Everytime I’m up on Grandmother Mountain, I look to the east and see the bald dome of Lookout Mountain rising over the Marble Creek drainage and I long to stand on top and look down from the other side. Finally, with my parents and sister visiting, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to try out this trail.
There are several mountains in northern Idaho named Lookout. This is not the ski area on the Idaho-Montana border off of I-90. This is not the peak in the Selkirks north of Sandpoint of the same name. This is in the St. Joe National Forest, accessed from FS-301, the same road that leads to Freezeout Saddle and the Grandmother Mountain trail outside of Clarkia.
Lookout Mountain is unique for this area because its summit is completely bald, offering spectacular views in 360 degrees. The summit stands at 6789 feet above sea level and overlooks Lost Lake, the nearest glacial tarn of considerable size to the Moscow Area. This trail is absolutely beautiful and probably seldom used compared to the neighboring Grandmother Mountain trail. The trailhead is only 7 miles farther down the road, but due to the rough road conditions, it took an extra hour of driving to get there. Despite its apparent remoteness, the trail and trailhead are in great condition. The trailhead features several developed campsites with picnic tables and fire rings along with a well-maintained privy. There are also two other small campgrounds nearby. Next time I hike this trail, I may have to spend the night.
From the trailhead at Orphan Saddle, it’s a 4-mile walk to the summit of Lookout Mountain. The trip isn’t very difficult, though you’ll begin your journey with a 600 foot ascent in just under a mile. By the time you start getting tired, you reach the ridge at 6500 feet and the journey becomes a relaxing meander through a mixture of hemlock forest and grassy field. The next two miles are gentle, holding elevation until the Widow Peak trial splits off, and then gently descending into the saddle above Lost Lake. The last mile is a 700 foot ascent to the summit, and though it may seem steep, you’re on the spine of the ridge with views that get better with every step you take. Take as much time as you need and eventually, you’ll find you can’t go any higher.
The return journey isn’t too bad. The descent on the way out was gradual and not very noticeable, but you may notice the uphill on the return. However, it’s still gentle compared to the two ascents (now descents) on the way out. In short, this may have become my new favorite local hike. Unfortunately, it is such a pain in the butt to get to that I’ll probably still stick to Grandmother Mountain as my go-to escape to higher elevations.