True to its name, Gem Lake serves up idyllic mountain scenery and blissful solitude high in Idaho’s remote Cabinet Mountains. From the trailhead off the U-bend in Forest Road 419, head east alongside the babbling Gem Creek through a forest bustling with lodgepole pine, Douglas fir and Western larch. Negotiate your way over the occasional fallen tree before the trail bends upward at a noticeable grade near mile 0.5. Over the next 0.9 mile, you’ll gain 900 feet of vertical before earning a brief respite just below the lake.
Along the way up, catch a glimpse of the old Lunch Mountain Fire Tower through a break in the trees near mile 0.6. After the trail levels out for a quick 100-yard stretch, navigate your way through a maze of fallen trees to complete the hike’s final climb. The shores of Gem Lake are shrouded by dense forest, but the water is crystal clear and brimming with small cutthroat trout. Cliffs along the lake’s southern edge provide magnificent aerial views of the water (which unfortunately is not deep enough for jumping), and a primitive campsite is nestled into the lush woods east of the lake. Return to the trailhead via the route you hiked in on.
-Mapped by Travis Lesicka
- Distance: 5.0
Location: 48.38334, -116.155282
From the clearly-marked trailhead, head east on Gem Lake Trail (554).
Location: 48.383917, -116.154649
Car camping and additional parking is available just north of the trailhead.
Location: 48.384007, -116.149043
Grade increases here: you'll gain 900 feet over the next 0.9 mile.
Location: 48.378463, -116.142263
The trail narrows and levels out for a 100-yard stretch before climbing a final hill to the lake.
Location: 48.377718, -116.13803
Follow a short side trail to a campsite tucked into the woods south of the lake.
Location: 48.377715, -116.136974
The trail becomes faint as it wanders through a boulder field.
Location: 48.383251, -116.151093
Pass a babbling stream shrouded by a lush hallway of green. The stream is fullest in spring, but becomes lower as summer stretches on.
Gem Lake Trail
Location: 48.383508, -116.150545
Heading east on the well-defined trail.
Lunch Peak Fire Lookout
Location: 48.383141, -116.147423
Look west through a break in the trees for a glimpse of the old Lunch Peak Fire Lookout.
Location: 48.378085, -116.141925
Maneuver through a field of fallen trees as you take on the hike's final climb.
Location: 48.377629, -116.138953
The trail is somewhat rough throughout the hike's final climb, but becomes clearer near the lake.
Location: 48.377786, -116.138148
This site is tucked into woods off the lake's southern shore.
Location: 48.377707, -116.137108
Traverse a boulder field resting on Gem Lake's southern shore.
Location: 48.377704, -116.13553
Fish are small but plentiful in Gem Lake.
Location: 48.377964, -116.13523
Looking west from the southeastern corner of Gem Lake.
Gem Lake: Southeastern Shore
Location: 48.378142, -116.134951
Gem Lake's southeastern shore is soggy and laden with fallen trees.