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!


Burke, Idaho

Burke is a small place tucked in a narrow canyon just a few miles from Wallace, Idaho. One of the many places of interest in north Idaho, this little ghost town faced hardship from the early days. In 1884 people in the area discovered deposits of silver, lead, and some zinc which stirred interest with a few notable people. According to the Tiger mine was the first established, and it put out over 3,000 tons of ore during it’s first year.

This naturally led to a bit of a boom in the area, and in 1887 Burke was officially established. As explained by, the town got it’s namesake from John M. Burke, who was a Virginian man that had been a banker in Utah. In fact the people that had discovered the mines didn’t have the resources to further develop the area, and thus bonded their claims to Burke. The biggest issue they faced early on was how to fit a thriving mining community in such a narrow canyon. The canyon measuring 300 feet wide proved difficult to build in, but they improvised and brought some unique ideas to life.

Tiger Hotel 1949-Reference link found below

Most notable of these constructs was the Tiger Hotel, which was the only hotel to be built with a road and train tracks going through part of the lobby. Builders also had to keep the substructure of the motel raised to allow Canyon Creek to flow underneath the building. This hotel had 150 rooms, and at it’s peak was said to feed around 1,200 people a day. It was even said the trains could be found parked in the lobby, because the engineers loved the food that came out of the beanery at the hotel. Most accounts tell a tale well respective of the Tiger Hotel, although it was sold and thus dismantled in 1954.

The town survived several natural disasters including avalanches, floods, and a devastating fire in 1923, the people continued to rebuild. A United Press Dispatcher recounted the events as detailed on, as quoted,

WALLACE, Ida., July 14. The town of Burke, seven miles east of here, lies in ruins as the result of a fire caused by a spark from a locomotive. Over fifty business houses of Burke’s main street were destroyed and practically all of the residences are gone. Four hundred and forty miners were forced to flee to the depths of the Hecla lead and silver mine. A high wind rendered dynamite ineffectual. All of the mine company’s buildings on the surface were destroyed. The damage is estimated at a million. Six hundred people are homeless. Army tents have been received from Fort George Wright at Spokane for the homeless.

Burke after the fire of 1923-Reference link found below

The mines continued to show their worth in production, but slowly they were closed down. This forced many of the workers to move and go elsewhere for work, leading to a continued decline in the population of this once thriving town. Now Burke is another ghost town, and the main buildings that remain are the colossal mining facilities, a few old storefronts, and an aging office building in which decaying books can still be seen through the windows. There are still some folks that live out there also, but only a handful.

General Disclaimer: If you ever visit Burke please remember that people do live out there, and still own many of the buildings that stand. The buildings are marked “No Trespassing” for a reason, and that should be respected. Please be courteous, but also enjoy the incredible nostalgic feeling.

All of the modern photos were taken by Matthew O. Stephens Photography

Historic Photo References:

“Hecla Mine, Burke (Idaho) 1920 [09]”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

“Burke (Idaho), 1907 [02]”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

“Burke Fire [06]”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

“Tiger Hotel [01]”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

“Marsh Mining Co., Burke (Idaho) [02]”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

“Hecla Mine, Burke (Idaho) 1920 [11]”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

“Hercules Mining Company [05]”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

PG 8, Barnard-Stockbridge Collection, University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives,,849

All of the historic images referenced can be found at The University of Idaho, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, and they state the rights as follows: Material has passed into Public Domain based on date of creation. Digital reproduction permissions assigned by University of Idaho Library. For more information, please contact University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives Department at


A Few Moments at McNary

Located near the tri-cities area in Burbank Washington, McNary National Wildlife Refuge has a lot to offer.  Although the area is a refuge in itself encompassing around 15,000 acres, McNary is managed as part of a larger grouping of similar wildlife areas.  This grouping, as described by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is called the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  One main office basically has to manage 7 or 8 wildlife refuges in the region, and that is in part due to similarities between them all.  Many of these areas share similar wildlife, although McNary really gets a lot of bird activity because of the specific environment.  It is considered a bird watchers paradise by some, especially when the migratory birds are making their way through the area. 

It is a very high maintenance refuge also, as the staff members have to develop and utilize techniques to help promote natural habitat growth or recovery.  These methods have to be enhanced year to year, as seasonal weather may have an impact on which areas of the refuge need attention.  McNary does have a little help from some local farmers though, as around 700 acres of the refuge are irrigated croplands.  According to Washington State Parks this means the park and local farmers have a cooperative agreement that is mutually beneficial.  The farmers grow their crops of wheat, alfalfa, corn, etc. and then leave a portion of it for the local wildlife.  This can have a major impact during the colder winter months when natural food sources are low. 

Habitats change season to season, and right now is a great time to see the Summer animals.  Larger birds such as swans, pelicans, herons, bitterns, and others can be found in the water searching searching for food and enjoying the breeze as it blows across the water.  Eagles, Osprey, hawks, and other raptors can be found flying high in the sky looking for a good place to fish.  Deer can be found here and there, but their numbers drastically increase as the season moves into Fall.  It is not uncommon for visitors to see males competing for females as mating season goes in full swing.  The larger birds will stay around and hang tight through the fall, and even into Winter for some.  Winter becomes a very busy season for ducks, geese, etc. and there can be several thousand birds inhabiting the refuge.  As Spring rolls in, some birds will leave and head further north for a bit, while other birds that migrated further south will fly to McNary.  The cyclic nature of the land is clearly apparent in the way everything operates.  As stated by Fish & Wildlife the changing of seasons here is just a transition of birds that live on the refuge.   

McNary is a very fun and informative place to visit, especially when visiting the area.  There are a lot of animals to see, and birds to identify. Be sure to check out the McNary official Facebook page by clicking here!!!  So get out there and find some adventures!!  


The Simple Paradise of Potholes State Park

Washington state has some really incredible state parks, and Potholes State Park is an amazing place to visit.  Sitting on close to 800 acres, it is aptly named for the geological features of the area.  Ice Age activity left a pattern of divots and channels through the area, and since the construction of the O’Sullivan Dam the landscape has a definitive series of “pothole” lakes.  These smaller pothole lakes are about 30-45 minutes away from the actual state park though, as it borders the deeper waters more suitable for boating and fishing as pointed out by the Washington State Parks  website.

Animals can be found aplenty during certain times of the year, and that includes eagles, owls, geese, and various mammals that wander through the park.  It is also nearby the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, which can make for a nice drive while in the area.  Wildlife can be found wandering through the arid brushland, finding food or drinking from the freshwater pools.  People can camp at Potholes, and according to it features 61 tent spaces, and 60 utility spaces.  There are also a handful of cabins available to rent, and pets are allowed in certain cabins with an extra fee.

Referring back to Washington State Parks the fishing is pretty solid, and features large mouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and yellow perch.  Also plenty of open water for the people that simply want to get out in the boats and feel the air.  When looking to the air, visitors can expect to see a plethora of birds.  Small birds such as plovers and killdeer can be seen darting about the grass, while raptors such as owls and eagles will be seen during certain times of the year.  A wide open park area has picnic tables scattered about, and there are also 2 covered stations for people to eat if needed.  Several miles of hiking trails are great for park visitors after they have seen the immaculate waterfront.  Being a state park, visitors do need to either have a Discover Pass or purchase a day or year pass from the automated kiosk on site.

Thank for visiting, and be sure to subscribe to stay updated on some great places to visit in the Pacific Northwest!


Gardner Cave: A Walk Through Time

Gardner Cave is about as far north as you can get in Washington before going into Canada.  Low and behold there is even a hiking trail leading to the 49th parallel, and the trail takes roughly 30-40 minutes to hike both ways.  It’s a fun little side expedition while waiting for one of the guided cave tours to start.  These are the two highlight activities available in Crawford State Park, which in itself seems like a pretty average place at first glance.  Designated as a day use park Crawford does not offer camping, however campsites are available about a mile a way at Boundary Dam.  The only fees associated are the fact that visitors will need a Discover Pass as is standard for Washington State Parks.  The cave is the most common reason visitors come to see the area though, and that is for good reason.

The cave itself was first discovered by Ed Gardner while he was riding his horse.  As the tale is told Gardner’s horse stumbled into a soft spot that he would eventually discover to be the cave.  Some sources say it was found as early as 1899, but other accounts credit Gardner’s find around 1903.  The very early history of the cave is not very well known, although most agree it was used to hide Gardner’s bootlegging business.  He would later lose his land to William Crawford during a game of poker as legend has it.  Crawford would in turn donate the land to become part of the Washington State Parks system.  Holly Weiler explains that in the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps installed some picnic areas.  Her publication on Out There Outdoors also shares that the cave was not updated for tourism until the 1950’s while the most recent installations happened in 1977.

The geologic history spans a much greater timeline however,  and some sources such as this report on the Washington Trails Association website date the cave at 500 million years old.  Dated that far back, the site was actually an ocean floor at the time.  The process of decomposition in the shells of sea creatures eventually produced a sort of slime that would harden into limestone through time.  As tectonic plates shifted and moved, the were times when the limestone would also shift creating gaps and cracks.  This would allow the moisture to run through the surface and down to create geologic formations.  Being the 3rd longest limestone cave in Washington, Gardner Cave has a plethora of formations.  These geologic structures as explained by Washington State Parks include stalactites, stalagmites, with some rimstone pools, and flowstone.  Gardner Cave is also home to one of the most impressive columns in the region, and researchers estimate it to weigh nearly 8 tons.  A column is formed when a stalactite meets a stalagmite, and spans from the cave floor to the ceiling.  The tour guides explain these processes and much more during the actual tour, and for me it was a very educational and valuable experience.

The place isn’t too tough to find, and driving directions from Spokane, Washington are pretty straightforward.

Follow U.S. Highway 2 North, then turn left on State Route 211 toward Usk.  Reaching highway 20 head north along the Pend O’Reille River.  Upon reaching Tiger, take SR 31 toward Metaline.  Keep an eye out for Boundary Road in Metaline and take a left turning uphill.  Simply follow the signs from there.  Google maps will also lead right to it for those with access to GPS via cell phone.

Thanks for reading!