From Coolwater Ridge


Forest Service Trail #206

Why? Excellent views, fine snags, wilderness entry.

Season: Mid-July through September

Ease: Moderate to difficult. It’s 4 miles to Ghost Mountain, with 1,800 feet of elevation change.

Ghost Mountain is reason enough to hike this trail, though it’s also a fine entry into the Selway Crags area. All along the way, and on Ghost Mountain too, are some of the choicest snags I’ve ever seen - big and grey and appealingly shaped by wind and weather.

From the top of Ghost Mountain, there’s a 360-degree view that includes the Wallowas, the Seven Devils, the Bitterroot Mountains, the prairie north of the middle fork of the Clearwater, and a great deal of the North Fork Clearwater country including the tips of the Mallard-Larkins peaks. Closer at hand you can of course see Chimney Peak, the Selway Crags and one of the loveliest of spots, Glover Ridge. When you head back to the trailhead, there are views of Coolwater Ridge with the lookout on Coolwater Mountain, Roundtop Mountain at the ridge’s end, the area between, and some nice rocky cliffs below.

The only reason I don’t hike this trail every year is the road to the trailhead (see Notes, below). Even so, I’ve been there twice. One trip was a day hike to the top of Ghost, where we settled in and truly enjoyed the views. The other was a backpack, and we camped just below the saddle between Ghost Mountain and Louse Point. Each morning we watched a small herd of cow elk and calves move along the slopes below Ghost Mountain. We listened to them call softly to each other, a sound best described as a shadow of a bull elk’s fall bugle. One morning, a deer almost walked over me as I drank my coffee.

One afternoon, when we took a swim break at the end of a day hike, we discovered that Louse Lake had more than its share of insects, something our hillside spot didn’t have.

As for the actual hiking itself, this is a standard ridgeline hike with fairly significant ups and downs around and over the high spots and saddles. It’s easy to follow except in one place on the approach to Ghost Mountain. The problem is the map, for one trail is hidden under a boundary line, making a critical trail junction less than obvious. Should you find yourself walking northwest on your way to Ghost, you’re not walking the right direction. You’re on the trail toward Fire Creek Point instead. Go back to the junction and take the right.

Trail Notes: On both trips, I made the same mistake at the end of the hike by heading down to the road before reaching the trailhead. But it’s not a big mistake. If you do it too, just turn right and walk along the road till you find your rig.

The other end of this trail is covered in a separate hike, hike 47.

Note: The road to the trailhead is awful, although drivable if you have a full sized 4-wheel dive vehicle with lots of power or a 4-wheeled off-road vehicle. Or better yet, a hiking friend who does, since you really don’t want to take your own rig on this road.

Directions: Turn right onto the road along the Selway River just shy of mile marker 97 on Highway 12, then left onto Road 317 less than 1 mile later. It’s about 14 miles to the trailhead for the trail to Ghost Mountain and it will probably take you two hours to drive it, two hair-raising hours. The trailhead sign is in disrepair.

Information: Fenn Ranger Station, NPNF, (208) 926-4258

Maps: USGS Coolwater Mountain and Chimney Peak, Idaho.

Connections: If you continue from Ghost Mountain to Chimney Peak, you can head either of two directions. Going north, you can pass Old Man Lake, traverse Stanley Butte, and end up at Wilderness Gateway. Going east, you can pass through the Cove Lakes area and end up at Big Fog Saddle.
If you turn left on trail #133, you can hike out to Highway 12 at Split Creek (see appendix).