Last year we had one of the worst fire seasons in the Inland Northwest. Idaho was on fire. Canada was on fire. Montana was on fire. The season was paralleling the summer of 1910. Not that I was around then, but the fire season was so notorious that it went down in history as one of the most devastating natural disasters the Northwest has ever endured.
I had spent most of the summer last year hiking, climbing to alpine views and jewel tone lakes. But it was around late July that the fires had saturated North Idaho in a haze of dirty air that prevented the dogs and me from hiking to the alpine views.
After spending a few days in captivity, inside our house, we ventured out when there was a slight window of decent air quality. But instead of climbing we stayed near the valley floors and explored our local waterfalls.
We started out the day near the Canadian Border, stopping at Copper Falls, about 29 miles north of the town of Bonners Ferry.
Copper Falls is pretty during the spring and summer months, but the falls really attract a crowd in the winter, during prime ice climbing season.
The 225-foot drop provides a dramatic scene whether it be winter or summer.
Our visit was later in the summer season after spring runoff, which I assume would be quite the spectacle as most of the falls in the area are more impressive during spring runoff.
The trail is a quick .4 mile jaunt to the lookout point. The trail does continue on zig-zagging down a hillside to the bottom of the falls. Either spot gives you great views of the falls.
A pit toilet and picnic tables are found at the parking lot near the trailhead to Copper Falls. This is grizzly country, so it is always best to be on alert, especially if you have your dogs with you.
To get to Copper Falls head north on Highway 95 for 32 miles from Bonners Ferry. You will be near the Canadian border, so make sure you stay on Highway 95 towards the Eastport Border Crossing and not follow Highway 1 to Porthill. Take a right just after the bridge crossing the Moyie River and follow Forest Service Road 2517 for about 2.3 miles to the parking lot. The trailhead will be on the left.
The next waterfall of the day was Myrtle Falls, located in the Kootenai Wildlife Refuge.
I’ll address the one bummer about these falls. The trail is not dog-friendly. So your visit will need to not include your furry friends or coincide with a cool day, so they are comfortable while you take the .3 mile steep trail to the viewpoint.
The falls are tucked away, facing the north, meaning you want to time your visit right for best photo opportunities, otherwise you will be dealing with shade. I.E. see photo above.
To get to Myrtle Falls from Bonners Ferry turn west off of Highway 95 onto Riverside Road, passing the Kootenai River Brewery (stop if you have time) and follow for about 5.5 miles to the trailhead. The Refuge Office will be located on the right and a parking lot on the left. The trail is paved at the beginning with flora educational signs, changing to dirt as you climb up the hillside to reach the upper viewpoint. Remember to bring bug spray!
There are many trails around the refuge to explore, although none are pet-friendly. There is a boat launch about a mile down the road from the falls that your pups can take a quick dip in or you can take the West Side Road to the next waterfall location, Snow Creek Falls. You will backtrack about .3 miles to West Side Road from Myrtle Falls, taking a right and follow for 2.8 miles to Snow Creek Road. Continute for 1.6 miles to the trailhead. Parking is found at a small turn out just before the trailhead.
Snow Creek Falls is your best bang for your buck. Although the drive is longer, you get a BOGO once you’re there. There are two falls, upper and lower. The upper falls are more impressive and easier to see, but since there are two sets of falls, why wouldn’t you take them both in? You’d be crazy not to!
The trails to the falls are relatively easy, however, the trail into the falls descends… And like they say, what goes down must come back up.
The falls are also in grizzly country, so be bear aware while you are there.
The next set of falls is Grouse Creek Falls.
I pride myself on being a local, but this was one local’s spot I had never been to in 35+ years. YIKES!
The trail out to the falls is a little bit on the confusing side, so I just tell people, when the trail starts to climb, take a right towards the water. I also recommend bringing water shoes as the rocky river bed can wreak havoc on your feet, especially if you’re tender footed. I’m not mentioning anyone’s name *cough* Brittany *cough*.
Once you reach the water, the falls are not totally visible until you take a peek around the large boulder. This is where the water shoes will come in handy.
There is a small pool of water to take a quick dip in, either you or your dog… Or both! Boomer, of course, found his way to the water and enjoyed swimming while we visited the falls.
There are campsites with a pit toilet as well as trails around the area to extend your stay. It is bear country, so remember to be bear aware.
To find Grouse Creek Falls head east on Highway 200 for about 6 miles from Sandpoint. Turn left onto Colburn Culver Road and follow another 6 miles, the road will make a sharp left, exit right at the bend in the road. Follow Grouse Creek Cut Off for 2 miles until the road dead ends. Take a right and follow Grouse Creek Road (FS 280) for about 4 miles and take a right down an unmarked road. The road leads to a parking lot with a pit toilet. The river is visible from the parking lot however the trail starts just past the pit toilet.
The last falls on our list are Granite Falls in Priest Lake.
It’s a drive but it is totally worth the effort. You will want to grab yourself a sandwich from the Falls Inn along the way. Get a baby or a small sandwich unless you are feeding an army. Trust me, the baby or small will be enough if you are just feeding yourself.
Granite Falls is another two for with upper and lower falls. My suggestion is to hit the upper falls first or if you don’t feel like going on an easy to moderate hike check out the more impressive lower falls.
If you decide to take the trail to the upper falls, you can also take in the Roosevelt Ancient Cedar Trees, because really who doesn’t like traipsing around big trees?
The lower falls are unique because instead of dropping down the face of a cliff, these side-step their way down the face.
To get to Granite Falls follow Idaho Highway 57 for 14 miles north past the town of Nordman (about 37 miles from the town of Priest River and Idaho Highway 2). The trailhead along with a picnic area and pit toilet will be located on the left.
And that wraps up our tour of waterfalls in Northern Idaho. There are more, of course, and perhaps we will hit up more of them this year, however, we are hoping it is not because of another terrible fire year!