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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
A rather pretty hike along Upper Priest Lake’s eastern shore, this trail is dotted with sandy beaches, great views of Priest Lake and a bit of history as well in the form of an old log cabin and a short mine shaft. It’s well worth an overnight stay at either Geisinger or Trapper Creek, both featuring pit toilets and bear-proof containers. The trail is part of the Idaho State Centennial Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail.
This loop combines two of the most popular lake hikes in the American Selkirks, Harrison Lake and Beehive Lakes, via a phenomenal off-trail ridge hike above Little Harrison Lake. Expect some of the best hiking in this region, spectacular views from the top of the world, and picture-perfect alpine lakes, but be prepared to test your route and trail finding skills in rough terrain.
Ancient Lakes is a cluster of at least 5 lakes, maybe more, depending on the season, huddling beneath sheer basalt cliffs at the end of a coulee near the Columbia River. A network of trails loops around the basin, climbs the basalt cliffs, and reaches down into the Columbia River.
A string of tree-lined alpine lakes cuddled below steep granite cliffs near the highest peaks of the Selkirk Crest; what’s not to like about that? This route visits three of the lakes, each one offering opportunities for camping and swimming, and with only 1000 feet of elevation gain the trail is ideal for a family trek.
A favorite among visitors to the American Selkirks, the Big Fisher Trail serves up two crystal-clear ice-cold alpine lakes, enormous granite outcroppings and boulders, and wildflower-strewn grassy meadows straddling Fisher Ridge. If you’re lucky you may even see one of the rare species that found a last refuge in this corner of Idaho, including grizzlies, woodland caribou, and wolverines.
Whether it’s lush creek bottoms smothered in devil’s club and ferns or sweeping views from high ridgetops, the Long Canyon – Parker Ridge loop promises to satisfy every hiker. Long Mountain Lake, cuddled in a picturesque granite cirque near the highest peaks of the American Selkirks, is merely the icing on the cake, as are the centuries-old cedar and hemlock trees in the only two unlogged drainages in the American Selkirks.
Two gorgeous alpine lakes and a bare-granite peak, it can’t get much better than that! A gently-ascending trail leads to Snow Lake, a cirque just north of the more popular Roman Nose basin. From there, a cross-country scramble leads steeply uphill through huckleberries to a ridge connecting to Bottleneck Peak and its sweeping views of the American Selkirks. The descent via Bottleneck Lake requires a bit of non-technical climbing and the thick shrubbery ringing the lakes might be something to remember for a while.
The Two Mouth trail climbs the side of a mountain and skirts the Slide Creek basin to a massive ridge overlooking the Two Mouth Creek headwaters. Crossing the ridge, you’ll find two breathtaking alpine lakes, one ringed with wildflowers, the other with smooth granite slabs that appear to be sliding right into the lake. Bring your camera and your swimsuit!
The St. Regis Lakes are Montana’s twins of Idaho’s Stevens Lakes, nestled close together just across the stateline. This trail conveniently starts out near the Lookout Recreation Area and visits both lakes, then climbs an avalanche chute to the stateline and its sweeping views. It follows the stateline eastwards, up an unnamed knob and steeply downhill into the Copper Lake basin. An easy hike along Copper Gulch and the Nor-Pac trail completes the loop.
Located in the northwestern-most corner of North Idaho, the West Fork Mountain trail jumps from one lookout tower site to another, visits a string of picturesque mountain lakes, and plunges through old-growth forest and huckleberry-studded hillsides. If you’re lucky you get to spend a night at the magical West Fork Cabin, originally built in the 1930s to house smokechasers, but burnt down in 1998. It was rebuilt true to its original and is available on a first-come-first-served basis. Take good care of it!
Perhaps annexed by Canada, Triangulation Smith is the last and lowest “peak” of the Smith ridge. A pack trail, dating back to the days when Triangulation Smith featured a fire lookout tower, meanders along the ridge, plows through extensive patches of rhododendron and beargrass and skirts a cliff overlooking Canyon Lake.
Located in the heart of the Selkirk Crest, Myrtle Peak towers over Myrtle Lake, a pleasant alpine lake stocked with cutthroat trout. The mountaintop, once home to a fire lookout tower, serves up commanding views across the mountain range, including Kent and Harrison lakes to the south.
Much of the Blossom Lakes loop is in fact part of the Idaho State Centennial trail, a footpath stretching from Canada all the way to Nevada. Besides being rich in lakes and scenery, the area is also rich in history, as Thompson Pass served as the gateway from the railroad station in Thompson Falls to then-thriving Gold Rush town Murray. Today’s Murray is little more than a ghost town, hidden behind enormous dredge tailing piles lining Prichard Creek.
Located in the heart of North Idaho’s Gold Rush country, Revett Lake is a popular weekend destination for campers and anglers. The shortest route is only about 3 miles roundtrip, traversing extensive talus slopes and crossing a frolicking small creek, shaded on and off by the typical coniferous canopy.
This loop visits three picturesque mountain lakes in this northeastern corner of Idaho. It includes the “Moose Loop”, which veers off to the south for a stop at Blacktail Lake, the smallest of the three, then ascends Moose Mountain, 6,500 ft, with commanding views across the cabinets. The trail then drops down the eastern slopes towards sprawling and marshy Moose Lake. From Moose Lake it’s a just 3-mile sidetrip to the Lake Estelle cirque.
Lake Estelle and Gem Lake are only a bit over a mile apart, but lack a connecting trail. Both lakes are at an altitude just under 5,800 feet, divided by a saddle at 6,400 feet. From the Estelle side, this route ascends an expansive talus slope, then steeply climbs a grassy, open hillside inhabited by ground squirrels. The Gem Lake side is heavily overgrown but less steep, with the top half comparatively easy and the bottom half a much more tedious bushwhack.
Trail #64 is a short hike mostly downhill through a mixed coniferous forest to a gravel-and-sand beach on Lake Pend Oreille. The trail is well-shaded yet still provides ample unobstructed views across the lake towards the Monarch ridge and north towards Maiden Rock and the distant Cabinets. The beach is the perfect spot for a quick swim, with Lake Pend Oreille cold even on a hot day, or an overnight camp stay.
The Chipmunk Rapids National Recreation Trail’s gentle grade makes for an ideal cross-country skiing loop during the winter months. It is inviting for a hike even in summer, particularly the sections along Kaniksu Marsh and the Priest River. To top it off, we added a short bushwhacking excursion to Mission Falls on the Upper West Branch of the Priest River.
Bead Lake is a hidden marvel, stashed away in this northeast corner of Washington state. Trail 127 traces the eastern shore of the lake beneath a cooling canopy of cedars and pines to West Lodge Creek, then presents the option to hop onto trail 127.1, a spur trail leading to a secluded bay perfect for a cooling dip. For the most part, the hillside drops steeply into the lake, but a number of flat places are available for camping, making this ideal for a family backpacking trip.
The Slavin Conservation Area covers 628 acres of Ponderosa forest, rolling meadows, marshes and a lengthy pond much treasured by waterfowl. The site of the pond and wetlands was in fact farmland for most of the past century, drained by early settlers (you won’t find the pond on the older USGS maps), and now restored to provide wildlife habitat. The trail circumnavigates most of the lake, but skips the last quarter due to heavy flooding. Instead, it loops back through fir and pine forest in a figure-eight loop and climbs the bluffs along the eastern shore for a bird’s eye view of the area.
Heyburn State Park on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s southern tip has a lot to offer, be it hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, camping, you name it! It’s the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest, carved out of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in 1908. The figure-eight loop hike combines a number of popular trails in the northern section, including Lakeshore, Plummer Creek, Indian Cliffs, Shoeffler Butte, Whitetail, and a piece of the Appaloosa equestrian trail.
The Kingfisher Trail hugs the southeastern shore of Lake Lowell in Idaho’s Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge for about three miles, then adds another mile alongside the New York Canal. The refuge, created more than 100 years ago, includes over 10,000 acres and provides crucial habitat for wildlife, especially birds. We saw lots of mallards and geese and a little bunny.
The Deer Flat Reservoir near Boise (aka Lake Lowell) was built from 1906 to 1909 to irrigate the surrounding countryside. Lacking any local water sources, it is fed by the 40-mile New York canal (so-named because New York investors financed it), which draws water from the Boise River. The trail leads to an observation hill above the lake with good views across the reservoir, and then crosses the dam to Lake Lowell Park.
Green Bay is a minute campground on a picture-book pebble beach, clinging to the northern-most edge of the Kaniksu National Forest on Lake Pend Oreille’s west side. It is the perfect starting point for a vista-filled hike along the bluffs overlooking Lake Pend Oreille and a visit to two charming lakes hidden in the woods.
This figure-eight loop hike along Hog Lake and Fishtrap Lake explores the activities of the settlers in this area, the Hog Creek waterfall and numerous ponds and wetlands teeming with birds and aquatic life.
Named after French-Canadian voyageur and ferry operator Antoine Plante, the Antoine Peak Conservation Area was established in 2007 and covers more than 1,000 acres. The loop trail ascends the almost 3,400-foot peak, offering sweeping views across the Spokane valley, Liberty Lake, and the distant Selkirk and Coeur d’Alene Mountains.
Established in 1937, the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a 17,000-acre sanctuary for migratory birds, located south of Cheney, WA. The loop hike stretches across the southern half of the public section, an area of scattered lakes, seasonal wetlands, open grasslands, and Ponderosa forests.
Cougar Bay is a conservation effort, with the Nature Conservancy and the BLM contributing two almost-adjacent parcels of land. The area is particularly well-known for a large variety of waterfowl, nesting ospreys, beaver, and otters. The trail winds 3+ miles along a wetland and through forest to a lookout platform with views of Coeur d’Alene, the lake, and the Spokane river.
Lake Darling is one of five lakes situated in this northwest corner of the Cabinet Mountains. A pleasant trail leads through an evergreen forest of fir and spruce to the lake, which comes with a pretty campsite and a good chance of seeing a moose. The ascent to the Pend Oreille Divide opens up views of the Selkirks, Cabinets and Purcells, while the return trip through alpine meadows high above Gordon Creek rounds out the loop.
Farragut State Park sits at the southern tip of Lake Pend Oreille on the the site of a former naval training station. During World War II more than 293,000 soldiers received basic training here, and at its peak the base had a population of 55,000 people. After the war, the site served second duty as a college, which eventually floundered. The land was turned over to the state of Idaho in 1949 and became a state park in 1965. Few of the original structures remain; what does remain, however, is miles and miles of superb hiking trails.
Round Lake is a small state park about 10 miles south of Sandpoint. It features 3 hiking trails of which the Trapper trail is by far the most picturesque, as it closely skirts the lake’s shore. Along the trail are frequent signs of beaver activity, including felled trees, lodges, and dams. There’s a good chance other wildlife, such as squirrels, turtles, deer, and many kinds of water fowl can be spotted, too.
Of the many ways to ascend Canfield Mountain, the north side is by far the nicest. Most of the trail is closed to motorized traffic, the ascent is gradual via liberal use of switchbacks, and the route allows for views of Tottens Pond, Hayden Lake and Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Gem Lake fully lives up to its name, cradled in a bowl opposite the Pend Oreille Divide of the Cabinet Mountains northeast of Sandpoint. Though the hike is short, the elevation gain is substantial, and most of that is up in a straight line with few alleviating switchbacks.
Named after Isaac Stevens, first governor of the Washington Territory in the mid-1800s, Stevens Peak is the tallest mountain in this area of pristine alpine lakes, jagged crags, and stunning waterfalls. Stevens Lake and Lone Lake are exceedingly popular weekend destinations for hikers and campers, not least due to their close proximity to Mullan and I-90.
Azure-blue skies. Emerald-green slopes. Towering pines. Fields of bracken fern. Lazily meandering rivers. Lush moss-covered tributaries. Steep talus slopes. Picturesque alpine lakes. Tumbling rapids and waterfalls. Lichen-covered logs. Endless stretches of huckleberries and beargrass. No wonder the St. Joe was designated a Wild & Scenic River.
The Blue Creek Bay trail combines an extensive network of former logging roads into a roughly six-mile lollipop loop. The trail is well-maintained, easy to hike, and mostly double-track. The forest is more open and interspersed with meadows than most in the inland northwest, making this more suitable for cooler weather than the very shaded Mineral Ridge trail across Lake Coeur d’Alene.
A 2-mile loop hike right in downtown Coeur d’Alene
A 44-mile figure-eight loop along Lost Creek to the Idaho-Montana state line, including the Trout Creek National Recreational trail on the Montana side.