Gonzaga students are lucky to live in a beautiful place with endless outdoor activities, and one great way to experience the Inland Northwest is to go backpacking. Fortunately, students do not need to travel far to go on a great trip, and if they need gear or advice, GU has ample resources for them.
Gonzaga Outdoors, located in the basement of the John J. Hemmingson Center, is the destination for students looking to try backpacking near Spokane. Many students are familiar with the guided trips provided by the program, but GU Outdoors can also rent out gear for students’ own trips. The trip leaders and program directors in the office are also able to give advice and answer questions.
"We take students different places in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon," said Kate Lammons, a GU Outdoors trip leader. "We provide backpacking trips, but we can also rent out gear for pretty affordable prices and give lots of advice on where to go and what to do if [students] want to do their own trip.”
Fortunately for GU students, there are many trails near Spokane that are great for backpacking. Beehive Lakes is a popular destination, located near Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The trail is 3.6 miles each way and features a beautiful lake and many campsites at the top.
Lammons said her favorite backpacking spot is at Priest Lake in Idaho.
Lone Lake Trail near Mullan, Idaho, is a short and steep climb with a great reward, and it is only an hour-and-a-half drive from campus. It shares a trailhead with Stevens Lakes Trail, another great backpacking destination.
Across the border into Montana, there are many more trails, such as Hub and Hazel lakes, a trail that is just under 8 miles round trip and features two stunning lakes that both have numerous campsites.
“I really like Heart Lake,” said GU Outdoors Assistant Program Director Dave Gilbert. “It’s beautiful — sometimes there’s mountain goats. There are big cliffs; sometimes there’s still little pockets of snow. Heart Lake is awesome. That whole Idaho-Montana divide has great places to go.”
For students willing to drive a little further, the hike to Stanley Hot Springs in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho is popular. The hike is beautiful, but the real treat is the hot springs waiting for hikers at the end.
In addition to GU Outdoors, there are good resources for students to research backpacking trails online. The Washington Trails Association has a virtual hiking guide with 3,897 trails — it features detailed information about the trails as well as reviews on conditions from people who have recently visited. AllTrails is another popular option for finding a great hike and has a wealth of information from other hikers.
While backpacking might seem like an intimidating activity to try for the first time, GU students have so many resources available to them that it is easily achievable. With GU Outdoors gear rentals, there is no reason to spend a large amount of money on equipment. There are many knowledgeable and experienced people eager to help students plan their first trip to the backcountry.
Guided trips are also the perfect way to try this activity with no prior experience at all.
“People should go backpacking,” Gilbert said. “Day hikes are awesome and camping is awesome, but there is something about going to sleep and waking up having hiked into somewhere really special and remote. It’s a great experience."