Smith Peak rising above Smith Lake
The summit From the south South aspect Benchmark Across Long Canyon The north face Long Canyon Smith and nameless neighbors Lion's Head beyond the cirque North face of Smith Peak
Smith Peak is the second highest named summit and fourth highest overall in the Selkirk Mountains south of the Canadian border, specifically the Priest Lake subgroup of that extensive range. It has 1,913 feet of prominence, which is the highest in the group after the Boundary County highpoint (7,709) several miles to the east. It is the dominant feature on the long divide separating the large Smith Creek Canyon and remote Long Canyon, which is probably the remotest place in the northern Idaho Panhandle. It is probable that the entire landscape in this area was covered by continental ice during the last major ice age, which along with later alpine glaciation leaves a dramatically carved landscape. The shape of the summit as with the other high summits to the east indicate that these highest points likely protruded above the ice sheet, but later alpine glaciation sculpted spectacular cirques on then north and east sides that we see today.
The summit area of Smith Creek is one of the more remarkable in the Idaho portion of the range. The south and west sides are formed by a large rounded talus pile that is cut off abruptly to the northeast by a dramatic cliff that forms one of the larger granite walls in the Idaho Selkirk Mountains. The east ridge cuts sharply off the rounded summit forming a feature which from the east looks like a glacial half dome. At the foot of the steep northeast aspect is a large two-lobed basin that holds Smith Lake, which is situated in a subalpine forest 1,300 feet below the summit. The direct face falls approximately 1,000 vertical feet before sloping down almost 1,000 feet more to the hanging basin before dropping another 1,400 feet to the bottom of Long Canyon. To the west the terrain falls steeply for 3,300 feet through forested slopes and outcrops to the bottom of Smith Canyon.
The north toe of the summit pile is formed by an interesting area of flat granite bedrock fed by springs creating an area of high timberline wetlands and ponds. These provide interesting features to view the mountain from as well as potential camping sites with a water source high on a mountain that is fairly dry late in the summer. Further north a small cluster of 7,200 foot plus, glacially carved summits can be found along with Cutoff Lake, which is one of the more beautiful and remote lakes in the Idaho Selkirks. The ridge to the south continues to divide these two large U-shaped canyons into country that lacks even trails. Those shown on maps are said to be grown in or intermittent.
This mountain is fairly invisible to the roaded areas in the bottom Smith Canyon and despite the relatively proximity of those roads, it’s quite difficult to reach. From either of the canyon bottoms it is a long steep haul up some tremendously brushy slopes with frequent cliffs and outcrops. The ridge from access points to the north may be the best way. While the summit itself is easy, the approach needs some planning and coordination from any direction. It’s not a casual hike for most people.
The north ridge of Smith Peak Purcell Trench North end of hike Trail junction
Middle part of hike Trail 18
Points 6,955 and 7,060 Cutoff Peak Up pt. 6,955 Pt. 6,955 pond Pt. 7,060 Ridge near pt. 7,060 Across to pt. 7,241 Hiking up pt. 7,241 East ridge
Pk 7,303 from east
Between 7,241 and 7,303 South end of route Pk 7,303 from south
Flat north ridge Nearing the summit West side chutes Lions Head from Smith Creek
Smith Peak has no fast or easy way in to it. Generally it is accessible with some work from the north, east and west sides. The main approaches are in from Long Canyon via Pyramid Pass, the mouth of Long Canyon, the northern portion of Smith Ridge and from Smith Creek.
From the East
From Bonners Ferry, exit Highway 95 into downtown and get on the road heading west from town on the south side of the Kootenai River. To find this road just head north a couple downtown blocks and you’ll be there or exit immediately before crossing the bridge over the Kootenai River. Continue on this road for about four miles to the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. Take a right towards the refuge headquarters on the West Side Road (road 18). The road turns to gravel and continues north along the east foot of the mountains. The wetlands to the east are a good place to spot moose, especially in the mornings. Continue north on the West Side Road for approximately 11 miles to the Trout Creek road. Turn left and head up the narrow road 10 miles to the trailhead.
Follow Trail 13 for half mile to the Pyramid Lake turnoff (Trail 43). Pass by this junction by and head another mile and a half to Pyramid Pass, which provides entry into Long Canyon. Hike about 2.5 miles down the trail to the bottom of the canyon and find a nice camping spot next to beautiful Canyon Creek. From where the trail meets the bottom there are a couple ways up the east side. The better way is probably to head south a short distance (~1/4 mile or so) on the trail then cut up through the brush to the west. Keep a south to southeast aspect to avoid cliffs and difficult terrain on the north face of this ridge. It’s a little over 3,000 feet to the top through dense brush and rock. Depending on the line taken one will find themselves going up the steep south side of the summit or the east summit ridge or both.
Another eastern hike is to continue down the bottom of the canyon for about a mile and then bushwhack to the west to main ridge that runs off the northeast arm of the summit. It’s a longer hike this way and often steeper, but the ridge route may be clearer. Either way a fire has burned much of the east side of the mountain so the brush that offers such a formidable challenge will be reduced at least for a few years.
From the North
It is also possible to enter Long Canyon from its mouth and hike approximately nine to ten miles to the east base of the mountain and ascend as described above. To reach the mouth of Long Canyon from Bonners Ferry, skip the turnoff into downtown and stay on Highway 95 north across the Kootenai River and continue for 16 miles to the Copeland turnoff (Wallen Road) near the Mount Hall School. Turn left and drive four miles across the Kootenai Valley to the West Side Road at the east foot of the mountains. Turn right on the West Side Road and drive nearly eight miles to the trailhead just past the mouth of Long Canyon. The parking area and trailhead are signed. If you come to Smith Creek turn around because you’ve gone too far. The hike up lower Long Canyon climbs fairly steeply, but after a few miles levels off through a dark old growth cedar, white pine, hemlock and spruce forest with one of the most beautiful streams found anywhere. From the mouth of Long Canyon to the summit is a vertical rise of approximately 5,900 feet.
Another route from the north is high on Smith Ridge itself. Follow the directions above for heading to Long Canyon, only don’t stop there. Continue on the West Side Road past Smith Creek. The main road will soon turn hard to the left and start climbing high on the north side of Smith Creek Canyon. Stay on this road for a little over six miles to the junction of road 2443. Turn left and zig-zag about six miles up this road to its end at the Trail 17 trailhead. Follow this trail for a little over a mile to the ridge top just north of Cutoff Peak (really just a bump on the ridge). Turn right on Trail 18 on the ridge top and follow it to the top of the ridge just south of Cutoff Peak. The trail is small, but easy to follow until it ends after a couple miles. From here it’s a cross country hike on the ridge to Smith Peak.
This ridge is fairly level with two rises to go over until reaching the close vicinity of Smith Peak. There are some spotty game trails here and there that help some, but the brush is not very bad thanks to some recent fires that have cleared the granite in some areas. Eventually one has to ascend about 600 feet to point 7,241, which is to the north of Smith Peak across Smith Lake. From this point (or its south aspect) head west to point 7,303, which is a nice peak in its own right. It is not necessary to go to the summit of 7,303 to get to the main ridge, but one must pass fairly close below it because the cirque wall above Smith Lake makes a lower traverse impossible. Once on the main north ridge of Smith Peak just hike south through a mostly level subalpine parkland with springs and beautiful granite pools to the base of the summit mound, which is a giant talus pile that is easily rock hopped to the summit. This route covers approximately eight miles with the first two on a trail.
From the West
This is probably the most direct way to climb Smith Peak, but it’s not easy. Follow the directions from Bonners Ferry to Smith Creek, but stay on the main Smith Creek Road, 281 until it is gated at Smith Creek just before the 12 mile mark. From the gate cross the bridge and follow the road as it turns south and continues on the east side of the canyon. One can leave the road and start hiking up the steep slope in a number of places to the ridge over 3,000 feet above and then just turn south on the main ridge to Smith Peak. It is recommended to hike between two and three miles on the road before heading up. Regardless of where one goes up there will be heavy brush at times and the slope is very steep between the lower elevations and the ridge. If possible keep in the lodgepole pine forests that generally support lower brush levels. And most importantly avoid the streams. These are in straight avalanche chutes that are wet, steep, and slippery with tangled, impassable brush. If you are getting close to sliding water, move away. Eventually the slope will ease slightly when the subalpine world is entered. There will be small cliffs and lots of large rocks on most lines, but these can be avoided for the most part.
Good camping on the north ridge
Cutoff Lake Smith Lake
There are a number of camping opportunities in conjunction with this mountain. To the west there are dispersed sites along the 281 road. These are not very close to the mountain and will require a hike behind a gate for 2-3 miles before heading up the steep and brushy west aspect. While these are not the handiest camping opportunities as far as the mountain is concerned, the setting is nice in older cedar and spruce forests alongside beautiful Smith Creek.
One may also car camp at the trailhead north of Cutoff Mountain. Though it’s not real close to the mountain, it offers what is probably the best camping option for those wanting to do a long day hike or avoid substantial elevation gains. There are some small streams near the trailhead to provide water but no good spot to pitch a tent. Parking is limited to perhaps three or four vehicles where the road widens a little.
For those wanting to backpack into the mountain and stay a while, either of the previous two options works to start out. Perhaps the best experience would be to hike up Long Canyon to the east. From the trailhead there are good campsites 6-8 miles up the most remote basin in north Idaho to the vicinity of the mountain’s east base. From such a camp it’s a cross country hike that climbs a little over 3,000 feet, often through heavy brush.
On the mountain itself there is good camping at Smith Lake in the north cirque and on the flat north ridge that supports numerous small springs and pools. Remote Cutoff Lake is separated by some unnamed ridge points but also provides camping at one of the nicer lakes in the Selkirk Mountains. All of these areas on or close to the actual summit are difficult to reach and require miles of cross country backpacking, but the solitude and setting makes it worth it.
Cutoff Lake below unnamed point 7,232.
When to Climb
In the high Selkirk Mountains some snow patches hang on well into July and even August in cooler summers. Hiking over these is generally no problem, but the trailheads and trails may be buried in deep snow from late October through most of June. The lower elevation, northern trailheads will be accessible in April and May, but hiking very high from them will not be possible.
Mountain Conditions and InformationForest Supervisors Office
3815 Schreiber Way
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83815-8363
Bonners Ferry Ranger District
6286 Main Street
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805-9764
for a variety of features such as snow, roads, weather, etc. can be found on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest web page.
for the Smith Peak vicinity.