Climbing Goat Peak near Wanless Lake

Views from Goat Peak down on Wanless Lake, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Views from Goat Peak down on Wanless Lake

While researching trails to hike in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in western Montana last spring, I discovered a couple of things: 1) While there are many trails in the Cabinets, you can’t find good information about most of them, and 2) There are a few trails that most people seem to hike and therefore you can find at least a little bit of information about these few.  One of the more-informed hikes I found (besides Leigh Lake) was the trail to Wanless Lake.  Eighteen miles to see a lake seemed a little excessive as a day hike to me, but at least one blogger mentioned Goat Peak as an alternative side-trek en route to the lake.  A peak is almost always more interesting than the lake for a view junkie like me, and since it was only 13 miles RT, it seemed a much better option.

 

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 13.0 miles Trail Type: Out & back Elevation Gain: 4,763ft. Pets: Leashed Fees: None

 



 

Views to the south from Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area, Montana

Views to the south from Goat Peak

We did Goat Peak as a long day hike.  The morning was cool and the dew still on the grass.  We were the only people (as far as we could tell) on the trail, which was a bit of a relief after our hikes in Glacier National Park the week before.  We eventually saw three or four other people, but most of those were in the parking area.

Wildflowers on the slopes of Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Wildflowers on the slopes of Goat Peak

Sign in at the trailhead kiosk not far from the trailhead.  Any important information will be posted here – if you have stock, be sure to follow the guidelines posted.  As with any other hike into the wilderness, use common sense and come prepared!

Zoom photo through the pass above Wanless Lake to Lost Horse Mountain as seen from Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Zoom photo through the pass above Wanless Lake to Lost Horse Mountain

From the first, the trail climbs through the forest, and that’s the trail in a nutshell.  The first switchbacks are the steepest, and the lower forest the deepest, but you’re going to be puffing while seeing a lot of trees on this hike.  It’s a good thing the view at the end is pretty good, or I wouldn’t consider it a very worthwhile trek.

McKay Creek from where the Wanless Lake Trail crosses it, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

McKay Creek from where the Wanless Lake Trail crosses it

The trail crosses a pretty McKay Creek, then rises out of the valley and up the hillside.  By the time the Wanless Lake Trail meets the Goat Ridge Trail at mile 5.5, the forest has thinned to be meadows with pines that block the view.

Near the Goat Ridge Trail Junction along the Wanless Lake Trail, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Near the Goat Ridge Trail Junction

(The Goat Ridge Trail offers a loop option to return to the parking area – turn onto the Goat Ridge Trail, then turn right on the Bear Paw Trail #923 after 3 or so miles.  Take the Bear Paw Trail down to where it crosses the river just before the parking area.  It’s slightly longer than the Wanless Lake Trail but probably by no more than a mile or so.)

 

Finally views and wildflowers along the Wanless Lake Trail, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Views, at last!

Shortly after the Goat Ridge Trail branches right, the path will break out of the trees into open meadows and scree slopes.  It’s the “wow” factor after all that forest to suddenly see the valley spread out below and the mountains beyond!

The Wanless Lake Trail becomes scree before passing below Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

The trail hits the scree below Goat Peak

If you want to cut the trail shorter (probably 0.5 miles shorter RT), once you reach the scree slopes, turn right up to the high point (Goat Peak).  I wanted to go to the pass, so I continued on the trail to the pass, but returned by scrambling straight down the scree to the trail (more on that later).

Looking up the scree slopes toward the top of Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Looking up the scree slopes toward the top of Goat Peak

At about 6.4 miles, the trail turns suddenly to go through a pass and descend the other side of Goat Peak (this marks the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Boundary).  I stopped here in the pass (in part because the trail after this crossed a snowfield – and it was mid-July), and some of my group enjoyed the view and then went back down the trail.  The view really is good here; it would be worth coming this far even if you don’t plan to hike Goat Peak.  On the south (west) side of the pass is the views of the valley, but on the north side, you can see one of the unnamed lakes the Wanless Lake Trail passes (if you hiked down the other side of the pass) and Flat Top Mountain.  It’s a beautiful sight.

Snow and views toward the small unnamed lake below the Wanless Saddle, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Snow and views toward the small unnamed lake

Here I turned right and began scrambling up the scree.  There are a fair number of bushes and trees to avoid on this route, but it’s not a big deal.  Just stay right rather than left – there are sheer cliffs on the left (north) side of Goat Peak.

Cliffs along the northern side of Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Cliffs along the northern side of Goat Peak

About 0.3 miles from the pass, arrive at the top of Goat Peak.  The view is great from here, but we scrambled down the north side of the peak to an outcrop of rock where the view was even better.  Engle Peak, Flat Top Mountain, Wanless Lake, Carney Peak, Lost Buck Pass, and views beyond and around to a number of unnamed peaks.  So beautiful!

An unnamed lake (left) and Wanless Lake from the ridgeline west of Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

An unnamed lake (left) and Wanless Lake from the ridgeline west of Goat Peak

We were running late on time (besides being long, the trail had been steeper than we had anticipated), so we didn’t spend as much time as the view would have warranted.  But the day was moving on and clouds were moving in.  So instead of going back to the pass, we just scrambled down the scree slopes to the trail.

Scrambling down the scree slopes below Goat Peak back to the Wanless Lake Trail, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Scrambling down the scree slopes

Overall?  A very steep, woodsy hike to some great views.  If you lived in the area, this would be a fantastic day hike.  This Easterner felt it was a little bit too much pain for gain – but then again, I was also comparing it to Glacier… and it’s really hard to compare with Glacier’s scenery!

Goat Peak and the scenery beyond, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Goat Peak and the scenery beyond

Round Trip Trail Length: 13.0 miles to 13.6 miles depending on your route up Goat Peak

Elevation Gain: 4,763ft. (2,895ft. to 6,880ft.)

Facilities: Questionable hitch rail in the parking area

Fees: None

Trail Notes: The stream near the trailhead is beautiful.  Be sure not to be up on the exposed peak if thundershowers threaten.  You may want to wear long pants as bushes sometimes overhang the trail.  This is one of the most popular trails in the Cabinet Mountains, so be ready to share it with a half dozen to a dozen other people on summer weekends.

Hiking up the more wooded western slopes of Goat Peak from the pass on the Wanless Lake Trail, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Hiking up the more wooded western slopes of Goat Peak

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

Wanless Lake from Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Wanless Lake

GPS Coordinates for Goat Peak

Wanless Lake/Goat Peak Trailhead: 47.9707667°, -115.6429167° (N47° 58.246′ W115° 38.575′ / 47°58’14.7600″, -115°38’34.5000″) (2,963ft.) (0.0) (end 6.22 add 6.8 from trek out)

Goat Ridge Junction: 47.9950667°, -115.6003167° (N47° 59.704′ W115° 36.019′ / 47°59’42.2400″, -115°36’01.1400″) (6,107ft.) (5.5) (return 0.95; probably meant 0.55)

Pass: 47.9988167°, -115.6004833° (N47° 59.929′ W115° 36.029′ / 47°59’55.7400″, -115°36’01.7400″) (6,412ft.) (5.4 probably meant 6.4)

Goat Peak: 47.9986167°, -115.5946000° (N47° 59.917′ W115° 35.676′ / 47°59’55.0200″, -115°35’40.5600″) (6,869ft.) (6.8)

Regain Trail from Goat Peak: 47.9970667°, -115.5981833° (N47° 59.824′ W115° 35.891′ / 47°59’49.4400″, -115°35’53.4600″) (6,405ft.) (0.28)

(Trail 923 (Bear Paw) Trailhead: 47.9703833°, -115.6427333° (N47° 58.223′ W115° 38.564′ / 47°58’13.3800″, -115°38’33.8400″) (2,966ft.) – Not the TH for Goat Peak)

Lost Buck Pass and the nearby ridgeline, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Lost Buck Pass and the nearby ridgeline

The gpx file for Goat Peak via the Wanless Lake Trail can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

Trail out:

Download GPX File size: 118.1 KB Downloaded 21 times

 

Trail back:

Download GPX File size: 104.7 KB Downloaded 14 times

 

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

Unnamed lake and an unnamed peak as seen from Goat Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Unnamed lake and an unnamed peak as seen from Goat Peak

Getting to the Goat Peak Trailhead/Wanless Lake Trailhead

From Sandpoint, Idaho, take US-2 to the place where US-2 and US-95 merge.  Instead of following US-2 and US-95, continue straight on ID-200.  Continue 33.2 miles to where the road enters Montana and becomes MT-200E and drive another 18.4 miles.  Turn left onto the dirt McKay Creek Road (a sign will point right toward Noxon Rapids Dam).  The road is rough but probably passable to passenger cars at least up to the near side of the trailhead, about 4 miles from the main road.  (Note: A few roads and “roads” go off of the main road, but it’s pretty easy to tell which one is the maintained road for cars!)

Trail map at the Wanless Lake Trailhead, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Trail map at the Wanless Lake Trailhead

From Thompson Falls, Idaho, take MT-200W 32 miles.  Turn right onto the dirt McKay Creek Road (a sign will point right toward Noxon Rapids Dam).  The road is rough but probably passable to passenger cars at least up to the near side of the trailhead, about 4 miles from the main road.  (Note: A few roads and “roads” go off of the main road, but it’s pretty easy to tell which one is the maintained road for cars!)

Visual trail map and elevation profile (one way) for the hike up Goat Peak via the Wanless Lake Trail, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Visual trail map and elevation profile (one way) for the hike up Goat Peak

Zoom map out to browse nearby hikes & places of interest

 

This Week’s Featured Product!

If you want to do justice to the trails of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, you’ll need to purchase this book.  It lists more than 100 hikes within the Wilderness – far more than you’ll find by searching the internet.

 

 




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