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Backpacker Magazine – September 2000

Hiking Montana's Cabinet Mountains

The French-Canadian trappers are long gone, but the grizzlies and waterfalls remain in this alpine nirvana.

by: Charlie Clough

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DRIVE TIME: The wilderness is about 160 miles northeast of Spokane, Washington, and about 90 miles west of Kalispell, Montana.

THE WAY: From Spokane, take I-90 east about 30 miles to US 95 near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and go north about 85 miles. Three miles north of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, turn east onto US 2. Proceed 48 miles to Libby, Montana. From Kalispell, drive about 90 miles west on US 2 to Libby.

TRAILS: There are more than 130 miles of maintained trails. Be sure to check with rangers for conditions. The north and south Cabinet Divide trail systems each link with three or four high-lake basins, plus offer miles of ridgetop cruising and short scrambles to peaks.

ELEVATION: The low point is 2,800 feet at the lower trailheads; the high point is 8,738 feet at the top of Snowshoe Peak. A very steep, 3,600-foot scramble from Leigh Lake tops out on Snowshoe; bring an ice axe for this climb in early summer.

CAN'T MISS: Trail 136 to the hanging waterfalls on the north face of A Peak, which soars 4,000 feet above Granite Lake.

CROWD CONTROL: July and August are busy. In September, you'll find fewer people and no mosquitoes.

GUIDES: A wilderness topo map (200-foot contours) is available from the Libby Ranger District (see Contact information below).

PIT STOP: Enjoy peanut shells-on-the-floor ambience and killer pizza at the Red Dog Saloon, 7 miles north of Libby on MT 567.

WALK SOFTLY: There is a party size limit of eight, and hikers should use existing campsites and fire rings.

CONTACT: Kootenai National Forest, Libby Ranger District, (406) 293-7773.

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