Note: The Mullan Road was the first road across the Rocky Mountains to the Inland Northwest. It was built in 1859-1860 by U.S. Army Liertenant John Mullan, and went from Fort Benton, Montana, to Fort Walla Walla, Washington Territory.

Trail Notes: When hiking Shoeffler, note that after the trail crosses a road and a dirt bike road, you take the easy-to-miss right turn off the wide trail onto a narrower but signed horse trail.

Directions: Take Highway 95 north to Plummer and turn right on Highway 5. Enter Heyburn State Park 6 ½ miles in by turning left at the sign for Chatcolet. The trailhead for Indian Cliffs is a bit past one mile in on the paved road, just before the park headquarters. There’s a sign for the trail and a parking lot at the trailhead on the left.

The trailhead for Shoeffler Butte is farther in. Remain on the paved road for 2 miles, staying left instead of turning in at the picnic and dock area. The road winds through an area of small cabins. Turn right into the Chatcolet Campground. The trailhead is signed between campsites 13 and 15.

The trailhead for the Lakeshore Trail is in the campground at Hawleys Landing, the spot you turned into off Highway 5 when you entered the park. Though I haven’t done it, I’m told that when the trail reaches the road, if you cross the road there’s an alternate route back to Hawleys.

Information: Heyburn State Park, (208) 686-1308. There are pit toilets at the campground, which is open during the summer season. (The trailhead is available even when the campground is not open.)
Between April and September, watch for osprey in the lake. They nest in boxes and trees along the lake and river shores.

Maps: USGS Chatcolet and Harrison, Idaho, cover both hikes. You can also pick up a guide to the nature trail and a map of park trails (which includes these two trails plus a connecting 13-mile horse trail) at the park headquarters. The park is open seven days a week, but the one staff person on duty weekends will often be out in the field.