This mountain is one of many points in the Salmon River Canyon that while not high in elevation compared to the neighboring Seven Devils or Salmon River Mountains, are prominently separated and have a significant vertical rise above the canyon bottoms. These summits offer a wide variety of experiences ranging from easy hikes, to difficult scrambles to technical rock.
There is no actual place with the name Whiskey Ridge. It is used here as a descriptive term to describe the high point of the ridge that terminates at Whiskey Butte (4,449 ft.) approximately 1.5 miles away. This high point has a prominence of 328 feet and rises more than 3,200 feet above the Salmon River, which lies 1.6 miles to the east and 2,000 feet above lower Bean Creek to the southwest. The ridge drops off steeply to the west and is composed of loose scree near the summit and grasslands and pine forests with large basalt outcrops below. The east side is formed by a large cliff at the summit that falls off into extremely rugged and deep drainages that lead to the Salmon River. The ridge running north and south is relatively gentle, but has some short steep pitches with a mix of grasslands and ponderosa pine/Douglass fir forests. The terrain in the vicinity is virtually all composed of Grande Ronde flow basalts that laid down multiple layers of lava about 18 million years ago. This gives the landscape the terraced structure widely visible in the canyons of west-central Idaho and adjacent Washington and Oregon.
The canyon lowlands are arid and extremely hot in the summer with temperatures at or above 110 degrees not uncommon. Loose rocks, rattlesnakes and mixed private/public ownership can also provide challenges. Good sturdy hiking shoes, especially if climbing the west side from Bean Creek are a must. Be sure to have lots of water and consider bringing a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen for protection from the sun.
The canyon grasslands are important ecologically for big game winter range and unusual vegetative communities. These have been largely displaced by invasive weeds, especially below approximately 5,000 feet in elevation. Ecologically the Whiskey Ridge area is significant in that it provides low elevation grassland communities that are still relatively intact. Several endemic and rare plant species can be found in this area. The open Ponderosa pine/savanna vegetative communities that also occur here are greatly reduced due to decades of fire suppression that eliminated the natural disturbance necessary to maintain them.
Take the Race Creek Rd (241), which turns west off Highway 95, approximately one half mile north of Riggins. After nearly two miles the road will curve north. Continue to about mile-marker 4 which is near spots wide enough to park. From here the steep, hot, rocky west side of the ridge can be scrambled in many places. An easier option is to continue up the road for nearly two more miles to Bean Creek Saddle. From the saddle a rough road turns right or southeast on the east brim of the ridge. If it has been dry this road can be driven to where it ends on the ridge, but much of the year this road will only get you stuck. It’s best to park at the saddle and walk the little extra distance through the Douglas fir/ninebark forest type that dominates the east side of the ridge. Once on top of the ridge simply hike southwest to the high point. From the saddle this is a 328 foot elevation gain over a little less than a mile.
The most challenging way to the summit would be to approach from the east. But the Salmon River would have to be crossed, and then extremely steep and rugged terrain across private land must be negotiated to reach the base of the 200 foot sheer cliff. This is not the recommended way to access the mountain.
Views From The Summit
There are no fees or permits to be had. Just east of the summit, near the top of the large east cliff face is private ownership. The ridge south of the summit area is also private. Obtain an ownership map to be certain of where the private and public lands lay. An approach directly west of the summit from about mile-marker 4 on road 241 or from Bean Creek Saddle will keep you on public lands.
When To Climb
This mountain can be climbed nearly year round because the relatively low elevations are snow free much of the year. During more mild winters, the summit may receive little or no lasting snow at all. Still the best time to climb is in the summer, just take care to bring plenty of water and be prepared for hot temperatures and solar exposure.
There are no designated or developed campgrounds in the vicinity. However, lodging can be found in Riggins, which is only a few minutes down the road. Good dispersed campsites can be found 15 to 30 minutes further up the 241 road in the vicinity of Cold Springs Mountain and Iron Phone Junction. These areas offer spectacular views into the Salmon Canyon to the east and Hells Canyon to the west. The closest designated campgrounds would be at Spring Bar and Van Creek, which are a 20 or 30 minute drive up the main Salmon River east of Riggins. These offer beautiful white sand beaches on the Salmon River.
Contact the Salmon River Ranger District (208-839-2211) of the Nez Perce National Forest for local information and current conditions.