Indian Peak is the highest point on the divide between Schwar Creek and Buck Lake Creek, which are two major northern tributaries in the vast, 300 square mile Meadow Creek drainage, which after Moose Creek is the largest tributary to the Selway River. The highpoint is an unassuming rounded hump on the end of a long ridge that is almost the same elevation. It is just barely inside the boundary, of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness and is one of the more remote places to reach in north central Idaho. It’s not a technical mountain and is easily walked up, however it is a long hike. Also the north face of the mountain is a rather dramatic cliff that is never climbed. The higher peaks in this area are formed of unusually decomposed granite that gives the ground a white powder texture with very little soil development. This is especially the case along the north end of the ridge, where several large rocks and towers are found. The 7,728 foot mountain has 1,257 feet of prominence.
The relatively flat summit area is formed by a pile of large granite rocks. The broad south and west aspects fall gently to broad ridges radiating out from the mountain. The southwest aspect between these ridges drops steeply about 800 feet to the bottom of the remote Snowslide Creek. The north side is formed by sheer cliffs that falls over 900 feet to the head of an unnamed subalpine basin. The open eastern slopes fall into Schwar Creek approximately 2,300 feet below. The long northern ridge runs around the east side of the rugged north face along a nice open subalpine boulder hop or walk on the subalpine beach formed by the decomposed granite. It eventually ties in with the pass above Grave Meadow, which sits at the head of the basin about a mile and a half northeast of the summit.
The mountain provides good views across Schwar Creek to the large masses of Bilk Mountain and Elk Mountain. The view westerly views are dominated by the picturesque form of Vermilion Peak and the Copper Buttes in front of the endless waves of smaller tree covered mountains and ridges that stretch to the horizon and fall into the Selway to the north. Looking north the ridge dominates the view as it stretches away towards the Selway. But the best view by far is to the south at the pile of giant rocks that form the Rocky Peak pyramid. Beautiful close up views are provided by the hot pink wildflower, Idaho Douglasia, which along with the Elk Mountain area to the east, supports the largest extended population of this endemic on the planet. These flowers are most common on the north end of the ridge top. This stunning species was only described by botanists in the early 1980s.
The primitive road into this area passes between the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness and the large Meadow Creek roadless area. Meadow Creek is managed much as a wilderness area, but some motorized vehicle access is allowed on some trails. The area is becoming controversial as different factions argue for their interest in the area. Many would like to see it designated wilderness, however it was excluded from designation as part of the compromise to create the massive Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to the south. Some would like to see it managed for timber and other resources as intended when it was excluded from designation. Despite its planning history, it is doubtful the Forest Service would enter the basin for timber purposes, but it will likely never be managed fully as wilderness. In the fall, hunters are common in the area with many four-wheelers on the road and stockmen on the trails; however Indian Peak is remote enough that few if any hunters will be seen during hunting season. Still use caution during this time and wear orange. There are a lot of wolves in the area so seriously consider leaving the dogs home if you don’t want to lose them.
Via the South Fork Clearwater
From Highway 95, turn east into Grangeville and continue on main street (Highway 13) for a long mile to the east edge of town. Town ends abruptly at the intersection of Highway 13 and the Mt. Idaho Grade road. From this intersection turn south (right) on the Mt. Idaho Grade road. After driving approximately 0.7 miles take the curve to the left at the drive-in theater (the curve is the main road). Continue on through the cluster of houses known as Mt. Idaho and soon the road will descend into the deep canyon of the South Fork of the Clearwater River. The road hits the canyon bottom and Highway 14 joins from the left, 9 miles after the theater curve.
At the bottom of the grade continue straight for 38 miles to the Red River Road. Turn right and continue up Red River for about 14 more miles to Red River Ranger Station. Turn right (keeping on the pavement) and go through the Ranger Station for 0.4 mile to the Montana Road, Forest Service Road 468 (also known as the Magruder Road or the Nez Perce Trail Road). Turn left off the pavement on this road and continue 19 miles to the junction of road 285 to Green Mountain. Turn left on road 285 and continue 15 miles to the trailhead just south of Elk Mountain.
From the trailhead take trail 517 north over Elk and Bilk mountains and continue west across the Schwar/Marten divide to Grave Meadow where it is time to leave the trail. This is a distance of about seven miles. Next get onto the high ridge to the west. There are many ways to do this. It is possible to go straight up the steep slope west of the meadow or follow the trail north a few minutes from of the meadow and get onto the ridge at the saddle. Once on top, just south on the ridge to rounded high point of Indian Peak. This is about a couple miles on foot from the Grave Meadow area. While studying a map, it may be tempting to leave the trail in the Elk Mountain area and drop down into Schwar Creek and go up the east side of Indian Peak. Schwar Creek is wide, deep and brushy and a cross country crossing is not recommended.
Caution should be taken on much of driving portion of this approach. For several miles on Highway 14 just east of the base of Mount Idaho Grade, the road is very narrow and twisted. Watch the speed and stay on the right side of the road and hope the oncoming traffic (largely composed of RVs and logging trucks) does as well. The shoulder is falling into the river on this already narrow road and in some places even the white strip is going, leaving absolutely no space between you and the river. On the mountainous portion, the 285 road is very narrow and will take some time to navigate safely. Road use can be high some weekends and during hunting season so anticipate other vehicles on the corners.
Part of the adventure of going into this part of Idaho is driving along the South Fork Clearwater River. This small, but beautiful river has a steep grade over endless boulders of class III, IV, and V whitewater in the spring. About 10-15 miles upstream the canyon tightens into a spectacular gorge with miles of technical climbing that is never climbed. Low elevation mountain goats are not an uncommon sight here on large granite walls. All is especially beautiful in the fall when the larch and broadleaf trees lining the rocky stream turn gold. The river also supports good runs of steelhead and Chinook salmon, which can be seen jumping some of the small waterfalls during the appropriate season.
Via the Selway River
From Kooskia follow Highway 12 east for about 20 minutes to Lowell at the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway Rivers. Turn right onto the Selway Road and continue for about 14 miles to the right turn across the river and go up Meadow Creek. After crossing the bridge it is about two miles to the left turn over Meadow Creek. Cross the creek and turn left and continue about 12 miles up the road to the trailhead on the south end of the Indian Hill summit area. There are many parking places and open sites to camp if desired.
From the trailhead take the 602 trail east toward the Copper Buttes. There is a trail junction visible from the trailhead; keep to the right. Follow this trail for about nine miles to Drake Saddle. Through much of the way the trail passes through severely burned forest that was cooked by the 17,000 acres Drake Fire of 2007. From Drake Saddle there are a couple ways to go. Continue left on the 602 for about seven miles to the Grave Meadow area and then get on the ridge north of Indian Peak as described above or turn right on the 628 and drop into Drake Creek. After a long mile take a left on the 609 and go up Buck Lake Creek. After a mile or so this trail will climb up to the ridge coming off the west side of Indian Peak. Turn east and hike cross country a little over a mile to the top of Indian Peak. This is probably the easiest way from the west, with a distance of about 14 miles and combined with the north loop option would make for a nice trip, but it’s too long for a day hike.
Disclaimer: I have seen the trail as far as Little Copper Butte and have been told its good to Drake Saddle. I have also seen the trail in the vicinity of the ridge coming off the west side of Indian Peak. But I have no other firsthand information of the trails from the west. If coming from this direction be sure to check current maps and don’t trust the USGS quads as many trails have been moved or no longer exist. Contact the Forest Service offices below for information.
A note on the roads from the west: the Selway River Road is paved for the first few miles and then it becomes gravel and is much narrower. Traffic can be heavy and some corners are tight so drive this road with caution. The road up Indian Hill is especially narrow and steep in places and isn’t suitable for the family sedan. Many people like to drive this road up to the lookout on the summit so proceed with caution. The fire that burned the forest on Indian Hill was the Slims Fire in 2003, which burned about 12,500 acres.
Red TapeThere is no red tape other than standard wilderness regulations when within the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness boundary. Given the overall remoteness and connectivity of the roadless areas, it all is generally managed and treated as a wilderness area.
There are not a lot of good camping opportunities near Indian Peak. It is possible to camp near the trailhead on Elk Mountain, but this does not get one close to the peak. Backpackers can find camping in the east or north basins of Bilk Mountain where there are meadows with good water sources, but these also are not real close either. Grave Meadow at the north end of Indian Ridge is about a seven mile hike from the trailhead and is about a two mile cross country hike to Indian Peak. It is probably the best camping option, but you will be sleeping near the grave of an Indian child. About a mile further north of Grave Meadow, Red Lake is also a camping option. If coming in from the Indian Hill trailhead to the west, there are probably camping options in the stream bottoms or the lakes near Drake Saddle. This is a longer hike and Indian Peak is still an indirect hike of several miles. Also some of the trails in this area may be suspect and do not occur as indicated on the map (or not at all). To reach this mountain it may be necessary to camp at the trailheads or other campgrounds along the Montana Road or Selway River and plan at least one or two nights out.
When To ClimbObviously the summer is the best time to reach this summit. Winter access into this area would be extremely difficult due to terrain, lack of a workable route and deep snows. At this high elevation come prepared for any kind of weather regardless of the time of year, even on days that seem warm in the morning. Storms can and often do blow up out of nowhere and can drop temperatures dramatically and bring rain or snow. It may be possible to snowmobile along the 285 road toward Elk Mountain, but it’s a long way to that trailhead from the accessible ends of the road and it doesn’t really get one near Indian Peak or its neighbors. Crossing the steep, wide, deep and brush tangled Schwar Canyon would be hard in the summer, but not really possible in the winter.
More Information and Current Conditions
Go to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. Indian Peak and its neighbors are not easily accessible, which adds a degree of difficulty to any trip into such remote country. The ability to communicate with the outside world or summon assistance if needed is greatly impaired. Any trip in this area should involve caution and good planning.
Before traveling the 468 or 285 roads or for more information and current conditionsin the Indian Peak vicinity, contact the Nez Perce National Forest or the Red River (Elk City) Ranger Station. If coming in on the trails from the north or west contact the Moose Creek Ranger District at the Fenn Ranger Station.
Nez Perce National Forest
104 Airport Road
Grangeville, ID 83530
Red River Ranger District:
Elk City Ranger Station
300 American River Road
Elk City, ID 83525
Moose Creek Ranger District
831 Selway Road
Kooskia, ID 83539