Leigh Lake Hike
The Leigh Lake Hike is a dynamic and demanding day-hike in the Kootenai National Forest. What this spectacular adventure lacks in distance, it makes up for in elevation gain, so expect to break a sweat. Although the climb is relentless, the sweeping mountain views from the shoreline of the crystalline alpine lake are well worth the effort.
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Route Description for Leigh Lake Hike
Discover a little slice of heaven via the Leigh Lake Trail. This arduous ascent reveals a stunning glacial lake framed by the towering ridges of Snowshoe Peak, the tallest summit in the Cabinet Mountains. This trek is reserved for experienced hikers as it progresses steeply through forests and up scree to the lakeshore. As much of the terrain is rocky and uneven, a sturdy pair of footwear is a necessity. It is also worth mentioning that the trail becomes quite slippery after rainfall, so exercise careful footing when applicable. Lastly, we also encourage hikers to carry a can of bear spray as this route explores bear country. Don’t forget to download the trail GPS before departure; the trail can be difficult to navigate.
While challenging, the wild character of the preserved wilderness is worth exploring. Discover a hidden paradise high in the alpine on the Leigh Lake Hike and indulge in the unparalleled alpine scenery. Obviously, the crystalline alpine lake hemmed by the steep ridges of the Cabinet Mountains is the piece de resistance, but the climb up is arguably one of the best parts. The Leigh Lake Trail progresses through a mixed forest of mountain maple, mountain ash, alders, and larch, through montane meadows, and past the beautiful Leigh Creek Waterfall. Let us not forget to mention the abundance of wildlife in the area, which includes mountain goats, mountain sheep, deer, elk, bears, wolverine, and eagles—so it is wise to bring a can of bear spray. Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera; the scenery is stunning.
Embark on your adventure to Leigh Lake from the trailhead off National Forest Development Road 4786. Setting out from here, the Leigh Lake Trail tracks west, immediately beginning the climb into the alpine. The initial stage of this trek wanders through the shaded woodlands, offering some protection from the elements. After some hiking, the trail will enter the Wilderness boundary, nearing Leigh Creek. Taking breaks as needed, the path will guide you through a few switchbacks, steadily climbing through rock fields up to Leigh Creek Falls. Admire the beauty of the waterfall tumbling over the granite and take a rest here to hydrate before commencing the final push up to Leigh Lake.
Beyond this point, the terrain will become increasingly exposed and rocky, exploring the lush montane meadows and communities of brush. It can be easy to get off-track here, so use the trail GPS and do your best to stay on the route as you scramble up the boulder field. As you ascend, views of the towering bluffs will unfold before you, and views of the mountain valley you left behind will become revealed. Soon you will reach the shoreline of the alpine lake. Rejuvenate your tired feet in the chilly waters and marvel at the grandeur of the snow-capped ridges of Snowshoe Peak that bound the water. Admire the beauty of the alpine setting and when you are ready, simply retrace your steps back down to the trailhead.
Snowshoe Peak is the tallest summit in Montana’s Cabinet Mountains. Sitting at an elevation of 2,663 m, this prominent peak holds the last remaining glacier on the north side of the slope, named Blackwell Glacier. Leigh Lake sits beneath the eastern slope of the peak and is accessible only via the Leigh Lake footpath.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you camp at Leigh Lake, Montana?
Yes, this is a limited selection of dispersed campsites along the shoreline that are popular amongst the backpacking community.
How long is the Leigh Lake Trail?
The Leigh Lake Trail is a 4.3 km out-and-back hike into the Cabinet Mountains.
Insider Hints for Leigh Lake Hike
- Bring microspikes in the spring and autumn to safely navigate the snow-dusted terrain
- The rocky terrain may be tough on your pup's paws
- After rainfall, the rocky path is quite slippery, so take your time and mind your footing
- Make sure at least one person in your party carries a can of bear spray
- Download the trail GPS prior to your hike
- Those with joint issues should consider using trekking poles
Getting to the Leigh Lake Hike Trailhead
The Leigh Lake Hike is accessed from the trailhead off National Forest Development Road 4786.
Leigh Lake Hike Elevation Graph
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Leigh Lake Hike Reviews
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