Little Spar Lake

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!
  • Cabinet Mountains
3.4 out of 5
Moderate (uphill, fording)
7.4 miles
3:30 hours moving time (Hiking)
Elevation Gain
1,800 feet
High Point
5,263 feet (Little Spar Lake)
Low Point
3,430 feet (Trailhead)
  • Grove
  • Lake
  • Meadow
  • Outing Type
  • Daytrip
  • Trail Type
  • Out-and-back
  • Trailbed
    Packed dirt, loose rocks, rocky, forest road
  • Spar Creek
  • Little Spar Lake
  • Several seasonal tributaries to Spar Creek
  • Camping
    • Trailhead
    • Several spots at Little Spar Lake
    • Good, but brushy in the open spaces. The last bit is quite rocky
  • Kootenai National Forest
  • Status
  • Roadless Area
  • Maps
  • Sawtooth Mountain
  • Fees & Permits
  • None required
  • ()
    Open To
  • Hikers
  • Dogs
  • Horses
  • Mountain Bikers
  • ()
  • From MT-56, turn onto Troy Mine Road (westbound; aka Asarco Mine Road). It is located between milepost 24 and 25, a few miles north of Bull Lake. After about 3 miles, turn right onto FR-7148 (gravel) and follow that for 1.5 miles. It will merge with FR-384 (mostly blacktop); follow that for 4 miles to Spar Lake. At the campground take the dirt road to the right and continue for about a mile to the trailhead. Alternatively, you could park at the other end of Spar Lake and hike the Big Spar Lake trail to the trailhead of Little Spar Lake.
  • Season
    July – October
    July 18, 2020

    The trail starts out on an old logging road, which over time shrank back to a singletrack and makes for easy hiking. About a half mile in is the fork to Spar Peak, which switchbacks steeply uphill; stay on the road. Only slightly later is another fork, with the right (the old logging road) leading to a bridge across Spar Creek and nothing else. Instead, bear left on a proper singletrack that climbs modestly, with the trail almost hidden in flowers and grasses. Delphinium is particularly prolific.

    Roughly at the 1.5-mile mark the trail approaches Spar Creek and crosses it, which is the only dicey fording, particularly earlier in the year. A log helps with the endeavor, but it was quite slick from recent rains (but late in July it wouldn’t be hard to ford if it came to that). The trail then ascends above the creek and parallels it beneath a nice and shady canopy of giant hemlock and fir. Mountain goats frequent the sheer cliffs of Spar Peak and bears also call this area home, including grizzlies, but we saw neither bear nor goat.

    Once you are a bit over halfway up, the forest yields to alpine meadows and the trail re-approaches Spar Creek, which at this elevation is still graced with massive snow banks, even in July. The vista opens up fantastically, whether that’s uphill along tumbling Spar Creek framed with wildflowers, the massive granite flank of Spar Peak, or the distant mouth of Spar Creek and the Cabinet Mountains beyond. The trail is more overgrown here, too, and there are a few tributaries to cross, none of which will cause wet boots.

    For the last three-quarters of a mile, the trail’s grade steepens and it shares the bed, littered with large rocks, with a brook on and off. Before arriving at the lake, the trail flattens somewhat, then spreads to three or four campsites near the outlet of the lake. A faint angler trail extends along either shore of the lake for a bit, but is quickly lost. Near the lake’s outlet are several huge flat-topped boulders that invite for lingering and sunbathing, or, as was the case for us, drying off pants, socks, shoes, and hide that had gotten soaked in the dripping delphiniums on the way up.

    Alternate Routes

      Things to Consider

        Not so great

          The trail starts on an old forest road
          A fork in the road. Swing a left; to the right is the bridge to nowhere
          A bridge to nowhere
          The trail is quite brushy, and in our case wet from the previous day’s rain
          Delphinium is quite prolific
          There is one tricky creek crossing. The log was quite slick
          A moss-covered brook beneath giant hemlocks
          There are a few minor tributaries to cross
          Several large hemlock and spruce trees
          Looking up towards Little Spar Lake
          Looking back towards Big Spar Lake
          An elaborate campsite on Little Spar Lake
          Little Spar Lake
          Naughty doing what Naughty does when she meets a lake
          Little Spar Lake and the Vertigo Ridge headwall
          Little Spar Lake and the saddle leading to Horseshoe Pond
          Little Spar Lake. The fishing is good, I’m told
          Little Spar Lake from one of the campsites
          Little Spar Lake and the saddle to Horseshoe Pond
          Passage between two boulders
          Little Spar Lake from above