A favorite among visitors to the American Selkirks, the Big Fisher Trail serves up two crystal-clear ice-cold alpine lakes, enormous granite outcroppings and boulders, and wildflower-strewn grassy meadows straddling Fisher Ridge. If you’re lucky you may even see one of the rare species that found a last refuge in this corner of Idaho, including grizzlies, woodland caribou, and wolverines.
|Rating||4.0 out of 5|
|Difficulty||Moderate (some uphill hiking)|
|Duration||3:58 hours moving time (hiking)|
|Elevation Gain||2,139 feet|
|High Point||7,540 feet (“Big Fisher Peak”)|
|Low Point||6,170 feet (trailhead)|
|Trailbed||Packed dirt, loose rocks|
|Water||At the lakes and a couple of brooks near the trailhead. There is none between the lakes.|
|Administration||Kaniksu National Forest|
|Conditions||Excellent (it was recently maintained)|
|Camping||At either lake|
|Maps||USGS Pyramid Peak|
|Trailhead||From U.S. Highway 95 in Bonners Ferry, drive west on Riverside Road (aka Country Road 18A) past the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge to the Refuge’s headquarters. Take West Side Road (blacktopped) north for 10 miles to Trout Creek Road #634. Take #634 uphill for 9 miles to the #13 trailhead (there is only limited parking for about 10 vehicles). Take trail #13 (Pyramid Pass) up 1.25 miles to the trailhead.
Google Directions (48.810186, -116.604973)
|Season||July – October|
|Features||Mountaintop, Lake, Meadow|
|Date||August 28, 2017|
The trail starts on a wooden bridge, spanning a small but year-around trickle. Afterwards, the trail moves steadily uphill through a fairly open spruce forest. It soon switchbacks around impressive rock outcroppings, while continuing to climb towards the saddle where the Parker and Fisher ridges meet. Luckily, the trail levels off far below that saddle, crossing another small brook (the last reliable one ahead of the lake), and contours alongside Fisher Ridge. The views here are good, with the entirely-forested Russell Ridge and Russell Peak to the right (south) across the Trout Creek Canyon and the Pyramid Lake basin and an occasional peek at Pyramid Peak in back (west).
Just before the 1.5-mile mark, the trail follows a flank of Fisher Ridge northwards across some giant granite slabs with good views of the Trout Creek Canyon and into the Kootenai River Valley (unfortunately, wildfire smoke made the latter views impossible on the day we hiked). Soon afterwards, you’ll spot the solid granite headwall towering over Trout Lake, and the 200-plus-foot vertical descent to the lake commences.
Trout Lake is an absolute jewel, cuddled in its cirque beneath the looming headwall. There are three recently-maintained campsite along the eastern side of the lake. In the southeast end of the lake, near the outlet, squats a gigantic boulder, an excellent platform for skinny-dipping in the ice-cold water. While camping at the lake, we heard repeated crashes in the water, as if someone threw logs into the lake. Curiosity drove us to investigate, being the only campers at the lake, and we found a hawk fishing the lake!
From the lake the trail ascends steadily, gaining Fisher Ridge at around the 2-mile mark. Views are spotty at first, but continue to get better as the trail follows the spine of the ridge closely, through beautiful alpine meadows, eased by a number of switchbacks. At just over 7,000 feet, the ridge provides good views into both the Trout Creek and Parker Creek drainages. The views of Long Mountain, 7445 Mountain, and, later, Parker Peak, are incredible. Shortly past the 3-mile mark the trail emerges onto a saddle near 7,400 feet overlooking Big Fisher Lake about 700 vertical feet below. The cirque huddles in the north side of the ridge, draining into Parker Creek.
Before plunging down to the tree-ringed lake, take time for a short uphill scramble to an unnamed peak (we’ll call it Big Fisher Peak), overlooking Big Fisher Lake. There is an almost-trail heading up from the saddle (to the right), gaining about 100 vertical feet. It is a well-traveled route, in better condition than many “maintained” trails. Just keep away from the northern edge, which drops off precipitously. The views from the top are rewarding indeed, especially those of the lake and Parker Peak to the north, as well as along the Fisher Ridge (the highest point in the American Selkirks) and into the Kootenai River Valley. There is also a geocache hidden at the top.
The descent to the lake switchbacks through boulder fields, rock outcroppings, and granite slabs. The trail then circumnavigates the lake, which is in fact surrounded by campsites, meaning you’ll probably find one here even if the ones on Trout Lake are all taken (none were occupied while we were there). The views of the Big Fisher headwall are particularly impressive from the eastern shore of the lake, while the southern end offers a wide-open site, sprawling beneath the headwall on a grassy meadow.
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- Continue the scramble along Fisher Ridge to the high point, which is the highest point in the American Selkirsk
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