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Efficiently Hiking Harrison Lake Trail #217, Sandpoint Idaho

Harrison Lake Trail #217
Harrison Lake Trail #217

So I am going to admit something about myself. Sometimes I can become annoyed while hiking because the trails wind around the endpoint.  Perhaps a little aimlessly in my opinion. I can see the end of the trail, such as a lake, but yet the trail continues, dancing around the end, not quite leading you there until several footsteps later.

Harrison Lake Trail #217
Views from the trail

While on the hike to Harrison Lake, a trail with little to no switchbacks, I finally learned the importance of switchbacks and winding around.

The trail is an efficient person’s dream. Or a more accurate description would be that you are walking straight up a mountain.

Now if you are an out of shape person, such as myself, you will soon realize why switchbacks are a good thing. You need that traversing along the hillside to catch your breath and rest a little. It will also save you from saying to yourself “what the hell have I done?” as you drag yourself up the hillside.

Harrison Lake Trail #217
Boomer and Jovi enjoying the trail

I don’t want to deter you from hiking to Harrison Lake. It is truly a beautiful spot and well worth the effort, however, you need to be prepared for what you are about to embark upon.

There is no lollygagging on this trail. The trail starts out with a pretty intense climb and does not really level off for much of the trail. There are a few spots that give you a bit of reprieve, but for the most part, you are heading up a hill.

I recommend bringing a dog, or two, and let them help take you to the top. Boomer and Jovi were very helpful in my quest to Harrison Lake.  I clung onto the leash, like a child playing crack the whip, allowing their momentum to aid in pulling me up the hillside.

Harrison Lake Trail #217
The rocky trail to Harrison Lake

The trail is also heavily peppered with rocks, which is not surprising as the trail is on a granite mountain. Being that the trail is rocky we recommend wearing hiking boots as you will need the ankle support and good traction. The loose rocks can cause some footing issues while navigating the hillside. I slipped a dozen times, but luckily never fell to the ground.  I do beg you to be careful and please don’t repeat my summer mishap of actually slipping and falling while hiking and then having a bum ankle for 5 weeks.

Harrison Lake Trail #217
The trail turns to rock slabs near the lake

Once you reach the top of the mountain you are awarded stellar views of the Selkirk Mountains. Here the trail transitions from a dirt/rock trail to slab rock and requires some fancy footwork as you continue on.  The trail has impressive views the entire way.   Once you reach the slab rock area be sure to take a break here and admire the wide-spanning views of the mountain range.

It can be easy to lose the trail once you reach the rock slabs.  Just keep heading uphill and you should be able to find the trail again. Keep an eye out for trail markers and also helpful Inuksuit found along the hillside, directing you to trail.

Harrison Lake Trail #217
Harrison Lake

There are several entry spots to Harrison Lake once you reach the end of the trail. There are also primitive camp spots sprinkled about.

We found ourselves a spot for the dogs to get into the lake and a spot for me to rest while admiring the view of the shale rock mountains that hugged the lake. Although we did not head any further than the lake, apparently more motivated people can follow a trail up the shale rock mountainside.  The reward is an overlooking view of the lake as well as the Selkirk Mountain Range.

Harrison Lake Trail #217
Snow still hanging around in the middle of summer

During our visit in mid-July, there were still patches of snow near the lake.  The presence of snow was a good indicator that the lake water was less than warm.

Harrison Lake Trail #217
“It’s so cold but I must continue to swim”

Boomer will swim in any temperature of water even if it means pretending like he is not shivering. Although he is not very good a pretending. He usually gives it away that the water is cold when he awkwardly stands on rocks to get as much of his body out of the water as possible but still refusing to get completely out of the water. Jovi, my less dumb dog, likes to take quick hops in the water and then she darts out, always shaking the water off while standing next to me. I like to think this is how she shares with me the temperature of the water. She’s very thoughtful.

Harrison Lake Trail #217
Views near the lake

The Harrison Lake Trail #217 is flagged as the #1 trail in the Kaniksu National Forest according to, which means it is a fairly popular trail. Although there was only one other group while we were at the lake, we did pass several groups on their way up the mountain as we were leaving. The trail is 4.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1433 feet.

This trail is dog-friendly with dogs needing to stay on a leash as you are in grizzly country.  Bear spray and bells are highly recommended.  The trail is identified as moderate but I would not recommend this trail to families unless their children are fairly well versed in hiking. The top of the trail can be pretty hard to navigate.  There are several large steps over rocks and tall climbs up the trail that may be difficult for shorter legs. As I mentioned before the trail is very rocky with loose rocks, which can cause some footing issues. Hiking boots are a must on this trail.

To get to Harrison Lake Trail #217 take Highway 95, head north for 11.5 miles towards Bonners Ferry /Canada. Turn west (left) onto Upper Pack River Road just before the gas station. Follow Upper Pack River for 20 miles to the trailhead. A small parking lot and pit toilet are located at the trailhead.

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