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Highline Ridge, ID | August, 2020

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16.8-miles, +4,979 ft; From Elk Mountain TH

I activated this on the 4th day of a 15-day backpacking from the Elk Mountain Trailhead, but other approaches such as Race Creek or Indian Hill may also offer access. 

It is reported that an L-5 type lookout was constructed atop a 35-foot platform tower in 1932, but only bits of the foundation and scattered debris remain.  The summit is the on-trail highpoint of a spur ridge that extends north from the east-west Indian Hill to Indian Park Ridge and has fantastic views in all directions.  We camped at Buck Lake, but there is also likely camping at Highline Lakes, Drake Saddle, and further west along Tr. 602.  There is water at Drake Saddle, but the area is burnt and has much standing dead timber.

It is a relatively long drive to the trailhead on good Forest Service Roads.  Most vehicles should be able to make it with no troubles, but some clearance is helpful.  To reach the trailhead (beginning at the Red River Ranger Station on Hwy 222/57, drive 0.3 miles south, and turn left (east) on the “Magruder Corridor”/”Nez Perce Trail”/ FS-468.  Continue 18.8 miles and turn left on the Green Mountain Road (FS-285).  Follow this road another 17.4 miles north, past Windy Saddle, to the Elk Mountain Trailhead.  There is good parking, a small stream, and a latrine at the Trailhead.

The trail is very well maintained and leaves from the east side of the parking lot.  Follow the trail over the shoulder of Elk Mountain, then down its north ridge through a pretty meadow, and onwards as it descends towards Bilk Mountain.  The trail switchbacks steeply down the east side of the Elk-Bilk ridge, then contours around the south slopes of the Bilk SE-Ridge before climbing back up to a trail junction in the saddle on the southeast ridge of Bilk.  Turning left at the trail junction will take you to Bilk Mountain.  Continue over Bilk Mountain and down to Grave Meadow where there is water and good camping.  Most of the area between Bilk Mountain and Buck Lake is in the 2017 Buck Lake Creek burn.  The hike from Buck Lake to Drake Saddle and onwards to Highland Ridge Summit is in a burn from about 2009.  The entirety of the hike from Indian Park to Highline Ridge is a beautiful ridge hike within the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, passing though fields of flowers, huckleberry patches, and copses of unburnt timber.