South Chilco Mountain is a locally significant mountain and the highest on the western front of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, a sub-range of the Bitterroots in north Idaho. It is 5,661 feet in elevation and has a respectable 1,526 feet of prominence, both of which are ranked third in Kootenai County. The abrupt rise of these mountains is approximately 3,500 feet, which is not large, but with the heavy coat of evergreen forests and numerous large and small lakes nestled against the lower elevations it’s a very scenic place. The mountain stands out particularly from Hayden Lake, north of Coeur d’Alene, which lies nearly 3,300 feet below. The lakes largest tributary, Hayden Creek flows off the southwest aspect of the mountain feeding the lake with cold clear waters through dark, inland rainforests of western redcedar and Hemlock. The upper elevations support open stands of subalpine fir and beargrass glades broken up by some very large talus slopes. These large rocks are billion year old sedimentary ripple rocks raised up from an ancient sea bed.
The mountain looks out over the Rathdrum Prairie into Washington beyond the city of Spokane. Several lakes including Coeur d’Alene, Hayden, Lower Twin and Hauser are visible to the south and west. Across the south end of the Purcell Trench lies the southern terminus of the extensive Selkirk Mountains along the border of Idaho and Washington. To the easterly direction the apparently endless waves of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, broken up by the highly dendritic fingers of the Coeur d’Alene River; extend to the northern Bitterroots and on into Montana. To the northeast the view across the broad Clark Fork Valley is highlighted by the Snowshoe Peak and other summits of the high Cabinet Mountains. To the southeast below the South Fork Coeur d’Alene basin, the St. Joe Mountains rise in a similar, but generally slightly higher manner than their northern neighbors.
A visit to this high summit is always rewarding, but unfortunately progress is limiting the experience. The Idaho Panhandle National Forest has become an urban forest due to the swelling of the Coeur d’Alene – Spokane metro area, which now collectively exceeds a half million people. Though the development is miles away, a person standing on the summit can easily hear vehicles and trains from the valley below. But it is still a beautiful place that allows people to escape the hustle and bustle to enjoy one of the premier viewpoints in north Idaho.
There are several approaches to this mountain from Highway 95 north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. From the north end of Hayden go north slightly less than three miles on Highway 95 to the intersection of Highway 57. A new traffic light and intersection reconstruction occurred here in 2009. Continue straight on 95 for just over two miles to East Ohio Match Road. Take a right on this road and continue for 7.5 miles to where the Ohio Match meets the Hayden Creek Road. The Ohio Match starts off paved, but will soon turn to gravel. It is in pretty good shape, but there are a lot of corners before reaching Hayden Creek and this is a high use road so be cautious of oncoming traffic. Take a left on the Hayden Creek Road (road 473) and continue for approximately 7.5 miles to road 406. Turn left on 406 and continue for almost a mile. There will be a trail sign and a couple wide spots for a few vehicles to park. This is the trailhead.
This drive up the bottom of the Hayden Creek basin is quite scenic in deep dark hemlock and cedar forests. About five miles up the 473 the road starts to climb in elevation giving a few views of the heavily forested basin to the west. Then a ridge top is met and the road turns left and meets the 406 to the left almost immediately. To return just follow the same route out or continue west beyond the trailhead on the 406 road to the 1530 road. The 1530 road drops down to meet the lower 473 road in the drainage bottom about 3.5 miles up from the Ohio Match/473 junction. It is narrower with more curves, but being higher up, probably gives better views.
The trail itself is in good condition, though it is being worked on extensively. The old trail more or less went straight up the mountain to the broad ridge of the summit area. This steep path encouraged erosion and general degradation. The trail is being reconstructed into a series of wide switchbacks giving a more pleasant grade. The trailhead marker says it’s a two mile hike to the mountain, but it is not clear if this distance applies to the old path or has been updated to the newer route. It is evident that the trail gets heavily used.
None, other than some travel management regulations. The trail is closed to motorized vehicles, though tracks make it evident that many do not abide by the rule.
Also there are frequently fire restrictions during the dry part of the summer. Such restrictions are generally well posted, but call the contact offices below if there are any questions.
It is possible to car camp at the trailhead. There isn’t a real good place to throw a tent, but the pullouts are wide enough that someone could place one away from the road behind their vehicle in one or two spots. There are many places for dispersed camps along the bottom of Hayden Creek; however many apparently good pullouts are marked as no camping due to resource damage. It may be necessary to look around, but most of the open sites appeared to be further upstream to the east. A few miles east of the mountain many good dispersed camps are found in the bottom of the Little North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River (good fly fishing). Any of the roads heading east of the 473 road in the vicinity will come down to this river, but because there are so many roads in this area to confuse a person, getting a forest visitor map from the Forest Service office is recommended if one wants to explore or camp in that direction.
A designated Forest Service campground can be found at Mokins Bay on the east side of Hayden Lake. To reach this from the travel route, go south on the Hayden Creek Road from its junction with the Ohio Match Road to Hayden Lake. The Hayden Creek Road is quite rough and local traffic can be heavy at times. After about two miles turn left on the main road around the lake and continue a few miles down the east side of the lake to the marked campground. The campground is nice, but many homes have been built in the area in recent years so don’t expect a back country feel.
When To Climb
The road to the trailhead is generally open by the middle of June. Snow can be found along the route into July in some years, but generally by mid-summer the only snow is left-over cornices along the high ridge top. Snowmobiles can travel on many of the main ridge travel routes in the winter and it would be possible for someone on a long slog to reach the mountain on snowshoes if they really wanted to. Contact the forest office listed below for information on winter access routes and regulations. Snow can occur any month of the year, but lasting snow generally shows up in late October or early November. The fall is a nice time to enjoy these mountains as the larch and shrubs turn color; however, be aware of hunters who can be thick in the area, especially on weekends. Wearing orange is strongly advised.
Mountain Conditions and Information
While the mountain’s elevation is not real high, it is the highest summit for miles around and rises abruptly from the open prairie to the west. The prevailing weather flows come across eastern Washington and are compressed and abruptly elevated on the steep mountain front resulting in some pretty harsh weather. The winds and exposure to elements on South Chilco can be extreme at times. Before hiking this easy, but potentially troublesome mountain check the local weather forecasts and be prepared for varying conditions. For current conditions and information contact the following offices of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest:
Idaho Panhandle National Forest
3815 Schreiber Way
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83815-8363
Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District
2502 East Sherman Ave.
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814-5899