The New Northwest Passage

Northwest Montana
By Ronald Strickland, Pacific Northwest Trail Founder
  |  Gorp.com

For backpackers, far Northwest Montana is virgin territory. The area includes de facto wilderness at Mt. Henry and Northwest Peak. Dramatic views grace Webb Mountain and Garver Mountain. And there is that gem, the Yaak, so artistically publicized by writer Rick Bass. Throw in one and possibly two for-rent mountaintop lookout towers and you have primo backpacking where crowds are never a problem.

Who to Contact

Kootenai National Forest
RR 3, Box 700
Libby, MT 59923
(406)293-6211.

Recommended Trip

Lake Koocanusa to the Idaho/Montana State Line : 73.1 miles.

One-and-one-third miles south of the Koocanusa Bridge, climb the 5-mile Webb Mountain Trail to the lookout tower. (The next lookout, at Mt. Henry, will be clearly visible to the northwest.) Approach Mt. Henry via Road #7179F, Thirsty Mountain Trail No. 436, Road #7183L, and Road #7229. Total distance: 5.3 miles.

Mt. Henry (7243 feet) is literally the high point between Lake Koocanusa and the Yaak. Continue to the Yaak over Mt. Henry via Boulder Lakes Trail No. 62; Trail No. 91; Trail No. 7; Trail No. 9; Mt. Henry Lookout Spring Trail; Summit (Lookout) Trail No. 17; Vinal Creek Trail No. 9; Bunker Hill Trail No. 51; Vinal Lake Road #746; the Vinal Access Road; and Road #8025. Total distance: 37.5 miles.

The next destination is the Idaho border (just after the bushwhack along the narrow, steep ridge between Northwest Peak and Canuck Mountain). Reach Idaho via Yaak River Road #92; West Fork, Yaak River Road #276; French Creek Road # 5857 (take a half mile side trip to the Garver Mountain Lookout Tower); Garver Ridge Trail No. 8; Pete Creek Road #338; Northwest Peak Trail No. 169 (which reaches the 7705-foot summit); cross-country to Canuck Peak (over Davis Mountain and around Ewing Peak); and Alpine Ridge Trail No. 42 to Spread Creek Road #435 at Kounkel Pass. Total distance: 30.3 miles.

Getting There

There are three primary access points to this section of the PNT. First, the Koocanusa Bridge crosses the Kootenai River between State Highway #37 and Forest Service Road #228. The bridge is 41 miles north of Libby Dam. Second, Yaak River Road #508 offers access to the Yaak from the west; Pipe Creek Road #68 provides access from the south at Libby. Third, Spread Creek Road #435 is a rocky, poorly maintained track that most nearly parallels the western end of this section of the PNT. This road can be reached north from Moyie Springs, Idaho, via Road #72. The eastern end of the Spread Creek Road is to be found a few miles west of the hamlet of Yaak, Montana, on the Yaak River Road.

Permit Information

No permits and reservations are required to use this section of the Pacific Northwest Trail. If you wish to stay in the Webb Mountain Lookout tower in the Kootenai National Forest, you must prepay a $20 nightly fee.

Maps and Guidebooks

The best maps are the 7 1/2' USGS maps for Webb Mountain; Boulder Lakes; Lost Horse Mountain; Mount Henry; Bonnet Top; Garver Mountain; Northwest Peak; Canuck Peak, Idaho/Montana. Also refer to the Pacific Northwest Trail guidebook.


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