It’s almost impossible to avoid the exquisite scenery of North Idaho. Even the backroads that lead to many of its best hiking spots are cloaked in its natural splendor. Less than 20 minutes from the freeway, you’re already standing at the trailhead, surrounded by a hilly forest on one side and the lake on the other, and pictures of the trail and stream are already in your mind.
Lush green plant life has overtaken much of the area. Flowers are in their spring prime about a month ahead of schedule. Even the trees have fully awoken from their winter slumber to welcome you with their majestic presence. About the only thing missing is the sun, which promises to make its presence known soon, as it’s hiding behind a light cloud cover.
You start up the trail and instantly hear water rushing up ahead and birds chattering amongst themselves. Before long, you see the stream, and as you start tracking alongside, the soft breeze brings a light mist to your face. A few minutes are all it takes to unwind and peel off the layers of tension you’ve carried for far too long. Conversation flows freely and listening is easy. Even a discussion about the week’s struggles brings a certain comfort.
The trail itself is narrow and cluttered with tree roots, making it nearly impossible to avoid an occasional stumble. The crunching of twigs underfoot and the rustling of leaves nearby put you in an almost meditative state. You forge ahead, looking up as much as possible without risking an accidental plunge into the shallow water.
At that very thought, your inner child speaks to you, and the closer you get to the stream, the more tempted you are to jump in the water. You resist your urge to do it, but being just a few feet from the water’s edge keeps the idea in your mind as you walk by. As you gaze at the water, you see a flat stone poking out in the middle of the stream and try to gauge whether you can jump to it…. Perhaps just a short side trip.
Soon, the path veers upward. You lose sight of the stream and can barely hear it flowing in the distance. While you miss the sound, you appreciate the peace and quiet. The trail is less crowded by roots and other obstacles the higher you climb, allowing you to peel your eyes from the ground more often and get a better look at your surroundings.
At the peak, there are just enough trees to obscure your view out into the distance, but sometimes seeing what is immediately in front of you is just as significant. Any fatigue brought on by your climb to the top is more than offset by everything else you’re feeling. You reflect on the day’s journey and allow your mind to wander. You think about all of the good and bad of the past week, the past month, the past year. High up in the hills, where the world feels so open and so perfect, you feel free to think about life’s imperfections: strained relationships, trouble with family, the struggles of a close friend, and even your own demons. Rather than overwhelming you, even the most painful thoughts are met with some level of clarity.
Before you start down the hill, you pause to inhale the fresh air, grateful you are here.
On the trip down the hill, it isn’t long before you hear the stream again and soon you’re right next to it. Without the help of the earlier breeze, you can scarcely feel the mist anymore. The sun is now almost blinding, having finally made its promised appearance, causing sweat to form on your forehead.
The birds have now been joined by a chorus of insects, and even the squirrels, in apparent flight from tree to tree, seem to have multiplied since you started out. All forms of animal life are scurrying in all directions, all of them on one mission or another.
Watching all of these creatures taking care of their daily business reminds you how often you forget to step back and appreciate the small, everyday things in life.
You follow along the stream a little further, eventually crossing over toward where the trail ends. Other cars are in the parking lot. Other people are just getting their adventure started. Turning around, you look back and breathe in the fresh air once more, as if to take it with you. And you determine you’ll not wait this long again. It’s too easy to watch life go by and wonder where it went without doing anything about it. And it goes faster with each passing year.
Life is full of adventures; many of them well within your reach if you’re willing to take the time to get lost for a while.
By: Andrew Upton/Beauty Creek Photos by: Joel Riner
Lion Creek at Lion’s Head State Park
1 From Priest River, Idaho, head north on ID-57 N for 22 miles.
2 Turn right onto Dickensheet Hwy for 5.4 miles.
3 Turn right onto Cavanaugh Bay Rd/E Shore Rd for 22 miles.
4 Instead of turning left into the campground, turn right and head up the gravel road for five miles.
5 Stay left at fork in the road and stay on the main road until you come to the trailhead where there are some large rocks blocking the road. The initial trail is a continuation of the road for about 1.5 miles, and then continues on.
1 From Sandpoint, Idaho, follow US-95 north for 12 miles.
2 Take a sharp left at the Samuels Store & Blue Heron Café (NF-231/Upper Pack River Rd).
3 The road follows the Pack River. Drive along the river until you find a starting point you like. Park and hike down to the river. You will find that the trail follows the river as well.
Idaho Panhandle National Forest Trail #33; Graham Creek
1 From Coeur d’Alene, Idaho take I-90 east to Kingston Exit #43.
2 Drive north on FH9 for 14.8 miles to the turn-off. The river will be on your left.
3 Turn right onto a short dirt, road and park. Parking is limited.