I’d only ever passed through Idaho a couple of times. But in mid-June, my boyfriend, a Keeshond and I headed for the wilderness. The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in northern Idaho, that is, which we accessed off a pristine stretch of Highway 12. This route was historically used by Nez Perce Indians and Lewis and Clark. So if you like hiking and history, this is the perfect area to visit.
Our most rugged hike of the trip was to Wind Lakes. This is on the way to Grave Peak, which is known for its old 1924 fire lookout. First you leave Highway 12 and drive about 15 miles up gravelly forest roads to reach the trailhead. The hike up to the lakes starts out through meadows dotted with heather and tiny yellow avalanche lilies. But get ready for wet feet: You have to cross chilly streams about 10 times each way. The water depth ranged from ankles to knees, and wasn’t moving too fast. At first I was constantly changing between Tevas and hiking boots. But every time we stopped, the mosquitoes swarmed us. They didn’t much bother my boyfriend. But if you’re delicious like me, you’ll want to carry a case of DEET. On our way back we tromped through with our boots on before the skeeters drained us completely. Aside from bloodsucking menaces, it’s a gorgeous hike and we felt very remote. We didn’t see anybody else the whole nearly six miles each way. But I’m sure some creatures saw us. Rudy the Keeshond stayed between my boyfriend and me almost the whole way, rather than venturing off on side trips as he usually does. Did he see a bear? Smell wolf pee? Who knows?
Many folks come to this area to enjoy hot springs, especially the popular Jerry Johnson. We visited both Jerry Johnson and Weir. The single pool at Weir is an easy half mile or so up a trail off 12, set up high overlooking trees and a stream. It’s a small pool. We were lucky to have it to ourselves. The rocks were a bit jagged inside, so be careful if you go.
The next day we went to Jerry Johnson, which had multiple pools to choose from. We went in the large pool that was farthest from the road. We were alone there for maybe 20 minutes when a couple from Michigan joined us. I’ve heard that in the past people usually went in these hot springs nude. But the handful of people I saw at Jerry Johnson were all wearing swimsuits. So pack a suit if you don’t want to be the only nudie.
On our way from Portland to the wilderness, we stopped at the Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center in Spalding, Idaho. Here you’ll see many of the tribe’s treasures, which they’ve loaned to the National Park Service to display. The Nez Perce are known for their beadwork and dyed corn husk bags. Spalding was also the site of an early Presbyterian mission. If you walk down the hill from the visitor’s center you’ll see the old church, a graveyard and other relics of the early mission.
If you pass through Kamiah, don’t miss the Heart of the Monster. It looks like a big rock, but according to Nez Perce tradition, this is where their tribe started. Press a button on an audio kiosk and you’ll hear a Nez Perce man tell you the story of Coyote – the leading character in Nez Perce lore – fighting a terrible monster.
Campgrounds abound along Highway 12. But if you want extra comfort, there’s the Lochsa Lodge in Powell, Idaho. This cute collection of cabins, a country store, restaurant, gift shop and gas pump perch above the Lochsa River. Our wood-paneled lodge room was very comfortable. I loved the crazy loud dawn chorus of birds in the morning, doing yoga on a big grassy area overlooking the river, and walking Rudy around the grounds at night. Something was always going on by the fire pit. One night a very talented fiddler was out there, fiddling all by himself. Lochsa Lodge is a popular stop for bicyclists riding the northern route across America. We met a half dozen bike riders, including Scott Bell, who’s raising funds for custom bicycles for injured veterans.
The Lochsa Lodge restaurant had a few vegetarian dishes on the menu. I recommend the salads. The veggie burger was good – hundreds of miles from the nearest Trader Joe’s I was too grateful it was on the menu to mind that it was frozen rather than housemade. The pasta primavera was too creamy for me, but my boyfriend liked it. The lodge is known for its huckleberry desserts, which come into season a little later in summer.
We only ate in the restaurant once. Bringing lots of food and a camp stove saved us lots of money and gave us more variety than the restaurant could provide vegetarians.
My Idaho-loving boyfriend asked me if Idaho is now my favorite state. I’m not going that far yet, but it’s definitely moved up a few notches.