Rock Lake Hike, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

     I’ve had my eye on Rock Lake in the southern Cabinets for years and with the recent approval of a new mine in the area, now was the time to get back in there and see it before access could be drastically changed. Rock Lake lies just inside the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness leaving the entire trail and Rock Creek Meadow in jeopardy.  

     Martha, Branden and myself got out of Spokane early, reaching the trailhead at the road end at a reasonable time. Trail 935 is actually an old road that over time has reduced to a true trail, which often made me ponder my mountain bike and how sweet the descent would be coming out of there. The grade was quite manageable as we climbed through the woods crossing a few sturdy bridges here and there, always within earshot of Rock Creek. We were treated to the sweet sound of songbirds as we made our way through the cool woods. A little over two miles in we passed a nice camp and broke out of the trees at Rock Creek Meadows, an area used to farm beaver in the early 1900s. The view of the surrounding mountains were stunning, snow capped peaks and rocky summits kept our heads to the sky which slowed our pace as we continued on along Rock Creek.

     The old road had now been whittled down to a true trail, and before long we crossed the creek again, eventually reached our turn off for Rock Lake. Before going any further we had to explore the old workings of the abandoned Heidelberg mine. Just up the trail to the mine is a magnificent waterfall alongside ancient relics of the past leaving proof of the areas rich mining history. The old shaft has been closed, and for most people a view into the cave is more than enough. After another water break, we backtracked to the junction with the trail to Rock Lake.

     The trail from here on up is a bit steeper, but well placed switchbacks made it more than tolerable, at one point we reached a creek crossing that had overflowed its bank and was now running down the trail, a perfect place to wet the bandanna and refresh my cool tie. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, most of the trail to this point was in the shade of the trees, and the early start meant cool morning temps for the climb up the valley. Above us, big fluffy clouds dotted the deep blue sky while a breeze blew just hard enough to keep the mosquitoes away. The higher we climbed, the bigger the view down to Rock Creek Meadow stretched out below us, it was hard not to stop, but the real reward lay just ahead. Approaching the lake we reached the boundary marker for the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, from here a level trail took us past the outlet to a good camp along the crystal clear shore of Rock Lake.  We dropped the packs and enjoyed the warm sun on our faces while soaking our feet in the chilly water of the lake. We lingered a while enjoying a snack and good conversation, it was great. The view across the lake was stunning as Rock Peak came down from the left and Elephant Peak to the right terminating at St. Paul Pass in the middle, behind us to the right was Ojibway Peak, and just off shore was the quaint little island of Rock Lake. Eventually it was time to go but before leaving we crossed the outlet stream and scrambled a grassy slope to a point above the lake for a different perspective.

     Back on the trail we made quick work of the manageable grade back to the car. On the drive out we turned left at Orr Creek to inspect a fish weir while cooling off in the shade with a cold beer. We arrived home late to Spokane after stopping at Second Avenue Pizza for some post hike grub in Sandpoint, Idaho. Rock Lake is an amazing location in an amazing wilderness area, definitely should be a priority on your todo list with the possibility of the Rock Creek Mine looming overhead. We covered about 10 miles total with around 2,000 feet of elevation gain. For lots more pictures click the link.

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