Swan Lake and Butte–listen to the cry of the loon

Loons nest on Swan Lake.

Loons nest on Northeastern Washington’s Swan Lake.

Quick Facts:

NOTE: Road to Swan Lake has been damaged due to winter storms and may not be open. Call Republic Ranger District for road status (509) 775-7400

Location: Colville National Forest, near Republic

Land Agency: US Forest Service

Roundtrip: 3.1 miles

Elevation gain: 360 feet

Contact: Colville National Forest

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash, but are not allowed on the beach.

Access: From Republic follow SR 21 south 6.7 miles turning right onto FR 53 (Scatter Creek Road). Follow for 7.3 miles to Swan Lake Campground and another .3 mile to the Day Use area and trailhead.


Hike around a lovely little lake encircled by cool forest high above the sweltering Sanpoil River Valley. A popular swimming hole for Ferry County residents, Swan Lake is also popular with breeding loons. Wander along the lake’s tranquil shoreline in early evening or morning and have an On Golden Pond moment listening to this beautiful and threatened bird’s eerie and primeval calls. Look for moose too and black bears, for Swan swarms with wildlife.


From the Day Use parking lot, head down a stairway to the lakeshore to pick up the trail. Head right passing a swimming area and a rustic kitchen shelter constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) during the Great Depression. Then continue on the trail rounding a boggy area. Free of gas-powered boats, the lake and surrounding forest are quite serene. But quiet this place is not—the air is filled with the chatter of ground and Douglas squirrels and a cacophony of bird song; nuthatches, chickadees, and warblers among them. The buzz of mosquitoes is a frequent sound too early in the season.

Up and over ledge, through pine and fir groves, beneath big cottonwoods and larch, and across patches of huckleberries, the trail follows along Swan’s shoreline. In late spring, arnica, lupine, penstemon, and wild strawberries brighten up the tread with087their cheery blossoms.

At 1.3 miles after rounding a ledge providing excellent lake views, reach a junction. The trail right leads to Swan Butte, a nice side trip—take it. Follow the flower lined trail .5 mile to the 3,960-foot butte with its tattered flag and decent views of the Kettle River Range to the east.

Retrace your steps back to the junction and resume looping around the lake. The way passes by a quiet cove before utilizing an old road lined with cedars. At 2.7 miles, come to FR 53. Turn left. Pass the boat launch and pick up the trail once more as it travels .4 mile through the campground back to the spur leading to the Day Use Area

For detailed information on this hike including maps; and information on other great hikes in the Colville National Forest, consult my hot-off-the-press Day Hiking Eastern Washington book (co-written with Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review).

Day Hiking Eastn Washington

 Great camping at Swan Lake or consider staying at the Northern Inn in nearby Republic.


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