Smith Peak has lingered in my dreams since I first visited the Selkirk Mountains outside Bonners Ferry Idaho about 3 years ago. This incredible feature is the second-highest (named) summit in the North Idaho Selkirks and has almost 2,000 feet of prominence making it a vertical piece of rock that cannot be missed when looking across the area. The peak sits atop a high ridgeline which skirts the west side of Long Canyon near the Selkirk Crest and has a lake nestled roughly 1,300 feet below the summit. To top it all off, this area is not only the most remote place within the heavily-roaded Selkirk Mountains near Bonners Ferry, but also part of a proposed wilderness which has granted it further protection. These factors combined with the fact that there is no trail to the area means that solitude and wide-open views are easily obtainable and therefore it is a trip I’ve thought about for a few years. This past weekend it finally happened and I was able to discover what a truly magnificent place Smith Peak really is.
Friday morning, Justin and I left Bonners Ferry and headed north to the Smith creek drainage near the Canadian border. We parked at the Cuttoff Mountain trailhead, which is a moderately-easy 2.75 mile trail to the top of Cutoff Mountain where the trail abruptly ends. From this summit, we began a roughly 5 mile bushwhack across the ridgeline which eventually leads to Smith Peak. For a trail-less hike, the hiking was fairly easy, with some small portions of actual bushwacking through heavy brush, but mostly just slow-going boulder and granite slab hiking through scattered stunted trees. The ridgleline climbs and drops a few times as you travel over humps and requires some moderate rock scrambling. Once over the last hump, the ridge cuts south and it’s a much more open and pleasant stroll through high-alpine meadows littered with trees. In these meadows at the base of the peak we set up camp at a dried-up pond where we had hoped to get water, but decided we had enough water on us to make it through one night anyway. After ditching some gear, we continued toward the summit. Where the peak meets the ridge, the hiking turns to a rock scramble up a large boulder field which leads all the way to the top. Roughly 40 minutes after leaving camp, we summited Smith Peak around 3:30 pm.
From the top of Smith Peak we had incredible 360 degree views around the region. South we could see well past the iconic Chimney Rock and to the north we saw the rugged peaks of the Canadian Selkirks and Purcells. Justin spooked a mountain goat on the summit and it took off like a bat-outta-hell, running down the peak in a matter of seconds and sprinting until out of sight a mile down the ridge. We spent some time enjoying the spectacular scenery before heading back down to our tents, having dinner, and watching the sunset.
The next morning, we awoke and packed up camp in preparation to drop down into the lake. To avoid the high cliffs around the peak-side of the lake, we had to hike back up over the last hump in the ridgeline and scramble down the boulder fields from there. As we reached the lake, we found a place to pitch our tents just as the rain began to fall. In a rush, we threw up our tents and unfortunately spent most of the rest of the day trapped in them as the area was pounded with a storm. Although the weather at the lake that day made it hard to enjoy, we were happy to be out in such an incredibly beautiful and remote place. The following morning brought much better weather as we packed up and hiked back out the ridgeline.
This is a place that only a handful of people visit every year. It’s a very special area in a strip of mountains that are unfortunately sometimes overused. Smith Peak is a very tough to get to and this trip should only be attempted by those who have prior cross-country and off-trail navigation experience. However, if you’re an adventurer looking for a humble experience in a piece of North Idaho wilderness, then this is a trip you may be interested in.