Bonners Ferry, ID: Gem Lake

Tackle a steep climb to the immaculately clear Gem Lake on this 3.6-mile out-and-back deep in the Cabinet Mountains.
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Tackle a steep climb to the immaculately clear Gem Lake on this 3.6-mile out-and-back deep in the Cabinet Mountains.

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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 5.0

Waypoints

GLK001

Location: 48.38334, -116.155282

From the clearly-marked trailhead, head east on Gem Lake Trail (554).

GLK002

Location: 48.383917, -116.154649

Car camping and additional parking is available just north of the trailhead.

GLK003

Location: 48.384007, -116.149043

Grade increases here: you'll gain 900 feet over the next 0.9 mile.

GLK004

Location: 48.378463, -116.142263

The trail narrows and levels out for a 100-yard stretch before climbing a final hill to the lake.

GLK005

Location: 48.377718, -116.13803

Follow a short side trail to a campsite tucked into the woods south of the lake.

GLK006

Location: 48.377715, -116.136974

The trail becomes faint as it wanders through a boulder field.

Grotto Stream

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.

Fallen Trees

Location: 48.378085, -116.141925

Maneuver through a field of fallen trees as you take on the hike's final climb.

Final Hill

Location: 48.377629, -116.138953

The trail is somewhat rough throughout the hike's final climb, but becomes clearer near the lake.

Campsite

Location: 48.377786, -116.138148

This site is tucked into woods off the lake's southern shore.

Southern Shore

Location: 48.377707, -116.137108

Traverse a boulder field resting on Gem Lake's southern shore.

Fish

Location: 48.377704, -116.13553

Fish are small but plentiful in Gem Lake.

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.