Kettle Crest Country

Ride the Kettle Crest Trail in Colville National Forest, then relax in a comfortable horse camp, backcountry cabin, or luxurious guest ranch.
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Ride the Kettle Crest Trail in Colville National Forest, then relax in a comfortable horse camp, backcountry cabin, or luxurious guest ranch.

[PHOTOGALLERY uniquename="galleria-azur"]

Explore with us as we ride Kettle Crest Country, located in the Colville National Forest in north-central Washington State. 

Camp out, or rent a quaint, backcountry cabin and corral tucked away on a mountain ridge. For a dose of luxury, you can rest your weary bones at the K Diamond K Ranch.

Colville National Forest, which borders Canada, is home to 1.9 million acres of forest land and more than 430 miles of trails. One of these trails is the spectacular Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail, which runs along the north-south spine of the Kettle Range. 

Forty-two miles of rugged, high-country trails snake along the crest. Deer, moose, elk, bear, mountain goat, and mountain sheep inhabit the area.

Sherman Pass, just east of the town of Republic, provides the best access point to the Kettle Crest Trail. This pass is a designated scenic byway and the highest paved pass in Washington State.

If you like to camp out, pull your rig up to the Jungle Hill Horse Campground, located several miles east of Sherman Pass, a half-mile north on Forest Rd. 2030. If this camp is full, there’s another horse camp 2.75 miles up the road. 

Jungle Hill features picnic tables, fire rings, and tie poles. Water for horses is located down a steep trail in a nearby stream, so it’s best to bring your own. 

Riding the Crest

From camp, we rode our Missouri Fox Trotters, Cowboy and Nate, on a stunning 14.4-mile loop to the high country and back. 

We began our ride by crossing the creek on the south side of camp. Then we followed the Jungle Hill Trail, Trail #16, for 3.7 miles to reach the Kettle Crest Trail.

Before you tackle this ride, make sure you and your horse are in excellent shape. This first section of trail has a 2,100-foot elevation gain and numerous switchbacks. 

The trail works its way through moss- and lichen-festooned trees and has limited views until it nears the top of the ridge. Finally, the trail emerges onto an open meadow with gorgeous views to the south, east, and north. Among the green grass, wildflowers exploded like fireworks. 

This is a good place to stop and give your horses a breather.

At the top, the trail merges with the Kettle Crest Trail, Trail #13. Just beyond and to the left of where these trails merge is one of the few reliable sources of horse water on the loop. 

We continued riding south on the Kettle Crest Trail. This involved riding down a series of switchbacks to a saddle where another trail came in. We turned left and continued to ride down switchbacks, through dense timber, before reaching the flank of Jungle Hill.

While working up the hill, a short-lived, powerful burst of wind hit us, pummeling trees and breaking limbs that crashed to the ground. After a momentary startle, Cowboy and Nate regained their composure and soldiered on.

Much of this trail portion is heavily blanketed with pine trees. However, once you round Jungle Hill, there are expansive views to the west. 

Be aware that cattle frequent this area, and sections of the trail have steep side hills. This isn’t a safe place for horses that are startled by cattle crashing around the brush.

Soon, we started working our way down switchbacks toward Sherman Pass. After arriving at the pass, you’ll have ridden 10.3 miles. Turn left at the road, and ride a short distance to hitching rails, picnic tables, and restrooms.

After a brief break, we left the pass and followed the trail 4.1 more miles down hill to our starting point. 

Charlene had a great time riding Nate through huckleberry patches. While Nate stood still, she’d lean over and scoop up purple handfuls of berries. Cowboy and I looked on with envy. It’s a bit more difficult to berry pick on a 16.1-hand horse!

Snow Peak Cabin

For an expansive high-country ride, we rode to one of our favorite places, Snow Peak Cabin, a cozy, picturesque little cabin that beckons for memories to be made.

We began our ride by parking at the Sherman Pass trailhead. Camping here with horses is permitted, but you’ll need to supply your own horse containment and water. 

From the parking lot, we rode a short way to an intersection, turned right, then crossed the highway. To begin the 4.7 mile ride to Snow Peak cabin, we headed south on the Kettle Crest Trail. 

The trail works its way up through an evergreen forest and gains 900 feet of elevation. Eventually, the trail nears an area that burned in 1988. Across the scarred distance, Sherman Peak stretches skyward nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, the highest peak on the crest.��

After meandering around Sherman Peak, we arrived at an intersection. On the return trip, you may take this route for a complete circuit around the peak. We turned left for a drop-dead gorgeous, panoramic view ride to Snow Peak Cabin.

You may rent this cabin for overnight stays. On an earlier visit, we rented the cabin and packed in on horseback with friends, Angie and Joyce Bissell. There are two corrals near the cabin, horse water close by, and a hillside full of forage.

The cabin has basic items: pots; pans; dishes; and propane for the stove. You’ll need to bring your own food, personal items, and bedding. Be prepared to pack out your garbage.

We spent two nights with Angie and Joyce at the cabin, enjoying the sublime sunsets and sunrises and a day ride on the south Kettle Crest Trail. Our wonderful high-country weekend made lifelong memories.

Guest-Ranch Getaway

If you’d like to become a temporary member of a happy, caring, ranching family, the K Diamond K Guest Ranch is the place to be. The 1,600-acre ranch is located on the western border of Kettle Crest Country, just south of Republic, Washington. 

Stephen Konz and his wife June, a veterinarian, bought the ranch in 1961. They wanted to raise cattle, have a place for June’s veterinary practice, and provide a healthy home for their five children.

As their children grew up, their friends swarmed the ranch. This was the place to be! It was fun to herd cattle, fix fences, bale hay, ride horses, split wood, and check out the ranch’s menagerie. 

In 1994, the family decided to dip their toes into the guest-ranch business. The kids moved into the barn loft, freeing their bedrooms for guests. Folks came, enjoyed themselves, and returned for more fun times. 

At age 75, Stephen, with input from his family, designed and began to build what is today the main guest lodge. 

This majestic log structure envelopes you in magic. Intertwined among the logs, stone fireplaces, and big windows, are family pictures, expansive Western landscapes, comfortable, overstuffed chairs and sofas, and the occasional family pet. 

This ranch isn’t an artificial “showy” place; rather, this is a launching pad for adventures. It’s a safe world where you can let your guard down and be very, very comfortable.

Some of the 13 guest rooms are downstairs; the rest are upstairs. Each room is slightly different — many have decks. A gift shop and small saloon operate on the honor system. Mouth-watering meals are served buffet style in the lodge’s dining room. 

Daughter Kathy McKay and her husband, Brian, are now owner-operators of the K Diamond K Guest Ranch. Brian is a behind-the-scenes man, in charge of ranch maintenance and haying.

Kathy is a vibrant, joyful cowgirl who greets everyone like a long-awaited friend and welcomes them to the family. This sparkling, happy woman sweeps guests up into ranch life, making each and every guest feel special and valued.

Within the first hour of our arrival, we found ourselves bouncing along with Kathy in an all-terrain vehicle to milk Lily, the family cow. We stopped at a pasture that had about a dozen Texas Longhorn cattle. Kathy jumped out of the ATV and called for Lily.

Soon, a small, brown cow emerged, ambled over to Kathy, and stopped. Kathy gave us all milking lessons and an ample opportunity to practice, then skillfully finished the job. 

Before we left, Kathy did something that illustrates her loving nature: She massaged the gentle cow’s back and neck in a silent show of appreciation. 

During the coming days, we noticed that Kathy treated all people and all animals with the same unfailing care and respect.

Ranch employees came from the United States and abroad: France; Wales; Poland; and Sweden. This is one of the few ranches in the Dude Ranchers’ Association that advertises jobs to young people outside the United States. 

These young people were delightful! They were interesting, hard-working, unspoiled, and considerate of guests. During meals, we had lively discussions about what daily life was like in their respective countries. 

Ranch Trails

You’re welcome to bring your own horse to the ranch. Our horses enjoyed a roomy outdoor round pen where they could watch all the action. 

There’s lots of riding in the area. Kathy McKay is happy to give you information on where to ride, either from the ranch or a short trailer distance away.

We first went with Kathy and a few guests on an easy six-mile loop ride that began across the highway from the ranch. 

We crisscrossed fields, passed cattle and two alpacas, then wandered through a forest.

The trails were all good, although a little rocky in some places. After climbing a big hill, we all took photos of a pretty pond with an inviting picnic table perched nearby. (It was drizzling, so we didn’t picnic by the pond, which guests normally do.)

The next day, we did another loop ride, this time above the ranch. We rode on a combination of trails and old logging roads, through pine trees, except for when we came to a summit or clearing.

That night, a big llama plopped down beside the horses’ hay and claimed it for his own. In the morning, when Kent tried to take the hay over to the horses, the llama’s jaws began working furiously — then phssst! A big wad of llama goo splattered Kent’s hat, face, and shoulder. 

Kent quickly recovered, and we enjoyed a relaxing day at the ranch.

At lunch, we noticed a man who looked like he’d been working very hard around the ranch. David Schwartz was a city guest, thrilled “to be trusted to do real ranch work.” 

David enjoyed working with his two sons in a natural setting, teaching them the value of physical labor and experiencing that tired feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day.

Other guests simply enjoy the tranquility of sipping wine and watching others engage in the seasonal ranch activities. 

Of all of the wonderful things that have been said about the K Diamond K, one guest said it best: “It brands your soul!” 

 Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They’ve sold photographs to magazines, books, calendars, postcards, and video producers for more than 20 years. (For a sampling, visit www.superstock.com, and type “supplier:1314” in the search box.) They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada. Reach them at kentandcharlene@gmail.com.