Plowboy Mountain Loop

Combining a well-shaded stroll along pristine Upper Priest Lake with a steep climb of 4,300-foot Plowboy Mountain, this loop is sure to satisfy all tastes. Watch out for bears, though we saw neither scat nor bruin, just plenty of ground squirrels darting between the ruins of the lookout tower atop Plowboy.

Location Selkirk Mountains
Rating 3.3 out of 5
Difficulty Moderate (uphill Plowboy is fairly steep; the rest is easy)
Distance 14.4 miles
Duration 4:48 hours moving time (hiking)
Elevation Gain 2,801 feet
High Point 4,872 feet (Plowboy Mountain)
Low Point 2,432 feet (Priest Lake)
Trail Type Loop
Trailbed Packed dirt, forest road
Trail# 291, 295
Water Everywhere except on Plowboy Mountain
Status Unprotected
Administration Kaniksu National Forest
Conditions The Navigation trail was excellent; the Plowboy trail was fair with frequent blowdown
Permits None required
Camping Beaver Creek, Plowboy, and Navigation campgrounds. Also, atop Plowboy Mountain (dry) and dispersed camping along FR 1341
Maps USGS Upper Priest Lake, Priest Lake NE, Caribou Creek
Trailhead From Priest River, head north on ID-57 for 36.5 miles. Take a right onto Reeder Bay Road and follow it for 12 miles (it eventually turns into NF-2512). As you approach Beaver Creek Campground, take a left for just a short distance, then immediately right (if you end up on a gravel road you’ve gone too far). Stay left as you drive past the campground. The road crosses Beaver Creek and winds up the hill a bit to a parking lot.

Google Directions (48.739155, -116.86282)

Season May – October
Squirrel Density Lots of ground squirrels atop Plowboy
Features Mountaintop, Lake, Grove, Meadow
Distance From
  • Coeur d’Alene 93.1 miles
  • Lewiston 209.3 miles
  • Sandpoint 71.3 miles
  • Seattle 383.3 miles
  • Spokane 101.8 miles
Resources
Nearby Hikes
Date June 2, 2018

Armstrong MeadowsThe first three miles of the Plowboy Mountain trail are relatively flat as the path meanders through a moss-covered coniferous forest with a sprinkling of beargrass. It parallels the Thoroughfare, although you can’t actually see the water. There is nothing to complain about the trail, cleanly sawed out and the size of a twin-track. Near the 1.5-mile mark the trail crosses a clearing called Armstrong Meadows, that includes a small brook and a convenient footbridge. Watch out for beavers, though we didn’t see any.

Upper Priest Lake from Navigation trailThe southern end of Upper Priest Lake is reached at the 3-mile mark and a short spur leads to Plowboy Campground, a primitive campground right on the lakeshore. A few people camped and fished there, but bemoaned the chilly nights this early in the season. The swarms of mosquitoes surely didn’t help either! Leaving the campground behind, the trail turns into a proper singletrack and closely hugs the lakeshore, providing frequent (if somewhat filtered) views of the lake and the opposite shore. Shortly before the 4-mile mark the trail ascends the hillside at a very manageable incline only to descend towards the lake again and coming to a fork at the 5-mile mark. Going east leads to Navigation Campground, well worth a visit with splendid views across the lake (no one was camped there); going straight (north) leads to FR1327; and going left (southwest) climbs Plowboy Mountain.

The base of a lookout tower atop Plowboy MountainThe ascent starts benign among moss-covered ravines, but soon that gives way to serious switchbacks that climb roughly 2,500 feet over the course of 3 miles. As you move higher, exchanging strawberries and ferns and mosses for huckleberries and beargrass, some of the trees recede and present a view across the lake. Those views are even better from the peak, a flat-topped mountain seemingly as big as a football field, but playing that game there would destroy a great many glacier lilies. The views from the foundation of a lookout tower aren’t the best; instead, head a bit further south across the “field” for views of the southern Selkirk Crest. Though far in the distance, the distinctive shapes of Chimney Rock and Mount Roothaan are easily identifiable.

Lower Priest LakeThe trail continues southeast and on that stretch the views get even better (the trail conditions, on the other had, deteriorate, with lots of blowdown). You’ll enjoy spectacular views of the Selkirk Crest, Priest Lake, the Thoroughfare, and Blacktail Mountain. The southern slope is also more open and presents a different and more colorful flora, including Indian paintbrush. The trail switchbacks substantially as it drops, then finds an old skid road near the 9-mile mark. It continues along that wide road to the trailhead on FR1341 just shy of the 12-mile mark. Then it’s hiking out on that forest road, which doesn’t get much traffic (a few ATVers drove up and down while we were hiking). It’s about 2 miles to the Beaver Creek campground and a bit further to the parking lot. 

Enjoy this hike? Let us know in the comments below!

Trail near trailhead
Trail near trailhead
The first beargrass stalk of the season
The first beargrass stalk of the season
Naughty searching for rodents
Naughty searching for rodents
Armstrong Meadows
Armstrong Meadows
There are a few small brooks near Armstrong Meadows
There are a few small brooks near Armstrong Meadows
Upper Priest Lake from Plowboy Campground
Upper Priest Lake from Plowboy Campground
Navigation trail
Navigation trail
Upper Priest Lake from Navigation trail
Upper Priest Lake from Navigation trail
Naughty swimming in Upper Priest
Naughty swimming in Upper Priest
Navigation Campground
Navigation Campground
The lower parts of the Plowboy Mountain trail 295 are lush and easy. Dont be fooled.
The lower parts of the Plowboy Mountain trail 295 are lush and easy. Don’t be fooled.
At higher elevations trail 295 offers views into the Selkirk Crest
At higher elevations trail 295 offers views into the Selkirk Crest
Ferns and mosses yield to beargrass and huckleberries
Ferns and mosses yield to beargrass and huckleberries
The base of a lookout tower atop Plowboy Mountain
The base of a lookout tower atop Plowboy Mountain
Priest Lake, taken from Plowboy Mountain
Priest Lake, taken from Plowboy Mountain
The southern Selkirk Crest. Prominent are Chimney Rock and Mount Roothaan
The southern Selkirk Crest. Prominent are Chimney Rock and Mount Roothaan
Lower Priest Lake
Lower Priest Lake
Views from the southern side of Plowboy
Views from the southern side of Plowboy
Priest Lake and the Selkirk Crest
Priest Lake and the Selkirk Crest
Mosquito Bay
Mosquito Bay
The views into the Selkirks are best in the upper portions of the southern side of Plowboy
The views into the Selkirks are best in the upper portions of the southern side of Plowboy
Mosquito Bay and the  Thoroughfare connecting upper and lower Priest Lake
Mosquito Bay and the Thoroughfare connecting upper and lower Priest Lake
Much of the descent from Plowboy is on singletrack
Much of the descent from Plowboy is on singletrack
Indian paintbrush
Indian paintbrush
Views of the interior (Blacktail Mountain)
Views of the interior (Blacktail Mountain)
The lower parts of the descent from Plowboy takes advantage of an old skid road
The lower parts of the descent from Plowboy takes advantage of an old skid road
Southern trailhead, on FR 1341
Southern trailhead, on FR 1341
Hiking on FR 1341 back to the Beaver Creek Campground
Hiking on FR 1341 back to the Beaver Creek Campground
Beaver Creek
Beaver Creek
The obligatory carcass. Appears to be an elk or moose
The obligatory carcass. Appears to be an elk or moose
Orange: Plowboy Mountain trail; Purple: Lakeshore trail
Orange: Plowboy Mountain trail; Purple: Lakeshore trail

Alternate Routes

  • The Navigation Trail 291 connects to FR1327, which connects to FR 1013 and you could follow that to either connect to the Upper Priest Lake trail (which heads south on the other side of the lake) or the Upper Priest River trail (which essentially ends at the Canadian border)
  • The trailhead for Blacktail Mountain is also on FR1341
  • Parking a shuttle on FR1341 cuts the route by 2 – 3 miles
  • From Beaver Creek Campground you can connect to the Lakeshore trail, going south


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One Comment Add yours

  1. montucky says:

    Sure are a lot of nice views along that one! Beautiful country!

    Liked by 1 person

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