Saturday, May 23, 2020

Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars

Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars
2 miles round trip, 300 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Long but decent gravel road to the trailhead, no pass required

Although technically in Washington State, the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars is usually accessed from Idaho's Priest Lake area and is administered by the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. The name gives away the game: this is a hike to see a grove of fairly large old-growth cedar trees that also visits Granite Falls, a nice but unimpressive waterfall. This hike is buried deep within the Selkirk Mountains, a subrange of the Rockies that reaches from Kootenay Lake in Canada down to Washington and Idaho, ending just south of Priest Lake at the Pend Oreille River.

I can't say this was my favorite hike; the main problem with the grove was that it simply wasn't that impressive. I chose this hike because my original plan- hiking to Upper Priest Lake- was rained out and I wanted a hike that would still be enjoyable in the rain. While this hike was certainly still enjoyable, I didn't feel that it's worth going far out of your way to come here. Do note that I took an accidental dunk in a stream during this hike and that likely colored my thoughts about the hike a bit.

I did this hike during an October road trip to Selkirks. I came to see the larches in the range, hoping to see some beautiful fall color at Priest Lake; but heavy rain at Priest Lake upset my initial plans, so I decided instead to check out this grove of large cedar trees, which was still a bit of a drive from Priest Lake. Priest Lake is about an hour and a half from either Couer d'Alene or Spokane; I reached the lake from US Route 2 by following Idaho Highway 57 north from Priest River. I took Highway 57 past Nordman, after which point it became Forest Service Road 302. The road was paved for a period past Nordman but soon faded into a good gravel road. I stayed on the main road as it followed Granite Creek deeper and deeper into the Selkirks, entering Washington State. After passing Huff Lake on the right side of the road, I kept my eyes peeled for the road to Stagger Inn and Roosevelt Grove off to the left. When I finally came to the turnoff, I followed this short spur briefly to its end at a parking lot in the middle of a grove of cedars. This is the lower grove of the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars- the trees are nice, but they're far from superlative.

Google Maps suggests that this area is accessible by a gravel road from south of Ione in Washington State. This is a long gravel road; I highly advise that you enter from Priest Lake on the Idaho side.

Leaving from the trailhead, I first took the spur to see Lower Granite Falls, a pretty cascade down an angled rock face at the bottom of a rocky gorge. This trail was narrow and rocky but short and quickly brought me to a view of the falls.

Lower Granite Falls
Returning to the start of the trail, I headed out on the trail towards the Upper Grove, which soon split, with the left fork taking a steeper and rougher approach close to Granite Creek and the right fork heading uphill on a wider, gentler path. I took the left fork for the way up.

The trail switchbacked as it climbed somewhat steeply and soon came to a viewing platform over the gorge of Granite Creek. Stepping out onto the viewing platform, I had a nice view down to Lower Granite Falls in the gorge below, offering a view from above of what I had already seen at the bottom of the gorge.

Overhead view of Granite Falls
The forest in between the groves was mostly second growth and featured many western larches, which had turned color. The cedars in the area were preserved after a forester in the early 20th century realized that some of the trees here were as much as 2000 years old. However, wildfires that have burned through the area since have destroyed portions of the original grove. The presence of larches in the forest here provided nice fall color during my October visit at a few spots where there were views of the surrounding forested mountain slopes.

Autumn western larches
A little farther, an unmarked spur path left the main trail on the left and headed towards the Upper Falls of Granite Falls. This is a small, scenic drop set in a rocky bowl; the path to reach the falls was rough and required quite a bit of scrambling. Upon reaching the falls, I ended up taking an unintended swim as the rocks next to the pool by the falls were quite slippery- harmless since I was just next to a pool of water but a reminder of why one should never carelessly approach moving water above rapids or waterfalls!

Upper falls of Granite Falls
I returned to the main trail, which itself then intersected with the broader gravel trail coming up from the trailhead about a half mile from the trailhead. At the junction, I took the left fork and continued towards the upper grove. The trail was more or less flat here and fairly boring, passing just a single large cedar in otherwise ordinary forest.

Solitary large cedar
A mile from the trailhead, I reached the junction with the Cedar Grove Trail, which led off to the left into the upper grove. The upper grove was more enjoyable than the lower grove, featuring a walk through some fairly large cedar trees. The size of the grove was ultimately still somewhat smaller than I initially expected. While the grove was nice, I found myself making comparisons to the old growth cedars at Rockport State Park, which I remembered as more impressive; the size of these trees also pales in comparison to California's sequoia and redwood groves.

Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars 
After wandering the grove for a bit, I returned to the trailhead, taking the easier and broader trail for the descent to skip revisiting the viewpoint over Granite Falls. This is not a bad hike and would make a worthwhile trip if you're around Priest Lake for a while or if the weather prevents you from enjoying views of the lake, but I wouldn't travel too far just to see this grove.

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