It’s basically a universal truth that North Idaho has some of the most gorgeous scenery in the country, and the coolest part is that it’s just about anywhere you look when you step outside your front door. For most of us, we only need to take an hour or so on Tubbs Hill right downtown, throw on our hiking shoes for half the morning on Mineral Ridge, or roam about Q’emiln Park in Post Falls to get our quick nature fix. These three spots and a few others tend to be a local’s go-to, but North Idaho has another gem (get it?) that fewer people have heard of: the Settler's Grove of Ancient Cedars in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. Closest to the two-business “town” of Murray, Idaho, this trail is about 60 miles from Coeur d’Alene, making it about an hour and a half drive. Trust us, the drive-time is well worth it for the gorgeous views alone.
Settler's Grove Trail is about 3.3 miles out and back, with about the first half-mile being the more used and well-constructed portion, and the rest being lighter use and a more moderate hike. The main part of the trail is quite easy (some even bring strollers for the kiddos) and doggy-friendly, making it the perfect family day trip. But this isn’t just another nature walk; it’s a piece of history. These majestic cedars are truly ancient, with most dating back to before ol’ Chris Columbus landed in the New World, making them at least 500 years old. Some of the trees stand with a diameter of 9 feet and reach more than 120 feet tall – and they’re growing practically in our backyard! As you walk, you can’t help but imagine what life was like when these giants sprouted. We’re talking before Shakespeare, before Martin Luther, and the population of the entire world was only 1/14th of what it is now. This grove existed at least 300 years before Lewis and Clark were making their way through the PNW, and 500 years before Harley Hudson served up his first burger on Sherman Ave. In as little as an hour or as long as you’ve got daylight, your family can be transported back into the natural ancient world right in your home state, and you can take as many photos as your iPhone battery allows! But for real, there are some pretty cool photo-ops.
Unfortunately, North Idaho had a pretty bad summer for forest fires in 2015, and the flames finally found their way to the cedars. As devastating as this was for many CDA natives like me, who grew up visiting the cedars every summer, our brave firefighters managed to preserve the heart of the grove, and we are thankful we still get to enjoy its glory. Actually, the bit of fire damage adds another unique dynamic to the scenery, creating some even more striking images. The timber still stands impressively after being licked by flames and hollowed out by the heat.
And if you're a Lord of the Rings fan, you'll definitely get some Ent vibes in here. We're pretty sure this is Treebeard's hometown.
The trailhead does include a parking lot and a camp restroom, but make sure you’re prepared with water, bug spray, and snacks. It’s also much cooler under the canopy, so it’s not a bad idea to bring a light jacket. Perhaps one of our sweatshirts? Our CDA Idaho tees were perfect for our afternoon on the trail since they are so comfy and low-maintenance, and we thought these designs were totally fitting for the grove. And yes, we were keeping an eye out for BigFoot again.
If you’re up for a little more Idaho exploration once you’ve finished the trail, take another scenic route to the small town of Wallace, Idaho, to get a taste of what life looked like when Idahoans first came across the grove. Wallace, calling itself the “Center of the Universe,” has maintained much of its historic roots since being established as a silver mining town in 1884. Grab lunch from one of the local restaurants and take a quick stroll to enjoy the architecture and fascinating history on Bank Street before making the drive back to CDA (when your kids – and possibly accompanying adults – will likely fall asleep in the car after such a fun day). photo by @lizziekeitelphotography
The Settler's Grove of Ancient Cedars is more than worth your time to explore, and its beauty and wonder is one of the many, many reasons we adore our state.
For more official info, visit the Forest Service’s site.