Hiking the Cabinets’ Leigh Lake and Leigh Lake Falls

Leigh Lake Falls below the peaks around Leigh Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Leigh Lake Falls below the peaks around Leigh Lake

Leigh Lake is known as one of the premier hikes of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in far western Montana.  That’s likely due to the fact that 1) you can get to the trailhead without 4×4, 2) the trail is only 3.1 miles RT, and 3) there’s a lot of beautiful scenery here.  Despite all the positives, it does have a couple of drawbacks: 1) it can be crowded as the Cabinets go, and 2) the trail is steep – like extremely steep!  So as long as you don’t come out here for a stroll in the park, you should have a great hike!

 

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 3.1 miles Trail Type: Out & back Elevation Change: 1,156ft. Pets: Yes Fees: None



 

Looking out over Leigh Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Looking out over Leigh Lake

The trail begins at the end of the access road (note: GPSes don’t necessarily like this road, so follow the directions, not your GPS, to the trailhead).  A table nearby made out of rocks was really neat.  Shortly up the trail is the signboard where you are supposed to sign in – I would have signed in, but all the forms were used up and even all the backs of the forms had been used.  So much for signing in!

Close up of one of the waterfalls that tumbles down the cliffs on the other side of Leigh Lake, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Close up of one of the waterfalls that tumbles down the cliffs on the other side of the lake

So we headed up the trail, entering the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness about mile 0.3.  It looks like a nice, wooded stroll, but that steep section at the beginning is just whetting your appetite.  The trail goes up and up and up!  Except where it goes down, only to go right back up!

Looking back down the valley on the Leigh Lake Trail, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Looking back down the valley

The path rises through the forest for about a mile, then enters a rock slide area.  Be careful to follow the trail – if you can’t figure out where it goes, scout and find it because it is definitely there – you just have to locate it.  The trail goes up a couple of strange switchbacks but keeps up its promise of steepness.

Hiking up one of the more exposed sections of the Leigh Lake Trail in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Hiking up one of the more exposed sections of trail

Not long after the rock scramble section (there isn’t too much scrambling involved here), you’ll begin to see the waterfall in the Leigh Lake Outlet.  Since I haven’t been able to locate a name for the falls, I’ll call it Leigh Lake Falls.

 

Approaching Leigh Lake Falls in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Approaching Leigh Lake Falls

About 1 mile from the trailhead, you’ll arrive at the base of the falls.  It’s stunning!  (And that coming from someone who lives in waterfall country!)  Honestly, my favorite part of the hike was seeing the waterfall.

Leigh Lake Falls along the Leigh Lake Trail in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Leigh Lake Falls

The trail turns here to go up a near-sheer cliff face.  There is a trail, but you might find yourself using your hands now and then.  Be sure to look back at the falls, which are spectacular from above, too.

A small waterfall in Leigh Creek, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

A small waterfall in the creek

There are a couple more short scrambles (no trouble finding the trail here) before the trail finally begins its gentle descent through the scrub brush to Leigh Lake.  Take in the lake from up here, since the views of the peaks and the lake are quite good from above (at least from a camera angle).

Looking down on Leigh Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Looking down on Leigh Lake

Reach the lake’s outlet at mile 1.5.  The views aren’t great from here, so turn right to follow the social trails along the lakeshore.  They go in multiple directions, including up (I hear you can climb Bockman Peak to the north if you don’t mind making your own trail up the scree).  I stayed fairly close to the lakeshore and ended up on a point out into the lake about 0.05 miles from the lake outlet.  So beautiful!

Near the Leigh Lake outlet in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Near the outlet

Unfortunately, most of our time at the lake was cloudy.  Still, the sun poked its head through enough to get some nice photos.

Views from along the shoreline - the views are better from the end of the point, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Views from along the shoreline – the views are better from the end of the point

Retrace your steps back to the parking area.  It’s not a long hike, but the waterfall and the views over the lake make it well worth the time and effort to come out here!

Leigh Lake Falls from the trail, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Leigh Lake Falls from the trail

Round Trip Trail Length: 3.1 miles out & back

Vertical Elevation Change: 1,156ft. (4,050ft. at the trailhead to 5,206ft. above the lake)

Facilities: A primitive stone table for four at the trailhead

Fees: None

Trail Notes: The trail is popular with families on weekends.  Be prepared to do a little scrambling (like, wear close-toed shoes).  No stock is allowed on this trail.  People do backpack in the area, though I’m not sure exactly where they camp.  Group size is limited to 8 people (we made it – barely!)

Social trail along the shore of Leigh Lake, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Social trail along the lakeshore

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

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

Overall Rating: ★

Wildflowers above Leigh Lake in the Cabinets Mountain Wilderness, Montana

Wildflowers above Leigh Lake

GPS Coordinates for Leigh Lake

Trailhead: 48.2245167°, -115.6411833° (N48° 13.471′ W115° 38.471′ / 48°13’28.2600″, -115°38’28.2600″) (4,004ft.) (0.0)

Enter Cabinet Mountains Wilderness: 48.2241333°, -115.6470000° (N48° 13.448′ W115° 38.820′ / 48°13’26.8800″, -115°38’49.2000″) (4,260ft.) (0.3)

Waterfall: 48.2258667°, -115.6553167° (N48° 13.552′ W115° 39.319′ / 48°13’33.1200″, -115°39’19.1400″) (4,897ft.) (1.2)

Leigh Lake: 48.2247167°, -115.6603500° (N48° 13.483′ W115° 39.621′ / 48°13’28.9800″, -115°39’37.2600″) (5,091ft.) (1.7)

Point: 48.2243667°, -115.6623167° (N48° 13.462′ W115° 39.739′ / 48°13’27.7200″, -115°39’44.3400″) (5,116ft.) (2.0)

End: (48.2245167°, -115.6411333° (N48° 13.471′ W115° 38.468′ / 48°13’28.2600″, -115°38’28.0800″) (4,097ft.) (3.9)

 

The gpx file for Leigh Lake 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.

Download GPX File size: 121.2 KB Downloaded 26 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!)

The sun comes out momentarily on the cliffs across Leigh Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

The sun comes out momentarily on the cliffs across the lake

Getting to Leigh Lake

From Libby, MT, head south on US-2E.  After almost 8 miles, turn right onto Bear Creek Road (NF-278) for 3.0 miles.  Turn right onto NF-867 for 4.5 miles, then turn right tonto NF-4786 and drive up to the parking area a little more than a mile up the road.  There should be signs for Leigh Lake at the latter two junctions, though I’m convinced one of the signs was missing, which is part of how ended up on a dead-end dirt road with GPS telling us to drive straight through the forest!

Beargrass along the trail shortly before Leigh Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Beargrass along the trail shortly before the lake

From Kalispell, MT, drive west on US-2W for 80 miles.  Turn left onto Bear Creek Road (NF-278) for 3.0 miles.  Turn right onto NF-867 for 4.5 miles, then turn right tonto NF-4786 and drive up to the parking area a little more than a mile up the road.  There should be signs for Leigh Lake at the latter two junctions; I think one might have been missing, and between that and an unhappy GPS, we ended up on a long detour that had us on one-way roads through the forest that didn’t go anywhere…

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Leigh Lake Trail in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Leigh Lake Trail

Zoom map out to browse nearby hikes & places of interest

 

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