Relaxin’ by the River: Lounging and Hiking in Clearwater National Forest

We had been searching for a lake to relax by after leaving the Sawtooths but we didn’t find a place to camp next to the water as we headed north so we had opted instead to spend an afternoon walking around Payette Lake and then went on a hike up Boulder Mountain the following day. Leaving McCall after our hike however we were determined to find a place somewhere along Route 12 for a few days in orer to accomplish what we had failed to do.

Route 12, also known as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, follows the stunningly gorgeous Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers before breaking away at Lolo Pass at the Montana border. I had the pleasure of sitting in the passenger seat for our drive up the canyon and was entirely mesmerized by the rushing rapids, clear waters, and fir trees stretching from the mountain peaks to within inches of the shoreline. Had we been in a passenger car we would have undoubtedly stopped at many of the small pullouts to admire the views and take photos but we contented ourselves to continue driving until we found a spot to camp. Which we did, thanks to my mistaken understanding of a sign followed by Tom’s suggestion that we just disperse camp off that road since it was next to the river.

We parked and set up around 2pm but rather than run off and go explore something we opted to take our chairs, books, and a beer to one of the lovely cedar trees next to the river and kick back. All 3 of us thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon in the shade by the water:

The next morning however we needed a walk and so on our drive up the canyon we randomly selected the Mocus Point Trail based on the availability of oversize parking and the fact that there weren’t any other cars there. Quite often we luck out on our selections, but this was not one of those times. We walked up the overgrown trail for almost 4 miles and I believe over 2,000 feet in elevation – and were treated to exactly one mediocre viewpoint. We turned around before reaching Mocus Point… wherever that was. The rest of the time we were under the tall trees, unable to see beyond the thick brush growing everywhere. There was some nice sun streaming through the trees at a couple points however and as Tom pointed out, we earned our beer.

Our next campsite was along a lovely creek whose name I cannot recall, and we drank said earned beer after arriving while breaking out our books. Early the following morning we decided to repeat the program of hiking and then relaxing by driving up towards the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness and parking at the Elk Summit trailhead to hike as far as possible up Diablo Mountain. We were warned by a very helpful forest service volunteer stationed at the cabin there that the trail would be impassable (think: 3 foot snowpack) before we would get to the lookout but we were promised wildflowers and nice views. The fact that this entire area has been ravaged by multiple fires somehow did not come up in conversation so were quite surprised to be hiking though miles of ghost trees, but he was definitely on target with regards to the wildflowers and views. Not to mention the sudden appearance of snowbanks on the steep side cliff that ended our adventure at about 3 miles into the hike. I can only imagine the views from the top of Diablo since we sure had some really nice vistas once we had gained 1,000+ feet in elevation. It was a really lovely walk.

As I said, we repeated the program by lounging after returning from the hike which concluded a very pleasant few days in the Clearwater National Forest. We normally tend to travel a bit faster, hike more, and spend more time out exploring, but we both really enjoyed some slower days particularly as we were without phone service – which is to say, distraction. We both definitely felt relaxed and recharged – plus I was able to read 3 books in as many afternoons.