A Hiker's Guide to Beehive Lakes, a Treasured North Idaho Trail
Trip tips, gear essentials, and 10 do's & don'ts for backpacking in Idaho's legendary Selkirk Mountains
Elias & Theresa Carlson
Contax T2, Minolta Autocord
Kodak Gold 200, Portra 160
I’ll admit it, if the trailhead to the Beehive Lakes wasn’t sandwiched between two of the most popular trails in North Idaho’s Selkirk range, I wouldn’t be telling you about this spot. In the age of Instagram, and the potential hordes of gawkers an errant post can bring, I believe we need to think carefully about the impact that sharing places like this has on fragile alpine environments. It’s not something I take lightly. But this place is no secret, and anybody Googling for good hikes near Sandpoint, Idaho will quickly find Beehive Lakes near the top of the list.
The beauty of Beehives is that at roughly seven miles round-trip, and 2,000+ feet in elevation, it’s long and streep enough to make you feel like you’ve earned it a bit. It’ll make the new and out-of-shape sweat and suffer some, and it will make the legs of even an experienced hiker burn a little. Yet, it’s short enough that a motivated person with a light pack could cruise, or trail-run it out and back in a day.
For overnight campers it offers an array of lovely little campsites that dot the shores of a picturesque lake, chock full of little cutthroat trout. And for the more adventurous a scramble up the ridgeline to Twin Peaks offers panoramic views of the Selkirks.
Oh, and you should definitely look into the off-trail lake on the other side of the ridge. It may be the most beautiful alpine lake in the Selkirks and well worth the effort to find it. But I think some things are best left for people to discover on their own, so I’m not going to give you the name, or directions on how to get there. You’ll have to do what I did and look at topo maps, and internet forums for details on the best approach. I can promise you it will be worth the effort though.
"If the trailhead wasn’t sandwiched between two of the most popular trails in North Idaho's Selkirk range, I wouldn’t be telling you about this spot."
I will give you one tip. If you’ve got a weekday free, you might just get the place to yourself. Earlier this summer, with my wife, Theresa, in Seattle for a few days, I knocked off work on a Thursday and bombed up with my pup and a flyrod for a quick overnight visit.
By 5pm the few day hikers I ran into had cleared out and I found myself alone. As the sun set behind the ridge the trout started popping all over the lake. So I left my boots on the bank and waded out barefoot knee deep and fished until I couldn’t see my fly on the water.
Two weeks later Theresa and I left our one-year-old with his grandma for a couple days and packed back in to celebrate our anniversary in the mountains. We left early Saturday morning and passed a group of eight, a group of two, and a group of four on our way up, where we found a group of six already camped at one of the prime spots.
The following day we decided to try to find the off-trail lake using the intel I’d gleaned from the interwebs. We found it well worth the effort and had lunch on its shores while we took turns catching the little cutthroat trout we could see in the crystal clear water. Despite the crowds, it was well worth the effort, and I look forward to getting back again, hopefully on a weekday. There is nothing quite like having an alpine lake all to yourself.
If you're keen to explore this North Idaho treasure, read on for more insider intel. And as usual, please practice and observe L.N.T. principals.
5 Gear Essentials for Backpacking in North Idaho
Platypus Gravity Filter, $110
I switched from a pump to a gravity filter a few years ago and have never looked back. Why spend 15 minutes pumping when you can get 4 liters of clean water while you chill by the fire?
If you’re in an area that allows campfires (see Dos & Donts #3) a hatchet or handsaw is a must to break down any dead wood you might find. Hatchets are fun, but saws are more efficient.
Redington Butterstick II Fly Rod
Half the reason I hike is so I can fish in ridiculously beautiful places. The Redington Butterstick in a 3 or 4wt is an ideal small creek / alpine lake fly rod. The limber fiberglass lets you feel every headshake of even the tiniest fish.
Miir Wine Bottle
Theresa and I have been using Miir products for years now, and early on we discovered a bottle of wine fit perfectly into one of their water bottles. Now they make a product specifically for that purpose. Sharing a bottle of wine by a backcountry campfire is always worth the extra weight if you ask me.
Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 Tent
I’ve been using this tent for several years now, in conditions from fair to frigid, and it’s been fantastic. Simple, incredibly easy to set up, and pretty darn light. Sleeps one lanky 6’2” guy and one cute 5’6” lady, plus a 37lb blue heeler if you really like it cozy.
10 Do's and Don'ts for Hiking in the Selkirks
DO stop by the Winterridge health food store in Sandpoint, ID and get the cinnamon rolls. Wrap them in foil, stick em in your pack, and heat them next to your campfire, or over your camp stove. You will not regret it.
DON'T forget to bring a bear canister or enough rope to properly hang your food. Beehive lakes has a dedicated bear box at the mouth of the lake, but we found it has a hole in it large enough for a chipmunk to enter. My pup lost most of her breakfast to the little bastards.
DO bring a fishing pole. Both lakes on this hike offer great fishing for small alpine cutthroat trout. They are stocked, so you can even feel good about bonking one for dinner if you like.
DON'T be an asshole. If you’re in an area that allows campfires, check for burn bans before your hike, leave the living trees alone, and make sure your fire is dead out when you leave.
DO take “High Clearance 4WD” signs seriously in the Selkirks. On some of the hikes out here the road to the trailhead is the hairiest part of the trip. Your Subie might not make it. Your 2wd sedan definitely won’t. Fortunately that’s not an issue on this particular hike, but FYI.
DO bring something you can stash huckleberries in. If you hit it right they’re everywhere in these mountains.
DON'T trespass. This is North Idaho. It’s beautiful, and almost everyone here is super nice. But we’ve got a few off-the-grid types out here too. Best to make sure you’ve got good directions to your trailhead. I’d recommend the OnX app, which will show you property lines, or drop into one of the ranger stations if you’re not familiar with the area to get the best directions to your trailhead of choice.
DO go on a weekday if you can swing it. Especially for the more popular hikes like this one.
DO be bear aware. Especially during huckleberry season. Bring bear spray with you, and practice proper food storage. I have yet to run into one of these amazing creatures on my forays in the Selkirks, but there are a lot of them out there. Best not to take chances.
DON'T leave your rain jacket behind. Both of my hikes to this lake were in August, the driest part of the summer for North Idaho. And both times I caught a little rain. Nothing major, but wet enough that I was glad I’d brought my rain jacket.