Engle Peak

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.
  • Cabinet Mountains
4.1 out of 5
More Difficult (steep)
13.4 miles
5:37 hours moving time (Hiking)
Elevation Gain
5,366 feet
High Point
7,563 feet (Engle Peak)
Low Point
2,738 feet (trailhead)
  • Lake
  • Mountain
  • Outing Type
  • Daytrip
  • Trail Type
  • Out-and-back
  • Trailbed
    Packed dirt, talus
    926, 932
  • Engle Lake aside, this is fairly dry. There is a creek near the trailhead and about a mile or so in the trail crosses that creek
  • Camping
    • There are several sites at the lake
    • Good, particularly the stretch along the ridge above Engle Lake that gets more foot traffic than #926
  • Kootenai National Forest
  • Status
  • Wilderness Area
  • Maps
  • Noxon Rapids Dam
  • Howard Lake
  • Elephant Peak
  • Fees & Permits
  • None required
  • ()
    Open To
  • Hikers
  • Dogs
  • Horses
  • ()
  • From Noxon, head south on MT-200 for three miles, the turn left onto McKay Creek Road. Follow that for 2.5 miles. It is a gravel/dirt road. There is parking for 3-4 cars in a bay by the road. If you end up at the Wanless Lake trailhead you’ve gone too far.
  • Season
    June to October. All that ascent would be killer in showshoes…
    September 15, 2019

    Trail #926 immediately starts out as a singletrack that enters the woods and keeps on climbing. The trail sign-in booth is about a hundred yards uphill. The trail, making use of old skid roads, continues to climb and is in surprisingly good condition, given that it is little used. It remains fairly wooded all around, with only occasional hillside views. Constantly climbing, the trail crosses a forest road twice (FR-2287).

    About 1.5 miles in, the trail crosses a small creek, the last source of water ahead of Engle Lake. The trail then starts to switchback seriously, while still heavily wooded. It is now a proper singletrack and occasionally grows faint in places, particularly switchback turns. Watch out for arrows carved into logs. About 4 miles in, the forest retreats a bit, disturbed by many rockslides. It heads west when it feels like you should be going east, and meets up with the second Engle Lake trail (#932) on the ridge about a half mile later. The trail then follows the ridge, enabling truly spectacular views into the Engle Lake basin and the Idaho mountains. Hiking is now much easier, with the slope still rising, but at a much lesser incline. In fact, at some point the trail actually drops down the western side, before traversing a huge talus slope and climbing back up to the ridge (we bushwhacked from this spot to trail #926 on the way back to avoid the detour to the ridge. The forest is quite open due to the talus).

    At the 5-mile marker the trail splits, with the left-hand side dropping down 500 vertical feet to Engle Lake, while the right fork climbs another 1000 feet on a talus-littered hillside to windswept Engle Peak. The views there are absolutely breathtaking, be it into the Coeur d’Alene Mountains across the Clark Fork Valley or the heart of the Cabinets with Rock Lake and Ojibway Peak prominently visible. Wanless lake is hiding behind a ridge, but beyond it lies Casey Peak and the easily identifiable notch that is Lost Buck Pass.

    The only part of this hike that is within the Wilderness boundaries is actually the descent to Engle Lake. It’s about three-quarters of a mile. The lake simply begs for camping, which we weren’t doing, but while we whiled away the afternoon on a convenient rock slab, hikers arrived and set up camp on the other side of the lake. The lake does get a fair bit of traffic, and now you know why!

    Alternate Routes

    • Shorten this hike to about 6-7 miles roundtrip by driving up FR-2285 to the trailhead of #932. FR-2285 is accessed from Rock Creek Road (FR-150), which connects to MT-200 about 2 miles south of Noxon. This also cuts out much of the elevation gain, with a trailhead at about 5000 feet.
    • You could explore the other lakes. That’s a serious bushwhack

    Things to Consider

      Not so great

        Inconspicuous trailhead
        Most of the ascent is in the woods
        Looking back towards the Clark Fork valley
        We used one of these rockslides for a shortcut on the way back
        Fall is mushroom time!
        Naughty enjoying the view. Rock Peak, St. Paul Peak in the distance
        There are a half dozen lakes sprinkled along the Engle Lake basin
        View west into Idaho
        The ascent to Engle Lake is mostly talus
        Goat Ridge and the McKay Creek drainage
        A first glance at Engle Lake
        Ridge above Engle Lake. Noxon Reservoir in the distance
        An active burn (this one prescribed) on the Idaho side
        Engle Peak
        Carney Peak and Lost Buck Pass
        Goat Ridge
        Engle Lake from Engle Peak
        Rock Lake with Ojibway Peak looming above. Rock Peak to the left
        On approach to Engle Lake
        The area around the lake is recovering from a burn
        The first campsite on the lake
        Naughty cooling down in the lake
        View of the lake’s outlet
        Naughty looking at Engle Lake
        Engle Lake