Lookout Mountain


Forest Service Trail #52

Why? Great views and great fall color.

Season: July through October

Ease: Moderate to difficult. It’s 4 miles with about 1,200 feet of elevation gain one-way, as well as 500 feet of loss.

I’ve hiked the Lookout Mountain trail up out of Clarkia three times now. The first time was on a group hike led by another, shortly after I moved west in ‘88. We took a wrong turn and ended up at Widow Mountain instead – a fine destination, for sure, and an easy mistake since the trails weren’t well marked at that time.

The second time I took three friends up to Lookout for a fancy picnic. About the time we got the wine bottle open and the food out, it began to thunder. Given the very exposed nature of Lookout, there was no question that the right thing to do was pack up the food and wine and head down NOW.

The third time was the charm, however. I was actually able to sit down and enjoy the views from Lookout, a long-delayed reward for the attention-getting 20 minutes or so of serious uphill out of the parking area. Those views are 360 degrees of mostly nice forest country. In the summer, it would be a forest of green, in the fall, a panorama of colorful fall foliage against the dark green evergreens that dominate the landscape. A small lake sits just below, adding to the decorations.

The top itself is a stark place, rocky and narrow and boasting one of the finest rock cairns I’ve ever seen. It’s also strewn with flat rock that will probably be there forever since it’d be too difficult to cart any home to use for walkways or patios. It’s definitely a spot worth hiking to.

The way there is a fine hike, too – at least after that first steep uphill. It’s in the woods for a bit at the start, then largely in the open, from past the junction with the Delaney Creek Trail and until the Widow Mountain spur heads off.

The next 1 1/2 miles or so alternate woods of hemlock, spruce, and fir that feature a lot of huckleberry understory with meadows featuring abundant bear grass. Grandmother and Grandfather Mountains plus the Delaney and Marble Creek drainages dominate the views when you’re in the open.

There’s a brief downhill into a saddle west of Lost Lake, the latter a spot that no longer has a trail to it from this side. The old trail was very steep, and it is my understanding that someone actually died after a fall from that trail. However, you can drive there from the other side if you really want to visit that lake. (You can see Lost Lake from some spots in this section of trail if you move a bit off the trail to the north.)

When you break out into the open coming out of the saddle, what you see in front and above you really is almost the top of Lookout. It’s not one of those places where you think you see the top, but once you get there, there’s yet another “false top,” and perhaps another after that. At Lookout, once you get as far up as you can see, there’s just a small rise left to hike.

Note: I’m sure that there would be impressive wild flowers along the trail in season. Interestingly, though there appears to have been a lookout on Lookout Mountain, Widow Mountain is higher.

Directions: Drive north on Highway 3 from Bovil until just past milepost 54. Turn right into Clarkia and again as the road turns right, then left after the school. Drive 1 mile, then right onto Road 301. Stay on 301 by turning left and heading up the hill after 4.4 miles. Stay left again on 301 at 8.6 miles and 9.3 miles. The Lookout Mountain trailhead is 20 miles in on the left, in a saddle rather than where it’s shown on the USGS map.

Information: St. Joe Ranger District, Idaho Panhandle National Forest at St. Maries, (208) 245 2531.

Map: USGS Widow Mt, Idaho

Connections: The trail to Widow Mountain starts with that to Lookout. The trail forks in a relatively level section after the uphill at the start, at a peeling sign pointing right to Widow Mountain.As you start along the trail, be sure to look toward the rocks and snags up the hill in front of you. They're your immediate destination, and the trail to them becomes difficult if not impossible to find. However once up the hill the trail is easy to refind and follow to the Widow Mountain peak.The views along the way and from the top are mostly to the east and south and towards the Little North Fork of the Clearwater River. From some vantage points you can look north and see Little Lost Lake and Lookout Mountain. Before you leave the summit be sure to look for the rocks spelling out "Widow Mt" in 10-foot high letters, flat against the ground. They always surprise me, make me wonder why they're there. It’s roughly 3 miles to Widow from the trailhead.

The Lookout Mountain trail continues past the summit to the #216 Road, Homestead Creek Road, at Breezy Point. I’ve never hiked in that way.