Posted by: columbiahighlands | October 5, 2011

Day hike: Fir Mountain

The rocky summit of Fir Mountain provides panoramic views of the San Poil valley and eastern Okanogan Highlands. In the center middle distance is Clackamas Mountain. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

Travelers approaching Republic from the west via Highway 20 can easily spot the upturned nose of Fir Mountain less than 10 miles out of town. Often overlooked, however, is the trail that reaches its rocky summit. Easily accessed from Republic, this four-mile roundtrip hike provides quick, albeit brutally steep, access to panoramic views of the San Poil Valley and eastern Okanogan Highlands. Start early, and you can be back in Republic before the bakeries open.

Beginning on an old double-track, Fir Mountain Trail #320 immediately launches a calf-cramping ascent of Fir Mountain’s east flank.

Most of the route  passes through a pleasant parkland of Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine and western larch. Pinegrass, Douglas maple, red-flowered currant, snowberry, thimbleberry and huckleberry comprise the open understory.

Open views, of the Aeneas Valley and the Kettle Range, are few, but chances are good of spotting wildlife, including white-tailed deer and woodpeckers.

The grassy understory on Fir Mountain gives way to dimpled basalt at higher elevations. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

At approximately 1.5 miles, the grassy understory begins to give way to basalt rock, smooth and dimpled , in contrast to the granitic hunks found in the Kettle Range

It may not have seemed possible, but at this point the way gets even steeper. The trail goes faint in some sections, but cairns mark the route.

The last several hundred yards of trail is cut directly into basalt; watch your step.

Western larch on Fir Mountain have begun their fall show. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

At 2 miles, reach the summit. Keep an eye out for remnants of an old lookout—anchors, insulators, an old outhouse. To the east, Republic and the Kettle Range. The camel-humped peak to the west is Bonaparte. The horseshoe-shaped array of ridges to the north bound the Sweat Creek drainage, at the heart of Clackamas Mountain Roadless Area. Beyond lies British Columbia.

Autumn's cool temperatures and bright colors make it a perfect time to hike Fir Mountain. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

Now is the perfect time to hike Fir Mountain, when autumn’s cooler temperatures and bright colors—western larch needles above, huckleberry, maple and currant leaves below—leaven some of the agony of the ascent.

Driving directions: From Republic, head west on Hwy 20. At 8 miles, turn left (south) onto FS 31, across from Sweat Creek Picnic Area. Follow FS 31 for 0.5 mile to the signed trailhead on the right. A small pullout 50 feet past the trailhead provides limited parking.



  1. Wish I were closer!

    • There are a bunch of great hikes in this immediate area; the Sweat Creek drainage, visible in the top photo, is home to my favorite set of trails. Perhaps they will warrant a roadtrip one of these days, montucky?

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