For those who have not spent much time in the mountains of Northeast Washington, I believe, they are missing out. The mountains may not contain the enormous amount of perfectly manicured trails that fill up hiking books; they do, however, have the potential of filling up photo albums. The views across many of the high reaching ridges and mountain tops provide opportunities for hikers and other adventure seekers the chance to reach into the clouds and take in some amazing scenery with medium effort.
Do not think that I mean easy though. Some of these trails, yes, you can hike in a decent amount of time and with little effort to find some great views, but Northeast Washington also provides dense, thick forest and at spots, some pretty steep ground. I have not personally encountered what some may classify as “very difficult” terrain yet, but some good quality hiking legs and cardio is needed to have an enjoyable time reaching high into the sky.
One trail in particular that encompasses a decent amount of work and offers incredible views is the Columbia Mountain Loop Trail. The trail starts at a wide parking lot at the very tip top of Sherman Pass. Sherman Pass takes roughly 30 minutes to reach from one end of the pass to the other, whether going from Republic, Wash. to Kettle Falls, Wash. or vice versa. It is a drive with so much to see, especially in the early to mid-fall time of year. The tamarack trees are starting to change shades and the autumn colors are simply something to be in awe about. It is beautiful. But at the top of the pass is the turn off for the parking lot for the trail systems. From here is what ties someone into the Kettle Crest Trail, Columbia Mountain Loop and many others — North or South, trails and side trails are offered.
The Columbia Mountain Loop starts at an elevation of about 5,500 feet and the summit of Columbia Mountain sits at approximately 6,600 feet. The trail is 5.4 miles roundtrip and is not necessarily considered easy. There are definitely less difficult parts of trail where switchbacks zigzag back and forth up the mountain. They cross small patches of sagebrush, aspen groves and denser trees. Occasional springs are seen throughout the hike as well, but are not recommended to drink from unless a filter is used.
Two things I loved about this adventure in particular are: 1. The views from the top and 2. The old fire lookout at the summit.
Once reaching the end of the trail, a 360-degree view becomes accessible. The peaks to the north, along the Kettle Crest Trail, stand towering. Snow Peak is to the south, and there are even giant valleys to the east and west which present amazing vastness through the terrain. From the top of this trail open meadows are able to be seen, rocky outcroppings, thick, dense forest and on lucky occasions, animals such as mule deer, bears, moose and others, traversing their way across open hillsides.
The second sight to see is the old fire lookout cabin. The cabin has been resupported and does offer a covered area to get out of the sometimes harsh mountain weather that can blow in fairly quickly. The cabin is approximately 10 by 10 feet, maybe 12 by 12 feet. It has three windows and a door, all of which are easily closed to keep the dry in and the wet out. If a camper was seeking a good hike and a backcountry experience, then hiking to the summit and camping in the old cabin would be one for the books.
This mountain and the potential that is offered up on Sherman Pass is abundant for any seeker who loves the outdoors and the creation before us. Like anything else, I can explain the time you could have up along the trail or at the summit of Columbia Mountain. But honestly, words can only do so much, the time spent outside and along the trail is where the memories are really made. Go live it!