This loop combines two of the most popular lake hikes in the American Selkirks, Harrison Lake and Beehive Lakes, via a phenomenal off-trail ridge hike above Little Harrison Lake. Expect some of the best hiking in this region, spectacular views from the top of the world, and picture-perfect alpine lakes, but be prepared to test your route and trail finding skills in rough terrain.
|Rating||4.5 out of 5|
|Difficulty||Strenuous (off-trail section)|
|Duration||6:00 hours moving time (hiking)|
|Elevation Gain||3,031 feet|
|High Point||7,152 feet (The Fin)|
|Low Point||4,449 feet (Trailhead)|
|Trailbed||You’re on your own!|
|Water||There is frequent access to water except for the part on the ridge|
|Administration||Kaniksu National Forest|
|Conditions||Beehike Lake is good, but the trail is easy to lose in the upper granite portions. Harrison Lake is excellent. There is no trail in between.|
|Camping||Beehive trailhead, Harrison Lake, Beehive Lake, Little Harrison Lake. There is a pit toilet at the Harrison Lake trailhead. Beehive Lake and Harrison Lake come with bearproof boxes.|
|Maps||USGS The Wigwams|
|Trailhead||From US-95, head west on Upper Pack River Road (this is about 11 miles north of Sandpoint, in a place called Samuels. There is a gas station on the left, shortly after you cross the Pack River). Stay on Upper Pack River (aka FR #231) for 19 miles (the first 7 are blacktopped, the rest is a well-graded gravel road). Turn left at the Y (it’ signed for trail #279) and follow the dirt road downhill to the trailhead of the Beehive Lakes, about 100 yards. There’s parking for a few cars and it can get crowded on weekends, as this is a very popular hike. Alternatively, you could also park at the Harrison Lake trailhead.
Google Directions (48.650244, -116.623256)
|Season||July – October|
|Squirrel Density||The ridge trail is not suitable for dogs; steep dropoffs, boulders|
|Features||Mountaintop, Lake, Meadow|
|Date||July 22, 2018|
For those not interested in the off-trail section of this hike, let’s cover the sections to the lakes first, because the reason for the “Strenuous” rating is entirely due to that off-trail section. The trailhead to Harrison Lake (#217) is about a mile further up FR-231, at the terminus of that road. The excellently-maintained trail uses an old logging road for the most part, narrowing to a singletrack in the upper reaches. The very last section crosses extensive granite slabs marked with cairns. It’s about 5 miles out-and-back and rated “Moderate” due to uphill hiking. The elevation gain is about 1,500 vertical feet. The trail crisscrosses a small brook a number of times, if you’re short on water, plus, there’s the lake, too. The lake, incidentally, is stocked with cutthroats.
It’s about 9 miles roundtrip to Beehive Lake (#279), a trail that gains about 2,000 vertical feet. The trail is in pretty good conditions, using an old forest road in the beginning, but later trading that for a singletrack with plenty of exposed roots and rocks, with the very last piece crossing a lot of granite slab where it’s easy to miss the cairns. For that reason, and the elevation gain, this trail is rated “More Difficult”. The lake also is stocked with cutthroat trout.
If you’re in for the entire loop, park your car at either trailhead. We parked at the Beehive trailhead, having a hard time finding a spot as it was packed, and hiked up the road for a mile to the Harrison Lake trailhead. That trail immediately enters the woods, climbs steadily, and soon offers magnificent views of The Beehive through a series of neat windows the forest service cut into the dense forest bordering the trail. About halfway up, the trail switchbacks a couple of times, but still uses the old trailbed of a wide logging road, and crosses a small stream a few times (you won’t get wet feet). As you move higher the views get even better, with a first quick glimpse of Harrison Peak and later Roman Nose as well. At the junction with trail #6, keep climbing (left). The lake is reached about 2.5 miles from the Harrison Lake trailhead. And then the trail ends.
To continue, cross the Pack River (ie, the lake’s outlet) and climb across the boulder field at the lake’s southwestern shore. Snow patches linger here well into summer. At the western end of the lake the steep climb to the ridge starts. If you don’t like boulder-hopping, you’re in trouble. It’s boulders nearly all the way to the ridgetop. That’s about 700 vertical feet up, in a straight line, with astonishing views of Harrison Lake and Harrison Peak, the former getting smaller and smaller as you climb. At the top you’re in for a treat, first, because the views are phenomenal, and second, because the route follows this ridge southwards and the views only get better. The crest is mostly granite and rubble, with relatively few trees. Be forewarned though. The eastern side of the ridge (the Pack River side) is getting steeper and steeper as you go along and soon becomes nearly vertical. The other side, though steep as well, is much less so and lightly forested with alpine fir. The ridge ebbs and flows for about a mile, providing excellent views of Harrison Lake and, later, The Beehive, as well as Roman Nose and Bottleneck Peak across the Pack River canyon.
A sign informs of a miraculous plane crash in this area, where everyone survived. Afterwards, the “trail” gets more difficult, because the western side no longer slants conveniently, but becomes just as steep as the eastern side in a spot referred to as The Fin. We made it to the Fin, and the TerraCache Seventh Heaven buried in the rubble, but in that location the ridge was barely four feet wide with vertical dropoffs on both sides. The way forward plunged steeply, requiring use of both hands and really a rope. Naughty lacked hands, and we didn’t have a rope, so we turned around. After backtracking for a bit, we found a sheer but not quite vertical granite slab with tiny wooded ledges on its northern edge. About halfway down we ran out of ledge, but there was a minute crevice providing handholds, which the Scribe used to climb lower and then catch Naughty as she slid down the granite. Lather, rinse, repeat, twice, and we made it to the bottom.
Then we crossed yet another boulder field alongside the bottom of the granite wall, left the Fin behind, and headed for a large snow patch on the edge of a granite slab. From the snow patch emerged a lovely alpine brook where we replenished our water supply (Naughty drank from the “hose”). Then we crossed the snow patch, contoured along an outcrop of the Seven Sisters to a spot high above Little Harrison Lake. We toyed with the idea of dropping down to the lake and climbing the far side, but instead decided to continue the contouring along the mountain, crossing another brook and once again edging alongside the bottom of a rock wall. The dropoff was steep, but Naughty was surefooted and soon we came to another snow patch, which she likes to bite into.
On the far side of Little Harrison Lake we ascended to the ridge dividing Little Harrison Lake and Beehive Lake, and it sure seemed as if that was only possible in one singular spot without a rope. If so, we sure hit the spot! On the ridge you’re treated to views of Harrison Peak to the north, Roman Nose and the Pack River canyon to the east, and Twin Peak above Beehive Lake to the south.
Then it’s dropping down to the lake–absolutely gorgeous–through fairly dense forest and, lower down, more granite slab. At the lake trail #279 commences, at first traversing extensive granite slabs marked with cairns, then swallowed by forest. The trail switchbacks downhill, past the other Beehive Lakes, which are a bits off trail. A handy footbridge keeps your feet dry as you cross the Pack River on the way to the car.
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