Although only 3 miles one way, the Cutoff Peak trail nonetheless dishes out all the makings of a great alpine hike. The hike up is pleasant among beargrass, huckleberries and alpine fir, with frequent filtered views of the Parker and Smith ranges. At the top awaits an old log cabin, phenomenal views of the entire Parker range, line-of-sight of neighboring lookout tower sites, including Shorty Peak and Red Top, and the distant silhouette of the southern Selkirk Crest. A true gem!
|Rating||3.7 out of 5|
|Difficulty||Moderate (uphill hiking)|
|Duration||2:10 hours moving time (hiking)|
|Elevation Gain||1,345 feet|
|High Point||6,854 feet (Cutoff Peak)|
|Low Point||5,495 feet (Trailhead)|
|Trailbed||Old logging road, packed dirt, loose rocks|
|Administration||Kaniksu National Forest|
|Camping||Cutoff Peak, but it is dry|
|Maps||USGS Shorty Peak|
|Trailhead||From Bonners Ferry head north on US-95 for about 15 miles, then take Highway 1 north for another 2 miles. Turn left onto Copeland Hill Road and head west across the Kootenai valley, about 2 miles. Bear right when the road merges with Westside Road #417 and continue northwest for 9 miles. The road will eventually turn into FR #281. Make sure to stay left at the switchback on the blacktopped road, which remains blacktopped most of the way, but expect a few potholes and some buckling. Turn left onto FR #2443 and head uphill for 6.5 miles. This is a dirt road and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended due to rutting, rocks and water bars. There are a few forks along the way; just stay on the road that is in better condition. About 1.3 miles from the trailhead the roads are about the same–take a right. The road ends at a gate and there is parking for a few cars and a small turnaround area.
Google Directions (48.899329, -116.645677)
|Season||June to October|
|Squirrel Density||Ground squirrels love the peak!|
|Date||July 22, 2017|
Starting at the gate, trail #17 continues along an old logging road for about half a mile, then heads uphill in the form of a singletrack, across a clearcut and back into the forest, and gains the ridge (Smith Ridge) in just shy of a mile. At the ridge is the intersection with trail #18, which moves northeast to southwest. The northeastern portion heads out to Triangulation Smith, another former fire lookout site, so turn right (southwest). The trail contours along the flank of Smith Ridge for about a mile, mostly shaded by alpine fir, and beautified by beargrass. Views are limited here, so enjoy the flowers, and, as the incline starts to pick up, watch out for Cutoff Peak looming massively ahead of you.
Luckily, though, the trail continues southeast around the flank of the mountain, climbing steadily with constant views of the Parker Range to the east, and eventually switchbacking up Cutoff’s southern face. You end up emerging out onto the top from the south and the trail meanders between rocky outcroppings northwards for about a quarter mile to the dilapidated cabin serving the fire lookout crews a long, long time ago. Only the footings of the lookout tower remain, but the views couldn’t be better!
Looking north across Smith Canyon you can see peaked Shorty Peak, whose lookout tower is still intact today, to the west is the bare rocky hump of Red Top, which also once featured a lookout tower, and to the northeast, extending from Cutoff Peak, is the remainder of the Smith ridge, stretching out to Triangulation Smith, the last peak of the ridge and also once a lookout tower site. To the east the Parker ridge rises mightily from the Kootenai River Valley and extends south, with the distinct humps and peaks clearly identifiable as Parker Peak, Long Mountain, and Pyramid Peak.
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- A trail to Triangulation Smith, also a former fire lookout, starts at the same trailhead
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