Do not let the mileage fool you. Plan on a full day adventure for this featured ride with lots of hike-a-bike. The route includes many stream crossings which are much easier in the late summer and fall when the water levels are lower. The Straight Creek Trail #99
is a mix of rideable sections, short challenging climbs, and overgrown vegetation that makes it difficult to see the trail.
The approach to Chilcoot Pass is very steep and will require pushing your bike. The alpine descent from the pass is beautiful but the riding will require your full attention with steep, loose sections and very tight switchbacks. The riding gets easier (but almost never easy) on the more well-traveled West Fork Fish Creek #101
. The gradual descent through cedar groves with fun boardwalks is sublime.
There are mandatory stream crossings with the largest at the beginning and end of the route. There used to be a bridge over Fish Creek at Clearwater Crossing but that burned in 2015 and currently the creek must be forded at the end of the loop.
Head up the the North Fork Fish Creek #103
for a short distance then bear left onto the Straight Creek Trail #99
and cross the creek. Shortly thereafter, cross Straight Creek. Those are the biggest crossings until the very end of the ride.
Head up the Straight Creek Trail #99
, riding when you can. The trail is in the trees for a while but the views start to open up when you reach the section of waterfalls. Near Chilcoot Pass, the trail becomes very steep and will require pushing your bike up to the top. Take a break at the pass and enjoy excellent views of the Great Burn high country.
The descent off the pass is beautiful but requires your full attention to navigate the sometimes steep and rocky trail. Soon the lower Siamese Lake will come into view. The trail drops steadily with sharp switchbacks down to the lake. Take a break at the lake and maybe a swim.
Cross the outlet of the lake and climb a short, steep section before resuming the descent. The trail descends steeply with some traversing and short, interspersed climbs eventually reaching a marshy meadow. Take a left on the far side of the meadow and then shortly reach the West Fork Fish Creek #101
The West Fork Fish Creek #101
is more well-traveled and easier than the descent from Chilcoot, but it still requires almost constant attention to navigate rock gardens, thick vegetation, water crossings, and other obstacles. A highlight of this trail is the large, old growth cedar groves. Riding among the massive ancient trees over the numerous bridges and boardwalks makes all the Straight Creek hike-a-bike worth it.
The last couple miles of the trail burned in 2015. The trail is in good shape but the surface is ash-like. In 2016, vegetation was already returning. The bridge over Fish Creek was a casualty of the fire so one final stream crossing is required to complete the loop.
The Great Burn refers to a massive forest fire that burned along the Montana and Idaho border in 1910 completely wiping out some towns and severely damaging others. The cedar grove on the West Fork Fish Creek #101
was spared in that fire.
In the high country around Chilcoot Pass, snags (dead trees) are still standing from the 1910 fire. "The Big Burn" by Timothy Egan tells the story of the fire, the birth of the forest service, and origin of public lands in the United States.