The Cedars


Forest Service Trails #486 and #421

Why? A fine cedar grove

Season: Mid-July through September

Ease: Strenuous. It’s 2,800 feet down, most all of it in the 6 miles from Elk Summit down to the flats on the creek, plus a few more miles to the grove itself.

Cedar groves exert a special draw. I think it’s a combination of things that makes that so. They tend to feel majestic, for one. When the trees are large, there usually is little understory. That makes for an entirely different feeling than when the forest floor is carpeted with thick growth. The trunk color is complex, grey with undertones of pink and lavendar, with sage green growth on top of it here and there. And, usually, they are quiet spots.

The cedar grove on the East Fork Moose Creek off Elk Summit and above the Selway was described to me years ago as the kind of place where even teenagers get silent. While I don’t have any first-hand experience to prove or refute that, I do know that it captivated me even though I’m pretty sure we only saw the start of the grove.

The grove sits about 16 miles up Moose Creek from the Moose Creek Ranger Station on the Selway River and more than 8 miles down from Elk Summit, off highway 12. Getting to the former is something you do early in the hiking season, before it gets too hot, and it takes several days. Getting to Elk Summit means waiting until July most years, not exactly an issue except possibly for heat on the uphill hike back to the car.

I got there from Elk Summit. We hiked downhill for 6 miles, then on a relatively level grade for another mile or so before setting up camp – before we got close enough to water to do so. We saw some big trees on the way down, primarily fir. And once we hit bottom, we started to see cedar. Not big, but cedar. And they keep on coming the farther we hiked.

About a mile past our campsite, we crossed Cedar Creek on a very old, decrepit bridge. Shortly thereafter, the “real” cedar grove began, or at least I think it did. (There’s certainly no sign to mark its start.) There were larger trees, at first interspersed with a few fir. After a bit, it was pretty much all cedar, with more and more larger ones the farther we went. They stood in varying arrangements. Sometimes they were in close pairs, such as siblings might be, or a parent and child. Sometimes they were in rows, as if waiting to be reviewed. And eventually, they seemed to be all over, everywhere we looked, in every arrangement possible.

The understory is low, mostly maidenhair ferns, ginger, and tiarella. The cedar bark is lovely, as usual. It truly is a solemn and serene place, a place worth hiking to.

Trail Notes: Assuming that you’re not going to do this as a day hike, note that there are few if any clear campsites north of the cedars, few flat spots without masses of vegetation. Coming from the south, the same also is true once you’re past the North Fork Moose Creek.

Directions: Take the road to Elk Summit, a right off Highway 12 about 1 mile past Powell, Idaho. Drive until it ends at the lake. The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot. The trail is an old road at that point and stays wide for some time. Be sure to take the right fork at the end, at the trail sign or register.

Information: Powell Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 476-0129

Maps: USGS Cedar Ridge and Wahoo Peak, Idaho.

Connections: Getting to the grove from the Selway involves getting to the Moose Creek Ranger Station on the Selway, then hiking those 16 miles up Moose Creek. The latter can be an issue when runoff is high for it involves crossing streams. It’s also possible to fly in or out of Moose Creek and arrange the hike around that.