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Hidden Montana: Cabinet Mountains

If the scenic, scrappy Cabinets had buffed trails and sat near urban centers, they'd be as busy as New Hampshire's Whites or Colorado's Indian Peaks. Thankfully they have neither, and that makes them perfect for motivated trekkers who don't mind huffy climbs, and off-trail routefinding, like the route we found.

Northern Cabinets Thru-Hike
The secretExplore a new route across one of America’s most beautiful—and overlooked—ranges.

Our Scouts recently hiked
this 31-mile point-to-point to test it as a leg of the proposed 1,500-mile Inland Northwest Trail. Their advice? Pack extra supplies on this three- to five-day trip to account for rugged terrain, routefinding, and the inevitable urge to drift into long, daydreamy naps among the paradise of peaks. Start by hiking up Trail 141 to Cedar Lake. At .8 mile, continue onto the Scenery Mountain Trail (383) across the ridges of Scenery and Grambauer Mountains, climbing 3,900 feet before descending to Upper Cedar Lake (mile 9.4). Camp on the shelf beneath the banded walls of Dome Mountain’s north face. In the morning, cross North Parmenter Pass on Trail 139, then drop 2,200 feet in 2 miles to a junction with Minor Lake Trail (317). Head south from Minor Lake, climbing 3.3 miles over the Parmenter Creek Cutoff to Sky Lakes, a verdant zone of moss-covered and thickly forested slopes. For an on-trail loop, pick up Trail 360 2 miles north of Sky Lakes and follow it 6.3 miles to Upper Cedar Lake. The off-trail point-to-point climbs south from Sky Lake to the saddle between points 7,434 and 7,701. Summit point 7,701, then hike 4 ridgeline miles along Pine Ridge, where pocket meadows make for scenic camping. At the saddle above the headwaters of Contact Creek, drop southwest down talus, meadow, and pine forest to intersect Trail 972 where Verdun Creek joins the North Fork Bull River (1.8 miles southwest of Wishbone Lake). Head downcanyon 4.5 miles to the trailhead. Shuttle 37 miles southwest of Libby; 48.202825, -115.813408 Trailhead 7 miles northeast of Libby; 48.409662, -115.663977 map USFS Cabinet Mountains Wilderness ($12) Contact Kootenai NF; (406) 827-3533; fs.usda.gov/kootenai

Snowshoe Peak
The secretPick a sneak route up the region’s tallest summit.

If the northern cabinets
thru-hike (above) sounds like more than you have time or ambition for, score some of the same great scenery—plus a fun peak scramble—on this overnight. (Got plenty of time and ambition? Tack this trip onto the thru-hike.) Start from the Trail 972 trailhead in Libby and hike 4.2 miles. Head off-trail along the North Fork Bull River and make camp near the shore of Snowshoe Lake (mile 5.8). Get going as morning alpenglow paints the eastern face of 8,736-foot Snowshoe Peak and pick your line up a class 2-3 talus slope 1.3 miles to the top. Mountaineers with ropes and climbing gear might prefer the zestier, airier, and more exposed class 3-4 route up the northeast ridge. For that option, head in from the Lehigh Lake trailhead; at the lake’s northernmost inlet, aim for the saddle on the northeast ridge.Trailhead Same as left Map USGS quad Snowshoe Peak, MT ($8) Contact Same as above

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