Scotchman Peak

A treasure of north Idaho

People come to visit this popular trail near Clark Fork in north Idaho for various reasons, and it is easy to understand why this hiking destination draws in so much traffic. From the scenic views of the surrounding forests and Lake Pend Oreille to the mountain goats that inhabit the summit, Scotchman Peak has a lot to offer.

The Scotchmans are the traditional homelands of the Qlispe (Kalispel), Ktunaxa (Kootenai), and Schitsu’umch (Coeur d’Alene) people.

Best times to visit are March through October, and hikers should expect a difficult hike that will take all day to complete. According to the Scotchman Peak website, trail #65 is about four miles to the summit sitting at 7009 feet in elevation and four miles back out. Much of the difficulty is the rapid elevation gain, as hikers gain 3,700 feet of elevation in four miles.

Visitors that do reach the summit will see an old fire lookout and have a good chance of running into the mountain goats that live there. This summit is also known to be the highest point in Bonner County, Idaho, and is the fifth most prominent peak in the entire state. The early part of the hike will give hikers the chance to see some wildflowers and huckleberries along the trail, but after a while the path gets into tougher rocky terrain.

The mountain goats may try to approach hikers as well, so visitors are encouraged to use caution and keep the animals away from snacks and gear to prevent goats potentially becoming habituated. They tend to look for any source of salt and may even try to lick humans or take any unsecured snacks or hiking bags. The goats can make great photography subjects, but photographers need to use a large telephoto lens as too not encroach on the animals’ space.

Mountain goats are typically pretty docile animals but can certainly be aggressive over territory and during mating season. They typically keep to themselves but can become habituated to human behavior. In fact, this trail was closed to visitors in 2015 because people were found to be feeding the animals and taking selfies with them. Some hikers were even headbutted or bitten and there have even been reports of people being gored, and goats were put down as a result. The main thing is to follow the instructions on signs posted along the trail.

Adults will grow about 3.5 feet tall at the shoulder and both males and females have beards and horns. Adult mountain goats can weigh between 100 to 300 lbs. with adult males being on the heavier side and can be very dangerous. Mountain goats are also not true goats according to National Geographic but rather a close relative. They are an even toed ungulate, and classified in the Bovidae family along with antelope, gazelles, and cattle.

These animals are made for the alpine environments at higher elevations and have the sure-footed cloven hooves to keep pretty safe from most predators in the rocky terrain. They are powerful and nimble creatures able to leap around 12 feet in a single jump.

The proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness area is National Forest land spanning the border of North Idaho and northwestern Montana. The 88,000-acre area doesn’t have modern roads, so it is a great opportunity for wildlife viewing or simply finding a moment of solitude. Safe hiking!


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