Columbia Highlands recreation and adventure
The Columbia Highlands provide a backcountry experience for recreation and adventure like no other in Washington.
The open parklands and forests, granite ridges, and quiet canyons of the Columbia Highlands, where East meets West, provide a backcountry experience like no other in Washington.
Solitude and challenge
For those who love to recreate outside, this remote and rugged region contains over 200,000 acres of roadless forest ideal for recreation. From the open, rolling ponderosa grasslands of Cougar Mountain Roadless Area to the alpine cirques and rushing streams of Harvey Creek Roadless Area, even a short, half-mile hike can bring solitude, respite, and challenge.
Roadless areas in northeast Washington
East meets west
The Columbia Highlands feature several habitat types that are largely restricted to the east side of the Cascades, such as aspen groves, shrub-steppe, and interior dry Douglas-fir forest. The huge, old-growth ponderosa pines of Thirteenmile Canyon and Wapaloosie Mountain are rare in a state where logging and development have reduced ponderosa parklands to 1% of their historic range.
The rocky, open ridges don’t shirk on views, either. From the summits of many of the peaks in the Kettle Range, views abound, of the Selkirk Mountains to the east, the Okanogan Highlands and Cascades Mountains to the west, and B.C.’s Rossland Range to the north, a reminder that this is Washington’s big-sky country.
Each step into roadless areas lends a chance to see sight or sign of wildlife. Elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mule deer, black bears, Clark’s nutcrackers, and dusky grouse abound in the diverse landscape of the Colville National Forest.It's harder to see the big carnivores because they shy away from people. But grizzly bears, wolverines, and lynx home-range in the Columbia Highlands and you might catch their tracks or see scat or rubbed trees left behind by them. More than 300 bird species have been identified in the Columbia Highlands, from great grey owl to meadow lark to golden eagle.
Best of all, many trails stay crowd-free and offer hundreds of miles of solitude and backcountry adventure. In the Columbia Highlands it’s not unusual to see more wildlife than people.
So take a hike! Or mountain bike, paddle, pick berries, ride a horse, hunt or fish in the Columbia Highlands. Summer is prime time for hiking, with expansive meadows awash with lupine, fireweed, forget-me-not, and buckwheat. Travelers from the west side may be surprised to find such an expanse of green so far east.
- The hardy can hike on over 60 miles of trails that crisscross Profanity Roadless Area north of Sherman Pass, including the northernmost 30 miles of the Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail.
- Several of the top sections of the 1,200-mile-long Pacific Northwest Trail lie in the Columbia Highlands.
- An as-yet-unnamed route will connect seven roadless areas across the Kettle Crest via almost 70 miles of existing trail.
- The Audubon Society Palouse to Pines Loop features over a dozen bird-watching locales in the area, from Sherman Pass to Sullivan Lake.
- Families can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the north shore of scenic Sullivan Lake in Hall Mountain Roadless Area.
The Columbia Highlands feature miles of singletrack mountain bike trails outside of proposed wilderness areas. These trails offer challenging terrain, beautiful scenery and no crowds.
- The Swan Lake trail system, Gillette Ridge, Bead Lake, the Batey Bould mixed-use singletrack system and the Taylor Ridge Trail are favorites of area mountain bikers.
- In addition, hundreds of miles of rustic gated roads and old road routes now being used as trails thrill riders of all abilities.
- The soon-to-be-completed Gibraltar trail will provide almost twenty miles of shoulder-season singletrack heaven accessed right out of Republic.
- Proposals in the works from local riders would create even more miles of new mountain-biker-friendly trails.
Hunting and fishing
Because they have been undisturbed by development, roadless areas often preserve some of the best hunting and fishing habitat in national forests.
- Many of the biggest bucks and bulls are taken in or near the backcountry and wilderness areas. Hunters revel in the deer and elk hunting of the Columbia Highlands.
- The region consistently boasts the state’s best wild turkey harvests.
- In the Colville National Forest, waterways such as Harvey Creek and the San Poil River provide first-rate fishing for westslope cutthroat trout, kokanee, and burbot.
Winter brings loads of snow—and recreation opportunities—to the Kettle Range.
- The Washington Trails Association has rated Sherman Pass one of the state’s premier snowshoeing destinations.
- Winter weekends, the Sno-Park at the pass is usually packed, with snowshoers exploring the Kettle Crest Trail and backcountry skiers plying the famed “Hourglass” run on the north side of Sherman Peak.
- Meanwhile, cross-country skiers enjoy a network of trails at the north end of Profanity roadless area near Boulder Pass.
One need not even set foot in a roadless area to enjoy the beauty it protects. Many quiet recreation spots are accessible a short distance from the car.
- Unroll a picnic blanket at Lake Ellen and enjoy the scenic backdrop of South Huckleberry’s steep-walled canyons and lodgepole forests.
- View the vast swaths of pristine forestlands from Sherman Overlook: south, to Bald-Snow and north, to Profanity and Jackknife roadless areas.