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Salmo - Priest Loop

Hike into the heart of Colville's Salmo-Priest Wilderness - so remote that even grizzly bears have been spotted here. This is high country, with some of the most impressive old-growth stands this side of the Cascades. You'll wander through old-growth cedar, moss and ferns. In spring, the hillsides abound with a frenzy of wildflowers. But the vistas are pure Inland Northwest - vast views of the Selkirks and the Upper Priest River Valley are what hikers can expect along this 19-mile loop.

Take two or three days to hike this, enjoying the glorious scenery. And there are great opportunities for wandering -- take a sidetrip and touch your toe into Canada. Scramble up Snowy Top Mountain. Climb to the Little Snowy Top lookout. Hiking clockwise is recommended.

The trail immediately gets down to the business of going down - about 1800 feet in three miles - to the South Salmo River. Cross the river, taking a right (at the unmaintained trail to Canada) and follow the river upstream. As you walk in this forested river valley, the flora may make you think you're actually in the Cascades to the west - old-growth cedar and hemlock tower above you, and an understory of ferns and moss carpet the ground around you.

Just before you pass into Idaho (yes, Idaho!), there will be a spur trail on the right to an excellent campsite near the Old Salmo Cabin, an old trapper's cabin set into the wilderness. Water is available here -- replenish your supply, or think about making this your spot to spend a night before continuing on your way.

Another 3.5 miles of steady climbing takes you to Snowy Top Pass. another good campsite and water can be found just before entering the pass. Take advantage of this one, and don't expect many (if any) water sources for the next seven miles after. Snowy Top Mountain (7572 feet) will lure scramblers, while those who opt to stay on trail will delight in the views that the Shedroof Divide has to offer in this section. You'll get to wander along here for seven fabulous miles. About 1.5 miles after reaching the divide, you'll pass a one mile spur trail to the Little Snowy Top Lookout, which is open to the public. Dip off the main trail and visit the lookout site for even more fantastic views.

Alas, you cannot stay atop the Shedroof Divide forever. Shortly after passing back into Washington, you'll have to turn right off the Divide and take Trail 535 the final three miles to the trailhead.
Driving Directions:

From Metaline Falls, WA drive north on State Highway 31 about 2 miles past the Pend Oreille River Road Bridge and turn right toward Sullivan Lake. From Sullivan Lake, drive east on Forest Road 22 about 6 miles to the junction with Pass Creek Pass Road. Continue left on Road 2220 toward Salmo Mountain. Drive 13 miles to the trailhead.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 11 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Salmo - Priest Loop — Aug 31, 2013 — Holly Weiler
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming | Fall foliage | Ripe berries
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The Salmo Loop is a Hike-a-Thon staple for me, so I would be remiss if I didn't do it this year, too...
The Salmo Loop is a Hike-a-Thon staple for me, so I would be remiss if I didn't do it this year, too! It was a little like saving the best for last, although I did so many awesome trips for the month that it's hard to say that this one was the best.

We did the Loop in the "regular" direction, dropping down into the river basin from the start. The first section of trail was actually quite depressing for me. The forest service has applied for and received special-use permits for mechanized trail work machines in the Wilderness. I've done more trail work parties on the Loop than I can recall, including two days of WTA-sponsored tread work on the upper section of the Basin trail just last year. We made that trail as close to PERFECT as we possibly could. The machines are destroying our tread. I was so mad that I threatened to walk all the way out the Shedroof Divide and down the Hall Mountain/Noisy Creek trail in order to march right up to the forest service office and give them a piece of my mind! Our perfect 45 degree angle of repose on the uphill side is gone. Our perfect downslope for drainage is now a banked lip that will hold water. Devastating.

I cheered up as we approached the divide, however. Once past the horrible work with the best intentions in the basin, we found that the rest of the trail is in great shape. We added in the side-hikes to Salmo Cabin and Little Snowy Top to add to my mileage totals for the day (not to mention that the view from Little Snowy Top is the best!). This was probably the best August day ever in terms of air quality and clarity on the Divide. A little rain the day before washed everything clean, and the Idaho Selkirks and Priest Lake looked perfect.

As far as we know, we were the only ones doing the Loop as a day hike, but we returned to the TH to count 36 people signed in on the registers at either end of the loop! It's crazy how much use this area is getting. When I first started coming here, there were hardly ever other cars in the parking lot. The loop has been "discovered." The biggest negative regarding this increase in use? The trash left behind. I picked up garbage in nearly every campsite we passed, the majority of which I picked out of campfire rings. Plastic, glass, metal, foil, food scraps. Disgusting. I also hauled out food and fuel canisters from Little Snowy Top. I think someone thought they were doing others a favor with that last one, but they neglected to consider that packrats can gnaw into packaging (which they had). The fuel canisters were nearly empty, so even if someone thought they were being helpful, they were actually just being lazy. Two fuel containers were nearly full, so I left them behind for now...I probably ended up with fifteen-twenty pounds of trash. At the upper end, that's nearly a pound per mile of hiking!
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Salmo - Priest Loop — Jul 26, 2013 — Barbara
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Bugs
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Our WTA Volunteer Vacation crew worked on the Salmo Loop Trail from the trailhead downhill toward th...
Our WTA Volunteer Vacation crew worked on the Salmo Loop Trail from the trailhead downhill toward the Salmo River for 2.5 miles. We were there to prepare the tread to handle toter traffic to haul in gravel to be used for structure replacement this summer. The tread is excellent from the trailhead to the river, but be prepared for continuing structure work by various crews all summer. Some disruption this summer for a longer lasting trail in the future.

The bugs weren't bad as long as we were moving, but there were head-net moments when we weren't.

One day after work we took a short detour by car up the road to the lookout. Lots of potholes in the road, so slow going, but the views were definitely worth it. Magnificent!

Gypsy Meadows campground, where we camped for the week, has lots of campsites, but there will be crews in and out of there all summer. There are lots of dispersed camping areas near by. Bugs were occasionally pesky in camp.
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Salmo - Priest Loop — Jul 11, 2013 — Get High, Stay High
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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The topline: This standout trip is worth the 7+ hour drive from Seattle. But be efficient and plan o...
The topline: This standout trip is worth the 7+ hour drive from Seattle. But be efficient and plan on hitting some of the other trails in the area.

A fun day hike. How long is the loop? Who knows? I have read descriptions that have placed it at 14, 16, 18, 19 or 21 miles. I guess it is an example of "Your mileage may vary."

This route has been getting some needed WTA attention over the past several years. New turnpikes, logs cleared and tread improvements have increased the reward ratio. A Forest Service contract crew finished logging out the loop the day of my hike. More trail love is on the way this season from the WTA and PNTA.

One descends through galleried groves of old growth Western Red Cedar to a ford crossing of the Salmo River. After one crosses the Salmo, the trail roughly follows the river up into the headwaters basin.

Ahead are two more water crossings can be difficult in high water. The first is Crutch Creek, then after crossing into Idaho you'll encounter an unnamed second stream. Be sure to get your water bottles filled. There is a long waterless stretch ahead of you.

The switchbacks leading up to the Shedroof Divide provide great views down the Salmo valley, up at Snowy Top and across the mixed meadows of the basin. At the ridge line, you enter a burn area populated with silver snags, bear grass, fireweed and azalea. You'll be in and out of this shadeless landscape as you head south along the divide.

 As you head south along the ridge and as the trail waggles from east to west to east of various ridge prominences the distant views invite one to stop and stare. You'll easily spy Upper and Lower Priest Lakes. The close up views of wild flowers in those meadows not touched by fire are good enough to distract you from the panoramas.

When you reach the marked intersection with the Cabinet Pass trail, you are nearly out of the burned area. After the switchbacked descent out of the burned area, one reaches the next (and last) water source before the trailhead.

The great views across the Idaho panhandle continue until you reach junction with the Salmo Pass trail. You'll take this mostly forested trail back to the trail head. The few meadows offer wildflowers and expansive views to the south and west. In one of these meadows you should be on the lookout for the trailside snag inscribed with a surveyor's township and range marker.

Side trip options: 1) Salmo Cabin. This crumbling pile used to be a Ranger cabin. 2) Snowy Top 3) Little Snowy Top Fire Lookout.

Be bear aware on this trip. Grizzlies roam these parts.
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Salmo - Priest Loop — Jul 05, 2013 — RedBackpack
Multi-night backpack
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Blowdowns
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A few friends and I spent the fourth of July weekend this year at Grand Coulee Dam and hiking this l...
A few friends and I spent the fourth of July weekend this year at Grand Coulee Dam and hiking this loop through the Selkirks. We could not have chosen a better loop. This was, no joke, 21 miles and 3 days of pure bliss that easily rivaled the beauty of any Washington hike, including the Enchantments.

Tip#1- Be careful which trail head you start on. There are two trail heads in the parking lot and the correct one is sort of hidden (make sure the trail sign says #506).

Tip#2- Stop at the Colville Ranger Station next to Sullivan Lake before your hike to get a perfect, and quite beautiful, topo map of the Selkirks that includes this loop. It will also help you decipher when you are entering Idaho and what mountain ranges you are viewing in the distance.

Tip#3- Skip the side-trip to the "dilapidated cabin" and the side trip to Canada. Not worth it, but you MUST take the side-trip to the lookout on Little Snowy Top. What an incredible view!

Tip#4- Be careful! There are many side trails in this area and it's easy to unintentionally take one. Have a topo map just in case!
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Shedroof Cutoff, Thunder Creek, Shedroof Divide, Salmo Basin Loop — Aug 11, 2012 — Holly Weiler
Features: Wildflowers blooming | Ripe berries
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The Salmo Loop is on my list of perennial hikes, and I didn't want to miss it for this year's Hike-a...
The Salmo Loop is on my list of perennial hikes, and I didn't want to miss it for this year's Hike-a-Thon. However, I've already done it once as a dayhike this summer; what I really wanted was the extended backpack version of the Salmo Loop (when twenty miles just isn't enough)!

This version of the Salmo Loop is 40.6 miles; members of the Spokane Mountaineers did it as a one-night backpack trip, but it could easily become a three or four day trip with easier daily mileage (we did 21.3 the first day and 19.3 the second day).

We arrived Friday night and car-camped at Gypsy Meadows (a free Forest Service campground with a CTX) and started early Saturday morning at the Thunder Creek TH just across the road from the meadows.

We entered the Salmo Priest Wilderness via the Thunder Creek trail, an easy five-mile hike up to the Shedroof Divide through an incredible old-growth cedar forest. Once we reached the Shedroof Divide we continued north, and we opted to include the spur trail up to the summit of Thunder Mountain (elevation 6,560'), site of an old fire lookout (now gone). After lunch at Thunder Mountain, we retraced our steps on the spur trail and then continued north on the divide until we reached trail 535 and joined the Salmo Loop.

We briefly exited the trail system at the Salmo Loop trailhead, where we were surprised to see several cars--it looks as though the Salmo Loop has been discovered! However, we only ended up seeing two people on our entire trip--there is plenty of solitude in the Salmo Priest. We dropped down into the Salmo Basin and camped at the nice campsite about 1/4 mile before the Salmo River crossing.

On Sunday we crossed the Salmo River and began our long climb back up to the Shedroof Divide. No trip on the Shedroof is complete without the side trip up to Little Snowy Top for the incredible views of surrounding peaks in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Canada. The Little Snowy Top Lookout was in the best shape I've ever seen it in--someone has recently spent some time tidying up the interior of the cabin. Unfortunately, someone else has recently burned a lot of trash in the fire ring outside the cabin (for those who don't know LNT principles, look them up before venturing into the woods!).

From Little Snowy Top we continued out the Shedroof Divide and exited via the Shedroof Cutoff Trail. From there it's an easy half-mile road-walk back to the Thunder Creek TH and the car.

The Salmo Loop itself is in fantastic shape, having benefited from several recent WTA work parties (I got to help on the one three weeks ago!). The tread is in fantastic shape, and all but one downed tree has been cleared. The other twenty miles of this hike had a few blowdowns, and the Shedroof Divide south of the Salmo Loop was brushy. Watch out for a large blowdown on the Shedroof Cutoff trail--it fell in a bad location, crossing the trail twice at a bend. Someone tried to cut off some of the branches, but left 3-4" sticking out with each cut; it's hard to make it over the tree without impaling oneself!

The wildflowers are in the middle of their peak right now; columbine is in full bloom, the tiger lilies are winding down, and the fireweed is just getting started. The huckleberries were just beginning to get ripe; this trip will only get better over the next few weeks!
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Salmo Priest Loop holly wheeler.JPG
Salmo-Priest Loop Trail. Photo by Holly Weiler.
WTA worked here!
2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
South Salmo River (#506), Shedroof Divide (#512), (#535)
Eastern Washington -- Inland NW
Colville National Forest, Sullivan Lake District
Roundtrip 19.0 miles
Elevation Gain 3400 ft
Highest Point 6480 ft
Old growth
Mountain views
Established campsites
Guidebooks & Maps
100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest (Rich Landers) - Mountaineers Books
USGS Salmo Mountain, Continental Mountain

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Red MarkerSalmo - Priest Loop
48.9586089 -117.0775365
  • Signature Trail 2010
  • BCRT 2010
  • BCRT 2013
  • BCRT 2012
  • Volunteer Vacations 2010
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