The Junction Mountain Loop


Forest Service Trails #106 and #191

Why? Paradise, views, and fall color.

Season: Mid-July through September.

Ease: Difficult. It’s about 16 miles around the circle, with 3,400 feet in elevation gain and loss.

This is a hike that will take you to paradise, at least if your idea of paradise might be an area of rolling hills and creeks nestled between ridges south of Kelly Creek. The beauty of this paradise is in the way the valleys and hills fit together beneath the mountains, and in the way the colors of fall, mostly golden brown and dark green, accentuate the curves and the rolling hills. It’s a place worth walking to more than once, a place that’s high on my list of favorite spots.

Seeing paradise would have been enough on this long hike around the Junction Creek watershed, but it was not all the hike had to offer. I especially enjoyed being able to see, in just one day, several places from more than one vantage point.

The trail passes just under the Twin Peaks a couple of miles in. They look completely different when they’re seen later on in the hike, from above and farther away. Way back at the start of the hike, you see Junction Mountain, recognizable by the lookout perched on its top. As you approach it late in the hike, it becomes a round peak with trees. But as you sit on its eastern slope, you’ll see its superb rock outcrops, talus slopes above and below highlighted with shrubs in fall colors (obviously, I hiked this trail in the autumn, September actually) and, again, meadows of golden brown grass with tall, dark green trees.

The Barn and Barnard Creek valleys are part of what I call paradise and connect with Paradise Meadows. Behind these are the ridges with Scurvy, Lookout and Cook Mountains and Bear Butte, all cloaked in dark green trees.

The south side of the Moose Mountains, which occupies the space between the North Fork and Kelly Creek, is much more impressive seen from here than from the Cold Springs Peak area on its other side. From there, it’s all treed. From the Junction Mountain Trail, it’s the bare and jagged Moose Creek Buttes on top in a pink to tan color. Between the Moose Mountains and the Cold Springs Peak area, you see the upper slopes of the Black Canyon of the North Fork.

Eventually, as you near Junction Mountain, you’ll see Pot Mountain stretched out in its entirety, giving you a better idea of just why it takes so long to drive from Aquarius to Kelly Forks on the road along the North Fork. And as you begin your long descent back to the trailhead, you see Flat Mountain, which sits at the end of the ridge leading to Cold Springs Peak.

There were smaller joys, like the long stretch of lodgepole pine with a huckleberry understory turning color. Or the glimpses of Junction Lake after you pass above and behind it, as you’re climbing up slope of Junction Mountain.

I wish that I’d been able to take more time and piece together where I was with the other places I’ve hiked and know I could see that day. But September days are short, the hike was longer than I thought, and I didn’t want to be late getting back. And it was cold and windy, a difficult combination for laying out maps and contemplating.

Trail Notes: I recommend hiking this circle trail clockwise, starting on the #106 trail. The junction of #106 and #191was signed when I hiked. If you really just want to visit paradise, turn left on #191 rather than right.

You can hike to the top of Junction Mountain on spur #169. I’m told the views aren’t much better from there.

Junction Creek and Mountain were possibly so named because trails form a junction in this area.

Directions: Drive to the North Fork of the Clearwater River via Weippe and the French Mountain Road. When you reach the North Fork, turn right and continue driving along the river. Go straight on Kelly Creek at Kelly Forks. The Junction Creek pack bridge is about 1½ miles past the Forks. There is a sign, a map, and ample parking.

Information: North Fork Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 476-4541.

Maps: USGS Junction Mountain and Scurvy Mountain, Idaho. Since you can see a long way, you might want to include a Clearwater Forest Map so you can try to identify all that you see if your day is less windy than mine was.