Combining one of the least-traveled routes in Montana’s Cabinet Wilderness with one of the most frequented, this loop visits four spectacular lakes up close. A short but steep off-trail climb to a larch-covered ridge secures a bird’s-eye view as well, in addition to a grand panorama of Treasure Mountain.
Fed by the Cabinets’ sole remaining glacier, Granite Lake is a truly grand destination. Though the glacier is not visible from the lake, its glacial waters, tumbling hundreds of feet down a vertical dark rock face of Snowshoe Peak, are a sight to behold. Most impressive, however, is the granite buttress of A peak, poking into a deep-blue sky like a giant stony fist!
The hike to Leigh Lake is short but steep and leads right into the heart of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness to a lake huddling beneath the near-vertical cliffs of Snowshoe Peak, the highest mountain in the Cabinets. The dramatic setting and the short hike ensure that you will have plenty of company: It’s the most popular hike in the Wilderness.
Ross Creek is famous for its ancient cedars and surely doesn’t disappoint. This route follows the cedars, then lifts off the river bottom and climbs through an old burn to a set of sparkling cascades carved into the South Fork Ross Creek.
Sheltered from fire and wind for hundreds of years, and save from loggers since 1960, Ross Creek Cedars showcases ancient western red cedar growing in a rainforest-like setting. A level path meanders for a mile among the giants. Many specimens exceed 10 feet in diameter and reach nearly 200 feet into the sky. Informative signs explain the ecology and history of the grove.
Flower Point is an old lookout tower site easily accessible via a singletrack from the Cabinet’s Flower Creek trailhead on the edge of the northeastern Cabinet Wilderness. The lake is an eye-pleasing but marshy affair where you likely might find moose and bugs. This being October, we found neither.
The Big Spar Lake trail refused to show its best side on this fall morning, being shrouded in fog most of the time. It would make for great summer hiking, though, as the path meanders through a pleasant cedar forest. Perhaps the best part is the old-growth cedar grove along Spar Creek.
Sweeping views, endless strings of alpine lakes and vast meadows are the hallmarks of the proposed Great Burn Wilderness. This loop explores an old mining settlement, visits many of the lakes, and climbs to the top of Schley Mountain for grandiose views into the canyons and ridges traversed earlier.
French Lake makes for an interesting side trip when hiking the North Fork of Fish Creek in Montana’s proposed Great Burn Wilderness. It starts about in the middle of that trail and climbs steadily over 3 miles to a bright-green lake with a magic little island. What more could you ask for?
One of many lakes that string along the Idaho/Montana stateline, Upper Siamese Lake is among only two that are trail-accessible between Goose Lake and Fish Lake. With water at a premium on the Stateline Trail, this presents a welcome opportunity to top off empty waterbottles and if you don’t mind mountain goats for company you could even stay the night.
This trail crosses numerous flower-studded subalpine meadows to a popular peak overshadowing Revett Lake and offering great views across or into the Coeur d’Alene, Cabinet, and Bitterroot Mountains. Plus, most of the elevation gain is done in the car. If you miss the summer wildflower display, as we did, console yourself with generous helpings of absolutely delicious huckleberries!
Beauty Bay Overlook is a quick leg stretcher with decent views across Beauty Bay. It is not nearly as dramatic, or popular, as nearby Mineral Ridge, but give it a try anyway: it’s only half a mile and features excellent picnic facilities.
What makes the Salmo-Priest loop so enticing is that it offers a bit of everything: Grand views all-around from Little Snowy Top, lush rainforest-like cedar-and-hemlock forest in the Salmo River basin, rare animals, including wolves, grizzlies, wolverines, and woodland caribou (of which we saw none), and a nice helping of huckleberries if you hit the right season.
The hike to Sunset Peak starts out quite benign in a clearcut, then heads through a forested area and finally breaks out onto vast wildflower-covered meadows near Pony Peak. Sunset Peak was once home to a lookout tower and still provides excellent views across the Coeur d’Alene Mountains.
American Falls, also known as Upper Priest River Falls, is clearly the attraction of this hike, but the way there is just as spectacular, leading through ancient rainforest-like giant-cedar and hemlock forest.
There are three prominent lakes in Switzerland’s canton of Zurich, of which the Pfaeffikersee is the smallest. Thus, the hike around the lake is relatively short, but the setting is rather pretty, despite the dense population of the area, as the lake is almost entirely surrounded by protected marshlands and reeds. For me, this was also a short stroll down memory lane, having grown up in Pfaeffikon.
If you like steep and brushy, then you’ll like Spar Peak. If you like grandiose views of the Cabinet Mountains, then you’ll love Spar Peak, but you may not like the process of getting there. In fact, the trail starts out superb and ends that way, but the piece in the middle is, well, a piece of work…
Little Spar Lake, the only trail-accessible lake in the proposed Scotchman Peak Wilderness, is a popular destination, sitting close to the Idaho/Montana state line. The hike is pleasant and view-laden, but you may want to avoid the heat of the afternoon sun when crossing the open meadows on approach to the lake. The lake itself is all you can hope for and surely won’t disappoint!
Any excursions you may attempt from Little Spar Lake are bound to be off-trail. This short hike is one option, climbing a saddle between Savage Mountain and Vertigo Ridge, then dropping down the other side through talus and patches of snow to an azure-blue horseshoe-shaped pond. Further exploration, such as Scotchman Peak #2, is a possibility.
Perhaps the Natural Rock Slide in Kent Creek was once a well-kept secret only known to locals. Unfortunately, the cat’s out of the bag and you will have plenty of company when exploring the falls. Make sure to venture beyond the immediate slide area for magnificent views of several tumbling waterfalls and a lovely catch basin.
The hike to Mollies Lake and Mollies Tip is a true gem. While short, it offers superb 360-degree views and a picturesque lake. If only it didn’t quite take so long to get to the trailhead…
The Marble Creek drainage has seen some serious logging activity in the past, but looking at a sheer endless sea of trees from the top of Grandmother Mountain, that is now difficult to imagine. Views aside, mid-summer wildflowers and August huckleberries are sure to make this one of your favorite hikes as well!
The Big Creek area makes for good early-summer hiking, with the main obstacles out of the way: No more snow, no swollen creeks, and no oppressive heat. Given the length and elevation gain, the summer solstice is the perfect day as long as the weather cooperates. Prepare to be dazzled by 360-degree views from Lemonade Peak, a plethora of wildflowers, and some impressive dam-engineering courtesy of Papa Beaver.
Bramlet Lake promises a nice, quick hike to a beautiful alpine lake lying just barely inside the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. Access is relatively easy, but visitors are few, making it that much more appealing. The only “population” we encountered was a couple of cougars.
Devil Peak makes for a nice hike earlier in the summer, when taller mountains are still packed with snow. The lookout tower that once stood at the peak no doubt offered breathtaking views. Unfortunately, it is gone and the peak is entirely hemmed in with tall fir trees. Redeeming qualities are the wildflowers in spring and huckleberries in fall!
Used mostly by hunters, trail #598 hugs East Fork Lost Creek closely for 3 miles and then commences a steep climb up to Bobtail Ridge. Don’t expect grand views, but a generous sprinkling of mushrooms and spring flowers along the way and the insistent curious buzz of a gorgeous red-throated hummingbird make up for a lot!
An easy hike through lush cedar forest to one of the prettiest lakes in North Idaho sums up the Upper Priest Lake trail. It’s a bit of drive to the trailhead, so consider combining the hike with other opportunities in this area, such as the American Falls trail.
With fabulous views deep into the Montana Cabinets, Engle Lake makes a grandiose destination at 7,500 feet. Add in a bit of camping at fantastic and pristine Engle Lake, and you have the makings for a perfect weekend, whether you like the long slug up from McKay Creek or prefer the drive to the 5000-foot Orr Creek trailhead.
Star Peak, formerly known as Squaw Peak, makes for great winter hiking due to easy access off MT-200. Be prepared for a fair bit of ascent, though, as the elevation gain amounts to 4000 feet. The views from the lookout, and those along the way, make it totally worth every effort. There is no water, so better plan for an early morning hike or hike in the cooler season. Naughty loved it!
Beacon Hills primarily serves as a recreational area for mountain bikers. You can explore on foot as well, but may get annoyed by the numerous, tightly-wound switchbacks on the hills. Other than that, it’s a nice hike through the woods, close to town, with interesting rock formations and frequent views of the city and distant hills.
Queen of the mountains, as she is known, Rigi has been an exceedingly popular tourist attraction for well over a hundreds years. A cog-wheel railway has been in operation since 1871, the oldest in Europe. Views of the surrounding lakes and alps are spectacular, whether you are already at the top or working your way up through farm-house studded meadows and shady woods.
The Mineral Ridge trail is one of our favorite hikes, but it’s rather short and we’ve always wondered whether it’s possible to extend it beyond the Wilson and Lost Man spurs. This tour explores the Coeur d’Alene National Forest out to Elk Mountain, a former lookout tower site destroyed in 1957.
Goat Mountain stands in the shadow of taller Scotchman Peak, but the views from the top are just as superb compared to its more well-hiked brother. The ascent is steep, though, gaining over 4,000 feet over 4 miles and you’ll likely have the peak to yourself. We sure did.