Great hiking trails lead to outstanding destinations. Spectacular pinnacles with 360-degree views. Hidden cirque lakes nestled high up in the mountains, ringed by majestic larches against azure blue skies. Roaring waterfalls, spraying mist and projecting full-spectrum rainbows. Other trails don’t lead to anywhere particular at all. They surprise the visitor with simple things along the way, like moss-covered riverbanks, gurgling, frolicking brooks, fungi sprouting en masse on decaying logs, inviting meadows, out of which a rabbit suddenly darts and quickly disappears in the undergrowth, a dollop of mountain elixir, trapped in the funnel of a bright-orange mushroom, a jumble of logs, splintered and entwined, blocking the course of a creek, a cluster of old-growth cedars, grown together for decades in closer and closer embrace, an uprooted tree-giant, its lichen-covered roots reaching skywards like begging hands, the sudden flapping of wings and quick flash of an airborne grouse, precious glens, lavishly carpeted with succulent ferns, mounds of sawdust and a checkerboard of holes in a tree, relentlessly pecked and gnawed, the sun piercing a cloudy sky and illuminating the tattered curtain of old man’s beard clinging to the pines.
Marie Creek trail #241 definitely is in that latter category: The journey becomes the destination.
|Location||Coeur d’Alene Mountains|
|Elevation Gain||2,100 feet|
|High Point||3,670 feet (Ridge above Skitwish Creek)|
|Water||Plenty along Marie and Skitwish creeks, but none up along the ridge.|
|Status||Coeur d’Alene National Forest|
|Conditions||The trail was in great shape, except for the last spur along Marie Creek. Along that last mile, stick close to the cliff side to avoid the worst of the jumble.|
|Camping||There are campsites along Marie Creek, especially between the one mile and three mile markers. No decent campsites are at the end of the spur. There are camping opportunities along the high ridge, but none are really appealing and all lack water.|
|Map||USGS Wolf Lodge|
|Trailhead||Take I-90 exit #22 and head north. Take a right onto Frontage Road, and after a mile take a left onto Wolf Lodge Creek Road. Continue for about 4 miles, bearing left at the Y-intersection. Then take a right onto Marie Creek Road, which will shortly turn into a gravel road. After another mile take the spur road on the right (when the main road will head uphill). The spur road leads to the trailhead in about a quarter mile.|
|Date||November 20, 2016|
Marie Creek trail #241 almost immediately crosses Searchlight Creek by means of a plank and moves uphill in a series of usually muddy switchbacks (the elevation gain is less than 400 feet). The forested ridge provides only limited views of the Marie Creek valley, but there is pretty bench if you’re in need of a break.
The trail then descends on the far side, contouring to the left at first, then curling around the flank of the mountain and steadily losing altitude. At the bottom it leads to a first encounter with Marie Creek, which may end in a bath if you are so inclined. The trail then parallels the creek, which remains within earshot, but is hidden by dense forest. Soon Burton Creek needs to be crossed, an easy rock hop, then the trail opens up on a wide meadow complete with campsite (including a giant fireplace!). Don’t worry if the campsite is taken, 2 or 3 more follow within a mile and those are much closer to the creek.
Time for a bath in Marie Creek
The trail remains relatively flat and follows the creek for another mile, the forest changing more and more towards cedar and fern. The trail approaches the creek frequently and especially at the confluence of Skitwish Creek gets very muddy. The bridge across that tributary was washed aside years ago; nowadays a slick log does the trick.
On the far side of the Skitwish, follow Marie Creek for another 1.5 miles to the trail’s end. The last mile especially is crying out desperately for a bit of chainsaw TLC. Stay to the left (cliffside) to avoid the worst of the blowdowns. The trail’s end is somewhat uneventful: it simply stops. The bushwhack to the creek is easy, though, and the creek’s grass-covered bank invites you to rest.
Then it’s time to backtrack to Skitwish Creek. Instead of crossing the creek, follow its bank upstream along a pleasant trail. Soon the creek is crossed by means of two giant logs and the trail weaves up the hillside in a never-ending series of switchbacks (the trail is a bit confusing right after crossing Skitwish Creek; make sure to take a left at the intersection).
The trail eventually reaches the ridge and emerges onto an old logging road. There is a maze of old logging roads on the ridge and the trail is only partially marked, so beware (also, none of the logging roads are marked on the old USGS topo maps). The first intersection, however, is well marked. Take a right, which is really straight, and follow the curve of the road to another, unmarked intersection. Bear left (bearing left on these roads is typically a good idea) and left again after about another 100 yards. While up there, enjoy the mountain views! The road is wide and relatively flat and heads steadily westwards to a sharp northward bend and here the trail leaves the logging road (it is well signed) and climbs the spine of the ridge.
The recently-maintained trail keeps climbing, then descends in a few switchbacks on the other side and once again emerges onto a logging road. Unfortunately this one is not signed at all, except for the trail you came in on. Taking a left will lead down to a saddle, then resume the ascent on the far side and spill out onto FR 202. Unfortunately no signs there either. Head downhill on FR 202 for perhaps 100 yards to another logging road. Follow this road in just a bit and let the signage (which is excellent in this spot!) guide you left and uphill. This leads across the hill, then downhill to an area of a former wildfire. The larch saplings are already well on their way, though, and the bullpines area 15-20 feet tall in places.
The trail continues downhill along the spine of the ridge for almost three miles, then descends sharply (via the ubiquitous switchbacks) onto a saddle where three logging roads and another singletrack converge. Unfortunately, the only signed trail is the one you were on! We took the singletrack at the opposite end of the saddle. It lead through another burn area and after a quarter mile deteriorated markedly until it was little more than a deer path. Soon after it was mostly bushwhacking. We spent some time looking for a real trail, but to no avail. Another logging road brought us closer to the trailhead, but we were high up on the ridge. The hillside was densely forested which made for a cumbersome downhill scramble. Looking at the satellite map, you’re probably best off taking a left at the saddle and following that logging road to FR 202. You’ll have to hike about half a mile on FR 202 to get back to the trailhead, though, but that’s definitely easier than the bushwhack!
Return when meeting Skitwish Creek. That makes for about 6 miles roundtrip and the total elevation gain will be well below 1000 feet. Or, continue to the trail spur’s end, then return the way you came. This is about 9 miles and also less than 1000 feet in ascent.
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