Deep into the Panhandle National Forest, a lush, lovely and remote corner of Northern Idaho, you’ll find Shorty Peak. This former fire lookout is a unique place to spend the night. The only access is a 2,5 mile hiking trail, but the views are all the more rewarding…
What is Shorty Peak? It’s a former fire lookout on top of a mountain, with a stunning and unobstructed 360 degree view. Sleeping accommodations for two!
Where is it? Shorty Peak is located in the Lower Kootenai River Area (Bonners Ferry District) of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, a lush, lovely and remote corner of Northern Idaho. You’ll find the cabin on the top of the Shorty Peak mountain (6515 ft/1986m), surrounded by wilderness and the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges of Northern Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.
Getting there? There are driving directions on the website www.recreation.gov, follow these and you’ll be fine. The final 5 or so miles you’ll be driving on a dirt road that isn’t in the best shape (maintained by volunteers), so prepare for a bumpy ride. You might have to scare away a few cows blocking the road, too… Leave your car at the start of the Shorty Peak trailhead. From there on, it’s another 2,5/3 mile hike up the mountain.
Before you go
- There’s no drinking water and no electricity. You also need to bring your own bedding. If you’re in desperate need of water, there’s a sign along the trail that will lead you to a spring. We were lucky: visitors before us left a few bottles with unfiltered water.
- There’s a pit toilet about 100 yards/meters down. Always take the toilet paper back inside the cabin though – squirrels like to play with it 😉
- If you’re arachnophobic, it might not be the best idea to come up here… There are cellar spiders (small body, long legs) everywhere, outside and inside. Every time we opened the cabin door, there would be spiders waiting for a chance to get inside. Cover the gap under the door with newspapers and fill the cracks and holes in the wooden windows with toilet paper (someone else did that before us so we ‘only’ had to kill about 20 spiders inside).
- You’re in bear country here, so make sure to carry bear spray during the hike.
- There’s a ‘pack it in pack it out’ rule: don’t leave any trash behind.
Trees, trees and more trees, that’s what you’ll see when hiking up Shorty Peak. It was the end of September when we were there and the leaves were starting to turn, which was a magnificent sight all the way to the top. The higher we got, the more colorful the forest was. The late afternoon sun made it even more spectacular.
We arrived somewhere around 4pm on a bright and sunny day. When we entered the cabin, it was steaming hot inside! The cabin was refurbished in 2005 and is maintained by volunteers, so it’s quite a modest accommodation: there’s two small beds, a table and two chairs and that’s about it. The only thing that is reminiscent of the forest fire patrols is the historic fire finder in the middle of the cabin. Other stuff you’ll find are items left behind by visitors: a set of cards, reading glasses, mini-games, matches etc. There’s also a logbook in there, with the experiences from previous visitors. I highly suggest to read a few of their stories, from windy nights to huge thunderstorms and wildlife encounters. Read our report on September 21st-22nd 2014 🙂
The historic fire finder
The best thing about Shorty Peak is the view. To the North: Canada (British Columbia) and the Selkirk mountains. To the West: the Selkirk wilderness and Lone Tree Peak (6,624 ft / 2,019 m), a mountain that you can hike as well. To the south: the American side of the Selkirk mountain range. To the east: Montana and the Purcell Mountains.
As for wildlife spotting: Shorty Peak is supposed to be a great place for birdwatching. There are red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and goshawks soaring over the valleys, but unfortunately we didn’t see any of those. The logbook also mentioned two brown mountain goats visiting Shorty Peak regularly and sure enough we saw them too! Their favorite spot was right next to the campfire pit. The best time to spot them is at dusk or dawn.
Sunset to sunrise
What do you do when you’re all alone on the top of a mountain? You enjoy the ambient mountain sounds (and the silence as well), take in the scenery, make a campfire, enjoy a modest meal (bread & cheese), relax and watch how the world and the colors around you change during sunset. At 5.30AM we woke up to a stunning bright orange-red, almost fluorescent gleam and even though we were still tired, we just couldn’t stop looking.
Want to book?
We booked via www.recreation.gov for 34 dollars. Entry to the cabin is by combination lock. Call the ranger district at (208) 267-5561 for the combination, a few days in advance. It’s an old lock so don’t panic (like us) if it doesn’t immediately open, give it a little push and shove and you’ll be fine. Check-in time is 1:00 PM, check-out time: 11:00 AM. Have fun 🙂