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Photo of Priest Lake from Thunder Mountain by Holly Weiler.
Priest Lake from Thunder Mountain. // Photo: Holly Weiler.

Thunder Creek Loop, Colville National Forest

Reap the benefits of recent trail improvements (with more to come later this summer) on this long loop hike into the Salmo Priest Wilderness. Enter via Thunder Creek trail #526, where the first two miles are along an old roadbed with an easy grade through an abandoned logging unit.

When the trail enters the old growth forest, hikers will encounter five puncheon bridges that were replaced by Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, Pacific Northwest Trail Association, and Washington Trails Association crews in several work parties during summer 2016. Volunteers removed the old broken structures and rebuilt the puncheon using mostly hand tools. Now, the trail needs hikers and horseback riders to test them out.

Inspect the work, then continue up trail to the Salmo Priest Wilderness boundary at approximately the three-mile mark. From the wilderness sign the trail climbs nearly three miles more through impressive cedar stands and other large diameter trees. Don’t forget to look low, too, as there are many yew trees and other smaller shrubs along the route. At approximately the six-mile mark, hikers will reach the intersection with the Shedroof Divide Trail. For those who would prefer the loop as a short backpack rather than a long day hike, there is a small campsite located near this intersection (or at another small campsite 1.7 miles north). Turn left to continue north on the Shedroof Divide Trail #512.

The Shedroof Divide is one of two ridges running along the spine of the Salmo Priest Wilderness. Be sure to pause to filter water at one of the two campsites (or carry enough for the entire trip) as the Divide has few water sources available. The bear grass bloom will peak sometime during the month of July, with the showy white spikes sometimes making hillsides near the trail appear coated with a layer of snow. Watch for breaks in the trees, which afford hikers several views of Upper and Lower Priest Lake in the distance, with the Idaho Selkirks serving as an impressive backdrop.

At the 12.5-mile mark, turn left on the marked Shedroof Cutoff Trail #511. This trail exits the Wilderness Area after .8 miles then continues another mile along another old roadbed to reach the trailhead. A short road hike completes the loop, as the Shedroof Cutoff Trailhead is located approximately 1 mile up Forest Road 2220. Shave a mile off the route by parking a shuttle vehicle at the exit on the Shedroof Cut-off Trail.

It’s especially nice to make a weekend of this trip. There are several free dispersed primitive campsites along the access road, or head to Sullivan Lake for its developed campground with access to vault toilets and a nice swimming beach.

Distance:  15.2 miles round-trip

Getting there:  Take Highway 20 north along the Pend Oreille River, then continue north on Highway 31 to the Sullivan Lake Road (just before Ione). Continue past Sullivan Lake and the Ranger District Office to Sullivan Creek Road (Forest Road 22). Travel east to where the road splits, then bear left on Forest Road 2220 toward Salmo Mountain. Thunder Creek Trailhead is located on the right, across from Gypsy Meadows. //

 

Give back to our hiking trails:

Washington Trails Association has a backpack-style trail work weekend planned for portions of this trail July 8-11, where crews will use crosscut saws to clear any downed trees (no previous saw experience necessary!) This is preparation for the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington statewide work party on August 2-6, where the WTA crew will serve as a spike camp of the BCHW crew. Expect huge improvements for this entire trail system. To register, visit the WTA website and click on the “volunteer” link. //

 

Holly Weiler can often be found wandering Inland Northwest trails with a crosscut saw or other trail maintenance tools in tow on the Washington Trails Association trail maintenance projects she leads.

About Holly Weiler

Holly Weiler is an avid trail runner, backpacker, and hiker who enjoys adding a little skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, kayaking, and mountain biking as cross training activities. She is the Eastern Region Coordinator for Washington Trails Association, coach of the University HS girls cross country team, and a professional student (current degree pursuit: MFA in Creative Writing at EWU). In her free time, find her volunteering with the Spokane Mountaineers or the Friends of Mount Spokane State Park.