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We spent last week at Lost Lake in the Okanogan Highlands in eastern Okanogan County. If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know we go there just about every year. What is it about this place that we find so inviting? Let’s see: old growth western larch forest, Common Loons, wildflowers, historic CCC structures, peace and quiet, wildflowers, perfect small lake for paddling and relaxing, brook trout in that lake, good birding and much, much more.

Weather was kind of chilly and we enjoyed our campfires each night. Fishing was off from other years but Ken was able to bring in enough for two meals. A friend joined us for a couple of days. We did some serious birding and she got to paddle Ken’s fishing kayak. The dogs were happy and busy and they slept like rocks each night. I think we all slept well with the frogs in the background. We woke to singing Swainson’s Thrushes and Ruby-crowned Kinglets each morning.

We left Lost Lake and drove east and south to explore the St Joe River watershed in north Idaho. We’d never visited that area before and were not sure where we were going to stay. Fortunately we found a very pleasant campground about ten miles out of St Maries and settled in for the night. It was unusual for a US Forest Service campground because it wasn’t in the forest. It was in a meadow of tall grass that was mowed for the camping areas. The river is wide and slow there, not the mountain stream that we were expecting. Across the river there was an active logging unit with folks starting work early in the morning. We discovered that the logging industry is still very active in this part of Idaho and we saw and heard many log trucks coming and going starting before five am!

The next day we explored Marble Creek – an area that once held millions of board feet of white pine trees. The history of the area was fraught with danger in the form of terribly hard work and sometimes criminal activities in order to take over the prime old growth forests. They are still logging there although most of the white pine is gone due to harvest and disease. Much of the drainage is now in a mixed stand of second growth. We were surprised with the diversity of the forest and rate at which trees grow there. We read that north Idaho gets on average, 45 inches of rain a year! That’s a lot compared to our paltry 12 or 15 inches of rain per year. No wonder the forest was so dense.

We drove on upstream to Avery which was a very busy railroad town for many years. The electrified Milwaukie train had a major stop there. We traveled up the North Fork of the St Joe following the route of the train tracks through several tunnels and across one old steel trestle. It is amazing to think of these huge projects that were accomplished in the 1800’s!

The next day we headed to Montana via Forest Road 50 along the St Joe and Gold Creek. When the asphalt ended we had left Idaho.


We got away with our camper for a week or so at the end of May. Last summer there was no time for camping between work and wildfires so we just decided to block out some time early and do it. With a little luck, maybe we can go again later in the summer.

The Lost Lake Campground was created by the CCC. Signs indicated the work was done in 1940 and ’41. There is a cabin and shops and also some buildings at the adjacent Kiwanis camp all built by the CCC workers. The cabin is badly in need of repair. I do hope the US Forest Service can find the resources to preserve this historic building.

Western larch is the predominant tree around the campground. These are tall stately conifers with needles that turn golden yellow in the fall before dropping. In the spring they grow vibrant green foliage. Apparently the area was logged in 1963, taking many of the big old trees. There are at least two remaining and a nature walk will guide you to them. The area was thinned/logged again around fifteen years ago, I think. This thinning has produced a healthy and attractive stand that is also more fire resistant than it was prior to that.

We were joined by Ken’s brother and the two of them enjoyed fishing for brook trout from the short kayaks. We had two good meals of fresh fish cooked over the fire. I enjoyed birding from my kayak. Ken and Carl saw a moose swim across the lake while they were fishing. Of course, I missed it! We all enjoyed listening to the loons calling to each other.

It was nice to get away from home and the ever-present electronic world.

Here is our bird list from Lost Lake.

Canada Goose

Wood Duck


Green-winged Teal

Ring-necked Duck

Common Loon

Turkey Vulture

Bald Eagle

Red-tailed Hawk

Virginia Rail


American Coot

Spotted Sandpiper

Great Horned Owl

Barred Owl

Common Poorwill

hummingbird sp.

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Hammond’s Flycatcher

Empidonax sp.

Gray Jay

Steller’s Jay

Common Raven

Tree Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Marsh Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Western Bluebird

Townsend’s Solitaire

Swainson’s Thrush

American Robin

Orange-crowned Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Chipping Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Song Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbird

Red Crossbill

Pine Siskin

Evening Grosbeak


Lost Lake is in the Okanogan Highlands, northeast of Tonasket and north of Bonaparte Lake. It is in the forest at nearly 4000′ elevation; a little colder than Chopaka Lake. There is a lovely wetland, home to many birds, on the south end. On the north end, there is a Forest Service campground, first established by the CCC in the 1940’s. It still has an old fashioned feeling about it that I like. There are also a few cabins around the lake and two private camps. The Okanogan Highlands Alliance bought much of the marsh and some of the uplands on the south side to protect these important habitats.

I have been visiting this place for at least fifteen years and I never tire of it. It’s hard to put my finger on one thing and say ‘this is why I like it’. Maybe it’s the historic nature of the place, the slower pace, the lack of development. Or maybe it’s the loons. Common Loons nest on Lost Lake and few other lakes in Washington – mostly in Ferry County to the east. I will have another post just about the loons at Lost Lake.

Ken caught lots of brook trout while we were there and we did not go hungry. We even had fish to share with others and we had one dinner party at our campsite and another with our neighbors! I enjoyed early morning paddles on the lake watching the loons and other birds and frogs and turtles too.

Ken and I and the dogs were camping last week. It was good to get away from computers and electronic communication and enjoy time spent in nature. We kayaked, Ken fished, the dogs swam and jumped in lakes and we hiked and looked at wildflowers and birds. We enjoyed food cooked in the campfire, drank good wine and had a fine time!

Chopaka Lake is nearly to Canada in Okanogan County and sits at about 3000′ elevation. The landscape around it varies from riparian to shrub-steppe to forest and 7000′ Chopaka Mountain rises steeply behind it. The road to Chopaka is relatively steep and it seems daunting to some folks but we had no trouble pulling our little camping trailer up the grade. There are two small adjacent campgrounds – one run by the state DNR and the other by the federal BLM; both free. We were surprised and dismayed on Sunday afternoon to find every site full and we lucked out when two fellows left a site right on the lake! We laid claim to it immediately.

Chopaka is fly fishing only with a limit of one fish per day and it could easily have been a setting for a Cabela’s catalog photo shoot! Anglers had all the cool gear and clothes for the occasion. We probably stood out in the crowd (such as it was) with our own renditions of outdoor stuff. There was a great selection of boats also – some handmade. The dogs were delighted to have a lake in our front yard. Despite the campgrounds being full, it was a very quiet place. Folks were resptful of others and friendly too.

And that’s just the first two days of our camping trip!

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