Bluebird Basin is located in Kootenai National Forest’s Ten Lakes Scenic Area, a 15,000-acre swath of backcountry along the northern perimeter of the Whitefish Range. Bounded by the Canadian border, the area is named for the many alpine lakes scattered throughout the wilderness.
Within Ten Lakes, the Bluebird and Wolverine Lake Loop is a roughly 10-mile loop trail that can be hiked clockwise, starting to the southwest on the Bluebird Basin Trail (#83 > #339 > #84 > #82), or counterclockwise by heading northeast on the Clarence Ness Trail (#82 > #84 > #339 > #83). We opted to hike counterclockwise, beginning on the thickly forested Clarence Ness Trail. Our intention was to save the more scenic sections of trail – including a high ridge around Green Mountain and several lakes – for later in the day, allowing the sun to crest the mountains and illuminate the landscape.
The trailhead for Bluebird Basin is easy to find, about 1.5 hours north of Olney off Highway 93. From 93, it’s about 29 miles to the trailhead via Grave Creek Road, NF-114, and NF-319. When we first saw we’d be on minor dirt roads for nearly 30 miles, we were worried it would be a painfully long ride over the usual rutted-out washboards. However, the roads were in surprisingly good condition.
Navigation tip: We used Little Therriault Lake Campground as our destination on Google Maps. The trailhead is less than half a mile from here, where the road dead ends.
Route overview (counterclockwise loop):
Take Clarence Ness Trail #82 (to the right of the large trailhead sign) for 2.8 miles until you reach the junction with National Forest road 7086. Cross the road and continue straight on Wolverine Lakes Trail #84 to Wolverine Cabin (2.4 miles). Here, you’ll find a well-labeled junction of trails. Continuing on #84 to the right (west of the cabin) leads to one of the largest of the Wolverine Lakes (this is a short out-and-back spur). To continue on the loop trail from the cabin, follow signs pointing south for the Highline Trail (#339) and Bluebird Lake. The trail continues roughly south and west for ~3 miles along a ridge just east of Green Mountain. After the 3 miles, a sign marks an optional short spur to the right (west) to Bluebird Lake. From this junction, continue left to Bluebird Basin Trail #83. From here, it’s a short, 2-mile return to the trailhead, passing along the western shore of Paradise Lake.
Note: The trail is unambiguous and well-signed at all junctions and route number changes.
As anticipated, the first half of the hike was significantly less scenic than the latter portion – with the first 5.2 miles entirely shrouded by forest until eventually opening up at Wolverine Cabin. Beginning on Clarence Ness Trail #82, the trail descends some 550 feet in the first 1.5 miles. There were a couple of creek crossings, but luckily (unlike our experience with Stanton Creek) we found some fallen logs just upstream of the trail and were able to teeter our way across, avoiding soaking wet boots.
After crossing one of the minor National Forest roads, the trail turned into the #84 route to Wolverine Lakes. From here, it was a gradual uphill climb to the cabin, gaining ~1,200 feet over 2.4 miles. The Wolverine Cabin is a small, log bunkhouse that was formerly used as a border patrolman’s cabin, and is currently maintained by a small group of volunteers. Beside the cabin sit the Wolverine Lakes – a series of small, turquoise pools that make a great lunch spot. We knew the trail was lightly trafficked, but were surprised to find not one person enjoying the scenic expanse around the lakes.
From the Wolverine Lakes, the trail turns to the south, following the #339 Highline Trail along a ridge just east of Green Mountain. The trail once again ascends quite gently here, climbing just 500 feet over the 1.2 miles to the top of the ridge. Along the ridge, alpine meadows are speckled with colorful wildflowers as views open unexpectedly to the east, giving way to expansive vistas of the rolling summits of the Whitefish Range.
Almost as quickly as the trail crests the ridge, it begins descending via a series of switchbacks. Dropping back into the forest, the trail continues for another 1.5 miles until splitting at a junction with a short spur trail to the west to Bluebird Lake. We followed the sign for the lake and, surprisingly, reached the aquamarine tarn after only a tenth of a mile. While the lake was fairly small, the backdrop of a sheer rock wall tumbling to its surface added a bit of drama to the quiet landscape. From here, it was a short two-mile return to the trailhead via a gentle descent that skirted the shores of Paradise Lake.
Overall, we really liked the trail. We never saw another soul until we stopped at Bluebird Lake, and even then, it was only two other pairs of hikers. While the first half of the hike was entirely in the forest and without much scenery, it was such a peaceful route. And while it may not have boasted the most jaw-dropping views, Bluebird Basin did have a more modest beauty in its own right.
Note: If you enjoy visiting microbreweries, H.A. Brewing Co. is right on Grave Creek Road, about 2.5 miles from Highway 93. It’s the perfect stop after a day of hiking.
Total distance: 10.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2,190 feet