Gem Lake

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.
  • Cabinet Mountains
3.9 out of 5
More Difficult (steeply uphill)
3.2 miles
1:23 hours moving time (Hiking)
Elevation Gain
1,149 feet
High Point
5,790 feet (Gem Lake)
Low Point
4,536 feet (Trailhead)
  • Lake
  • Outing Type
  • Daytrip
  • Trail Type
  • Out-and-back
  • Trailbed
    Packed dirt
  • Several brooks and the lake
  • Camping
    • Campsites at the lake
    • The trail was in great shape
  • Kaniksu National Forest
  • Status
  • Unprotected
  • Maps
  • Mount Pend Oreille
  • Fees & Permits
  • None required
  • (None required)
    Open To
  • Hikers
  • Dogs
  • Horses
  • Mountain Bikers
  • ()
  • From Sandpoint take highway 200 east 12 miles to Trestle Creek Road 275 (around milepost 42); turn left onto FR 275 (this is a well-maintained gravel road) and go 16 miles to Lightning Creek Road 419; turn left onto FR 419 (bumpy dirt road) and go approximately 1 mile to the trailhead located shortly after the bridge (go straight at the U-bend; it is well signed).
  • Season
      November 12, 2016

      Gem Lake trail 554 starts out treacherously easily, meandering at the slightest of inclines beneath a thick canopy of fir. About half a mile into the hike the gloves come off halfway, as the trail tackles the steep mountain flank with the help of a few switchbacks. Then the gloves come off completely, and the trail heads straight up. A short reprieve follows around the one-mile mark, when the trail reroutes to the right at a relatively modest incline. Then it shifts eastwards and upwards, passing a small pond to the right, and climbs steeply towards the lip of the lake.

      The hike offers filtered views of the Pend Oreille Divide (the opposite range) throughout, including Mount Pend Oreille and the lookout tower on Lunch Peak. Once at the lake, the peaks and saddles surrounding it come into full view.

      Alternate Routes

        Things to Consider

          Not so great

            Crossing a creek in the lower third of the hike (this is not Gem Creek, though; this trail never intersects Gem Creek)
            Frequent crossings of small brooks (likely seasonal)
            The trail is well-maintained
            View of the Pend Oreille Divide in the background
            We ran into snow at around 5600 feet.
            Up, up, up!
            A lower lake (pond, really) just beneath the brim of Gem Lake
            View of inlet of Gem Lake
            View of outlet of Gem Lake
            Gem Lake
            The snow was a foot deep at Gem Lake
            View of Mount Pend Oreille in dying light