Columbia Mountain─Historic peak overflows with autumn colors


Western Larches set the Kettle River Range aglow in gold come October.

Quick Facts:

Location: Kettle River Range, Sherman Pass

Land Agency: Colville National Forest

Roundtrip: 8.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,360 feet

Access: From Republic travel east 17 miles on SR 20 to trailhead at Sherman Pass. From Kettle Falls, follow SR 20 for 26 west miles to Sherman Pass.

Contact: Colville National Forest, Republic Ranger District

Good to know: Kid-friendly, dog-friendly, historic, exceptional fall larch hike

From the state’s highest pass crossed by a state highway, amble along the lofty Kettle Crest across miles of high-country meadows flush with flowers to an historic lookout. Enjoy sweeping views of the Sherman Creek Valley, bulky Kettle River Range summits and the unbroken swaths of forest east cloaking King Mountain and the Twin Sisters. One of the largest roadless areas in Eastern Washington, Conservationists are hopeful that the Kettle Crest will someday be added to the national wilderness system.


A hiker inspects Columbia’s 1914-built fire lookout cabin.

A long range of mountains at the transition between the Cascades west and Rockies east, the Kettles are part of the Columbia Highlands—a rich ecological area that still harbors grizzly bears, wolverines, wolves and lynx. The golden ridges of these gentle giants hop with herds of deer. And on Columbia Mountain you can hike back into history to one of the oldest fire lookouts in the west, to a time when rugged fire keeps sat watch during the nascent days of the Forest Service.

Built in 1914, during the Wilson Administration, the old fire lookout cabin has endured quite a few blistering summers and blustery winters. And in 2011, thanks to a Forest Service Restoration Project called Passport in Time, a handful of Forest Service employees and dedicated volunteers restored the old lookout maintaining its historic charm.

From 5,575-foot high Sherman Pass, follow the Kettle Crest Trail north for two miles to the Columbia Mountain Loop Trail. Then turn right and after a half mile of climbing through sun kissed flowered meadows, come to another junction. Go left or right—it doesn’t matter—the two mile loop just below the summit yields knock-out views in every direction no matter the direction you march off in.

Then afterwards be sure to take the .5 mile spur to the 6,780-foot summit. Emerge on the broad open summit with its  restored  100-plus year old lookout cabin. And from mid October until mid-November look out upon slopes of western larches that make the emerald Kettles overflow with gold. It’s one of the best autumn foliage shows in the Northwest. And consider using the old gold mining town of Republic as your base while exploring the area. It is a classic Northwest Trail Town.

For detailed  information on hiking Columbia Mountain and other great hikes in the Kettle River Range, consult my (co-written with Rich landers) Day Hiking Eastern Washington book; the most comprehensive  guide to hiking in Washington east of the Cascades.Day Hiking Eastn Washington

For information on places to stay and other things to do in Northeastern Washington, check out Northwest TripFinder.


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