From Sandpoint Idaho, drive on Highway 200 east to Forest Road 1022 (three miles past the exit for Noxon, Montana). Continue for four miles to the road's terminus, and the trailhead.
A beautifully clear lake with a giant cliff as a backdrop; Wanless Lake in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana is a great hiking destination, and you'll work to get there. While many mountain lake trails start out low and climb steadily to a lake, this trail climbs 3500 feet up, then drops 1500 feet, which leaves plenty of climbing for the return trip.
From the trailhead, the trail quickly gets to down to business, leading the hiker through one series of switchbacks to the next. The first few miles of the trip lead through a forest that shades hikers from most of the summer sun, but after three miles, the trail leaves the forest for the hot exposed slopes of the ridge top. The alpine country is a welcomed change of scenery and the openness of the upper terrain gives great views of the surrounding hills. The trail hits its high point after five miles, crosses the wilderness boundary, and gives awesome views into the rugged Cabinet Mountains. From the pass, the trail soon drops into the valley and passes Upper Lake, which has several nice campsites. For those hikers arriving late, camping at the upper lake and day packing down to Wanless Lake would be an excellent, and smart option. For those going all the way to Wanless Lake, continue on for another three miles. The best camping sites are located on the East side of the Lake, giving views to the impressive east face of Eagle Peak. Views down the Glacially-Cut Swamp Creek Valley are also very impressive.
Be sure to bring plenty of bug repellant, as the mosquitoes are vicious, as well as rope or a bear canister to store food. While Grizzly Bears are a rarity in the Cabinet Mountains, there is enough of a population to give the hiker an occasional encounter.
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Did this trail last week. What a great area! We hiked to Wanless as in this trail description, but bushwacked to buck lakes and the hiked the Cabinet divide trail clear to the 20 Odd trail head. This is a great option that makes the trip around 35 miles.