Throughout the years, I’ve noticed when talking about grizzly bears with people in eastern America that there are two primary camps: those who believe there are no grizzly bears left in the lower 48, and those who believe they’re far more widespread than they actually are, inhabiting places like California and Colorado.
When bringing up the topic to Pacific Northwesterners, they’ll tell you the North Cascades are home to the grizzlies, which is true, but not the whole truth.
A word I never heard mentioned until moving to Washington and exploring on my own was Selkirk. As in – the Selkirk Mountains. Unless you’re a local, I’m going to bet this is new territory to you as well.
It turns out, though, that the Selkirk Mountains are home to the most resilient population of grizzlies in Washington state!
WASHINGTON’S SELKIRK MOUNTAINS
The eastern portion of the state receives little attention contrasted with the bustling towns, lush rainforests, and salty bays of western Washington. Those of us who live here seem to prefer it that way – less attention ensures the quiet spaciousness we all value is preserved.
Northeast Washington harbors vast areas averaging only 3 people per square mile and very few roads, so it comes as no surprise that the wildlife here is teeming.
In the far northeastern corner of the state lie the Selkirks – distinct from and geologically older than the Rockies. From Washington, they cross man-made lines into the northern Idaho panhandle and southeastern British Columbia.
This remote and wild ecosystem stretches on into northwest Montana and sustains not just grizzly bears, but golden eagles, gray wolves, mountain goats, moose, and the only surviving woodland caribou populations in the lower 48.
While the North Cascades are thought to shelter around 20 grizzly bears, the Selkirks are home to roughly four times that many.
VISITING THE SELKIRKS
The opportunities for exploration in the Selkirks are as vast as the mountains themselves.
If you want to get your feet wet in grizzly territory, I recommend visiting the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars and Granite Falls in Metaline Falls, WA. A short hike will lead you into a majestic cedar grove that holds memory of how the forests once were before logging. Some of these cedars are up to 2,000 years old. On the hike to the grove, be sure to look out over Granite Falls, a beautiful 70-foot waterfall.
The grandeur of the natural world combined with the ease of this trail make it a great option for all ages who want a dose of the quiet beauty the Selkirks possess.
And, of course, on the drive there – keep your eyes peeled for grizzlies!