Priest River Experimental Forest

Some of the most interesting Priest Lake area history can be found south of the lake approximately nine miles. At this location you will discover the headquarters of the Priest River Experimental Forest. The site was established in the early 1900's as the Northern Rocky Mountain Experimental Forest Station and has been in continuous operation ever since.

Administered by the Forest Service Research branch of the USFS, the experimental forest accomplishes very important forest research. The research results derived from the on-the-ground testing enable managers to better conserve and utilize our precious forests. Present activities at the Priest River Experimental Forest - Gisborne Mountain Experimental Forest include silviculture, soil and plant genetics research; weather and stream flow monitoring; snow pack observations; educational seminars; and international residential research projects.

A small museum is located in the headquarters building. Here you can relive some of the history of this important facility. Scientific instruments and old documents that were used at the station during the early years are on display. Note that the original interior cedar planking has remained in mint condition. The headquarters building is open Mon - Fri during normal business hours.
Much of the Priest River Experimental Forest research is accomplished on Gisborne Mountain, a 5,595 foot peak on the southeast edge of the experimental forest property. A trip to the lookout on Gisborne Mountain is well worth the time and effort. The lookout area provides great views of Schweitzer Mountain, Bald Mountain, Priest Lake, and both Priest River and Pend Oreille River valleys - not to mention some fine huckleberry areas enroute to the mountaintop.

To reach the Priest River Experimental Forest/Gisborne Mountain, travel south 9.2 miles from Coolin on the East River Road (State Forest Road #1). At this point, you will find an intersection with USFS Road 597. A large Priest River Experimental Forest sign is located at the intersection. Turn left (east) and follow the signs to the headquarters building, approximately a one-half mile distance. To begin the journey to Gisborne Mountain, continue on the road through the headquarters area until it intersects USFS Road 597A. Turn left and follow the well-marked road approximately eight miles up the mountain. The road narrows considerably as you near the top and reaches a saddle at its highest point. Proceed beyond the saddle until a small gated road leading to the north becomes visible. Park at the gate and hike the 1/2-mile to the lookout.

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Priest Lake State Park

Priest Lake State Park consists of three separate park units: the Indian Creek Unit located approximately 12 miles north of Coolin; the Lionhead Unit located approximately 23 miles north of Coolin, and the Dickensheet Unit, located four miles south of Coolin, along the banks of Priest River. Both Indian Creek and Lionhead are located on the shores of Priest Lake.  See the Priest Lake Campgrounds page of this web site for specific camping information.

The Indian Creek Unit is located on the former site of a large Diamond Match Company logging camp.  The park headquarters is located at Indian Creek and the unit is open year-round. In addition to the camping facilities, Indian Creek has a day-use area and summer programs from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  The park has a picnic area, a boat launch, a nine hole disk golf course, a large designated swimming  beach, a large sandy beach, and also a pet-friendly beach.  The park has a convenience store with souvenirs to remind you of your stay. In the winter, Indian Creek offers groomed cross country ski trails, a snow shoe trail and is an excellent point to access the 400 miles of groomed snowmobile trails that are around the lake.

The Lionhead Unit offers a more primitive camping experience with sites geared toward tent camping. This area was the site of the Nell Shipman movie studio during the 1920s. The unit has a day use area with picnic and swimming access, a boat launch, and also a pet-friendly beach. The Lionhead Group Camp is located at the south end of the Lionhead Unit. This rustic, isolated retreat has 1,000 feet of beach front and includes both kitchen and bath facilities. It can accommodate up to 50 people and is open from May 1 through September 30.

The Dickensheet Unit is the smallest of the three units and offers only eleven primitive camping facilities and is not suitable for large recreational vehicles. Tables and fire grills are available at each camp site; however, no drinking water is available. Dickensheet is an excellent launch site for float trips down Priest River. The unit is open from May 1 through September 30. 

For more information, try the Idaho State Parks & Recreation web site. For general information, please call the park at (208) 443-2200; and for campground reservations 1.888.922-6743 (CAMPID).








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Nordic Sports

Cross Country Skiing and Snow Shoeing at Priest Lake!

The Idaho State Park ‘N’ Ski parking permit program will again be conducted at Priest Lake. Permits are necessary to park at the various groomed locations in the Kaniksu Forest Region. Permit vendors are Hill's Resort, Priest Lake PowerSports, and Tamrak Hardware on the west side of the lake. On the east side, permits are sold at Indian Creek Campground. Parking permits are reciprocal with the states of Washington and Oregon Nordic programs. Permit costs are $25 for a season permit, and $7.50 for a 3-day permit.

Parking areas include the road bordering the golf course, the Catholic Church across the highway from the golf course, Hill's Resort, and Hanna Flats. 

Grooming for Track Skiing will be done at the golf course. The trail connecting Hill's Resort to the golf course, and the trail system at Hanna Flats will be regularly groomed for track skiing. At Indian Creek, the trails will be groomed weekly, and, Indian Creek campground has a new snowshoe and fat tire bike trail system (about 1.5 miles) and has a lake view.

The Rocky Point trail system is optimal for snowshoeing.

The headquarters of the Nordic Sports Club (NSC) is at Hill's Resort.  Restrooms, food and beverages are available at Hill's Resort, Nordman Resort and after 4pm at Millie’s on the west side. On the east side, food, beverages and restrooms are available at Moose Knuckle or Ardy's Cafe. Other restaurants may be available during limited winter hours, particularly on weekends. Information regarding ski and snow shoe locations and weather conditions may be obtained at these locations centers. 

Enjoy the pristine beauty of the Priest Lake region which waits with tracked areas, or unlimited trackless trails and roads for skiing and snowshoeing. Please visit here for the most current grooming updates. Local Nordic Club members may be consulted for trail conditions, call (208)443-3191 for references.

Click here to view the Snowmobile Groomed Trail Report

Click here to view the Nordic Trail Report


Priest Lake Snowmobile Trail Map


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Mount Roothaan & Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

Hike: approximately 1 ½ hours

How about a hike to the 7,300-foot elevation level capped with the reward of incredible panoramic views? The beauty of Priest Lake unfolds nearly a mile below; the awesome grandeur of Chimney Rock seems but an arm’s length away, while surrounded by the Selkirk Crest. It can be yours for a moderate hiking effort and about three to four hours of your time. The Mount Roothaan/ Chimney Rock Trail is a popular route that leads into the backcountry of Priest Lake with spectacular vistas along the way. You can drive your vehicle (high clearance only!) to the trailhead parking area atop Horton Ridge at an elevation of 5,100 feet. From the trailhead, the 2-mile trail leads along Horton Ridge up to a saddle near the crest of Mount Roothaan. The last ½ mile of trail is “mountain goat country” - very steep and rocky. The trail continues on to base of Chimney Rock for those hardy souls who survive the “mountain goat” climb and desire an additional two hours or so of hiking (round trip from Mount Roothaan to Chimney Rock.) Good hiking boots are a must on this portion of the trail as the route passes through an extensive talus field.


Travel north from Coolin 7.4 miles on Cavanaugh Bay/ Eastshore Road (or 4 miles south from the Indian Creek Campground) to Forest Road #24. This road intersects with Eastshore Road immediately north of Hunt Creek Bridge. Turn onto Road #24 and continue for 4 miles until you arrive at a fork in the road. Bear left at the fork onto Forest Road #2. After traveling 1.6 miles, you will arrive at the intersection of Roads #2 and #25. Road #2 continues straight and Road #25 continues to the right. Proceed on Road #25 for 4.1 miles to the trailhead parking area. The drive from the Eastshore Road to the trailhead will take approximately one hour.

NOTE: This trail system is not maintained and travel may include negotiating downfalls, brush, and other obstacles. Land navigation equipment and skills may be required to remain on the correct roads and trails as some are not well marked. High clearance or 4X4 vehicles are recommended to access trailheads. Information and maps are available at the Idaho Department of Lands office at the foot of Cavanaugh Bay.

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Priest Lake Chamber of Commerce Copyright© 2018 | PO Box 174 Coolin, Idaho 83821
Phone: (208) 443-3191
| Toll Free: (888) 774-3785