Outdoors

Whitetail Butte

The view from Whitetail Butte offers something unique each time you ascend this 3,000-foot mound that rises abruptly from the Jack Pine Flats. The butte is only a few minutes travel from Coolin and the south end of the lake.

In summer, unspoiled views of the mountains surrounding the south end of the lake unfold before you. In fall, you may be greeted by a cloudbank between you and the forest floor, which affords a very different view of the Selkirk mountain peaks nudging their way through the fluffy cloud layer. In winter, the butte makes an exciting snowmobile ride with new vistas around each turn. In spring, a birds-eye view of turbulent runoff waters rushing down Priest River is an awesome sight. Whatever the time of year, Whitetail Butte is a close-in getaway that offers grand vistas and provides an ideal picnic site among the trees at the top of the butte.

To reach Whitetail Butte from Coolin, travel south on East River Road (State Forest Road #1) until it intersects with State Forest Road #12 (5-1/2 miles). Turn right (west) onto Road #12 and proceed 3/4-mile to the intersection with State Forest Road #121. Turn left (south) onto Road #121 and follow it to the top of the butte. Most of the road from the base of the butte to the top is too narrow for two-way traffic and a high clearance vehicle is recommended. Be alert for oncoming vehicles and be prepared to back-up some distance to a bypass point if an oncoming vehicle is encountered.

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Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars and Granite Falls

Roosevelt GroveThe grandeur of 800-2,000+ year old living cedar trees awaits you at the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars located 13 miles north of Nordman on Forest Road 302 (an extension of State Highway 57). The trees in this virgin forest are up to 12 feet in diameter and 150 feet tall. 

A short trail from the lower grove will lead you to the base of Lower Granite Falls. Here, Granite Creek cascades down a narrow, sheer rock wall with a thunderous roar. A one-mile loop trail from the lower cedar grove takes you to vista points above the Lower falls where both Lower and Upper Granite Falls may be viewed. Continue another 1/2 mile from the vista points and you will arrive at the upper cedar grove.

Granite FallsOnce sufficient snow falls, the route (from approximately four miles north of Nordman to the grove) is closed to wheeled vehicle traffic and is opened as a primary snowmobile route. The grove, and especially the creek and falls can be even more spectacular in the winter with various ice formations creating a surreal effect. As the snow clears, the spring runoff creates an awesome volume of water spilling over the falls. Be prepared to be doused by copious amounts of spray from the falls if you visit during runoff!

The campground and picnic area located in the lower grove is named STAGGER INN after a fire camp that was used in 1926. At that time the road extended only as far as Nordman. Firefighters, weary from hiking and battling blazes, more or less staggered into the camp. Thus, the name STAGGER INN was adopted.

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Wildlife and Big Game

Birds

The area has a growing population of bald eagles and an abundant population of osprey. Numerous osprey nests are visible in high tree snags around the shorelines of the both Priest and Upper Priest Lakes and on some of the islands. Depending upon the time of the year, the wetland areas off the south end of the Lake and in the Bear Creek area are excellent areas to view less common duck species such as the wood duck and redhead. Also, don't be surprised if you observe a great blue heron stalking its meal in a wetland area or a flock of wild turkeys along the roadside.

Numerous other bird species also reside at Priest Lake. Ravens are ubiquitous, as are numerous varieties of woodpeckers and jays. Pine martins, goshawks, grouse and blue birds are but a few of the other species native to the area. In summer, large numbers of hummingbirds congregate throughout the area.

Wild Life & Big Game

Larger game species that make the Priest Lake area their home include black and grizzly bears, whitetail and mule deer, moose, elk, wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, mountain sheep and a few mountain goats. The grizzly bear and mountain caribou have been designated as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act and their habitats are protected by selective mountain road closures, restrictive bear hunting methods, etc.

A wide variety of smaller animals also make the Priest Lake Basin their home. Included are raccoons, skunks, snowshoe hares, beaver, otters, squirrels, an abundant supply of grouse, turkeys and waterfowl. You may encounter a few snakes in the area but all are the harmless variety. No poisonous snakes make the Priest Lake area home.

Idaho residents who are fortunate enough to be drawn for a once-in-a-lifetime moose permit are virtually guaranteed success in bagging a bull moose when hunting in the Priest Lake area. These majestic animals are widespread and frequently encountered at all elevations.

Idaho Fish & Game regulates the seasons and rules regarding hunting for all game species. It is wise to check the regulations in advance of your hunting trip.

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Hughes Ridge Lookout & Hughes Meadow

Hughes Lookout

Hughes Ridge Lookout offers a spectacular view of Upper Priest Lake, Hughes Meadow and the surrounding mountains.  The tower is a 45-foot lookout manned for approx. three months during the summer fire season and visitors are welcome. The panoramic views are fantastic and provide a picture perfect setting for a picnic, don’t forget the camera.

Hughes Meadow is a large meadow located on the west side of Hughes Ridge. Depending on climatic conditions and beaver activity on the stream that flows through the meadow, it may be extremely marshy throughout the year from spring-fall. Numerous birds and wildlife frequent the meadow. Of particular interest is the cedar grove along the entrance road adjacent to Hughes Meadows. Here, old growth cedars stand majestically, as sentinels to a meadow access corridor. With the exception of snowmobiles recreational vehicles are prohibited on Hughes Meadow. Also, the access road into Hughes Meadow is closed to all vehicles each year from March 15-June 30.

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