Leaving Bonners Ferry and crossing the Kootenai River just past Copeland, Idaho, the Pacific Northwest Trail returns to the mountains, this time entering a long stretch through the Selkirk Range. The next few days of hiking across the Idaho Panhandle and into northeastern Washington are truly spectacular. Mountain lakes, old fire lookouts, granite cliffs, wildflower meadows, and a beautiful section of trail along Upper Priest Lake await thru-hikers for roughly 89 miles of trail. But it also comes with one of the biggest challenges along the PNT. The current route for the trail involves a challenging off-trail descent and a long bushwhack around Lion's Head Ridge (more on this below).
Crossing the Kootenai River from Copeland, the PNT follows Forest Service roads for 9 miles before linking up with the Parker Ridge Trail. It then follows Parker Ridge for 16 miles, passing numerous mountain lakes at the foot of larger peaks. These present thru-hikers with some amazingly beautiful places to rest for lunch or camp for the night, replenish water supplies, and enjoy the solitude of northern Idaho's mountains. With the bushwhack following this section of trail, stopping for the night at Pyramid or Ball Lakes is a great option to take in the majesty of the mountains before embarking on the off-trail challenge the following day.
It's just past Ball Lakes where the 4.3 miles of bushwhacking starts to cut around Lion's Head Ridge and link up with Forest Service Road 44 that leads into Priest Lake. It isn't a bushwhack for the entire 4.3 miles of travel, but there are sections where you will need to slowly pick your way through some densely overgrown forest. The going is slow, frustrating, and it's highly likely you'll find yourself second-guessing your route or needing to pull out a compass to make sure you are heading in the right direction. Every PNT hiker remembers this section of the trail and has a story on how it went for them. Jeff Kish, one of the earliest PNT thru-hikers to document his experience, recalls finding a moose in this section that, like him, was entangled in the brush and struggling to find a way through. Unfortunately there are no alternate routes allowing thru-hikers to avoid this part of the trail. At some point the trail may be rerouted through a different section of the Kaniksu National Forest or a trail may be built, but at this point there are no plans for that to happen. Luckily the bushwhack is mostly downhill, making the going slightly easier, and some thru-hikers welcome the challenge to find their own way.
After reconnecting with the road, a spur trail leads up to Lookout Mountain, where there is an old fire lookout atop. The view across the Selkirks is nothing short of incredible. From Priest Lake, the trail heads back north and steadily climbs 4,000 feet to the summit of Shedroof Mountain, where you cross into Washington State. Here you are within a few miles of the Canadian border. Be sure to have your passport with you for this section of trail. Hikers often have run-ins with U.S. Border Patrol agents making sure people aren't crossing into the U.S. illegally.
With ample backcountry and dispersed camping options available along this section of the trail, thru-hikers can take their pick of spots to sleep for the night. The main PNT route follows the Crowell Ridge Trail and North Fork Trail for 25 miles from Shedroof Mountain into the town of Metaline Falls, Washington, the next resupply town on the route.
Metaline Falls is a small town, population 238, that sits on the banks of the Oreille River. But it has a post office, a grocery store, and a few places where you can get a room for the night if you so desire. The post office can hold packages for you if you plan to ship food or gear for yourself along the way. Cathy's Cafe serves breakfast and lunch, and the Western Star serves dinner. Both are open seven days a week.
For additional details, refer to the following PNT sections: