Lake Darling – Pend Oreille Divide Loop

Lake Darling is one of five lakes situated in this northwest corner of the Cabinet Mountains. A pleasant trail leads through an evergreen forest of fir and spruce to the lake, which comes with a pretty campsite and a good chance of seeing a moose. The ascent to the Pend Oreille Divide opens up views of the Selkirks, Cabinets and Purcells, while the return trip through alpine meadows high above Gordon Creek rounds out the loop.

Location Cabinet Mountains
Rating 3.8 out of 5
Difficulty Moderate (uphill)
Distance 8.0 miles
Duration 3:18 hours moving time (hiking)
Elevation Gain 1,810 feet
High Point 6,424 feet (Pend Oreille Divide)
Low Point 4,605 feet (Trailhead)
Trail Type Loop
Trailbed Packed dirt
Water Several brooks and the lake; little on the ridge
Status Unprotected
Administration Kaniksu National Forest
Permits None required
Conditions The trail was in great shape. We climbed over only 2 trees, both on trail 161.
Camping Campsites at the lake, including a bear box.
Maps USGS Mount Pend Oreille
Trailhead From Sandpoint take highway 200 east 12 miles to Trestle Creek Road 275 (around milepost 42); turn left onto FR 275 (this is a well-maintained gravel road) and go 16 miles to Lightning Creek Road 419; turn left onto FR 419 (a bumpy dirt road) and go approximately 1 mile to the trailhead located just before the bridge (there is more parking 50 yards up the trail).

Google Directions (48.381077, -116.158316)

Season June – November
Squirrel Density Plenty!
Features Mountaintop, Lake, Meadow
Distance From
  • Coeur d’Alene 75.4 miles
  • Lewiston 189.0 miles
  • Sandpoint 29.8 miles
  • Seattle 379.6 miles
  • Spokane 101.7 miles
Resources
Nearby Hikes
Date November 12, 2016

TrailheadTrail #52 is a packed dirt trail paralleling Lightning Creek for much of the way to the lake by staying high above the creek. It crosses a number of tributaries on wooden bridges. The ascent is gradual and easy, gaining only about 600 feet in the 2 miles to the lake.

Some bridges are in need of a little TLCThe trail circumnavigates the eastern and northern shores of the lake, leading further and further towards the headwaters of Lightning Creek. The headwall is reached at around the 3-mile mark and here the ascent begins in earnest. A series of switchbacks dissects the side of the mountain and helps with the 1,000-foot ascent over the following 2 miles.

Mount Pend Oreille shrouded in fogThe Pend Oreille Divide opens up vistas of the Selkirks in the west, Purcells to the north and Cabinets in the east. The latter is somewhat blocked by Mount Pend Oreille, the tallest peak in this area. It’s worth climbing, but when we were there thick fog enveloped the mountain and dashed all hopes for a spectacular view.

Seasonal brookTo complete the loop, head west along the divide (trail #67) for about a mile. The trail first moves along the eastern side of the ridge, then climbs and shifts to the western side, thereby avoiding the unnamed peak between Mount Pend Oreille and Lunch Peak. On the approach to trail 161, the path crosses the ridge and in a short switchback moves lower to the Y. Trail #161 loses altitude quickly and makes this counter-clockwise loop much more manageable than a clockwise tour. Towards the end of this segment, the trail closely follows an old logging road and switchbacks down to trail #52. Take a right and head back to the trailhead approximately half mile away.

Enjoy this hike? Let us know in the comments below!

Trailhead
Trailhead
Numerous wooden bridges make traversing muddy areas easy
Numerous wooden bridges make traversing muddy areas easy
Lightning Creek tributary
Lightning Creek tributary
Lightning Creek far below
Lightning Creek far below
Open meadow near Lake Darling
Open meadow near Lake Darling
Trail towards Lake Darling
Trail towards Lake Darling
Intersection with trail 154
Intersection with trail 154
Lake Darling outlet
Lake Darling outlet
Lake Darling
Lake Darling
Lake Darling panorama
Lake Darling panorama
Some bridges are in need of a little TLC
Some bridges are in need of a little TLC
Fall is a great time for mushrooms
Fall is a great time for mushrooms
Hitting snow at around 5600 feet
Hitting snow at around 5600 feet
Uphill slope towards Pend Oreille Divide
Uphill slope towards Pend Oreille Divide
Windswept tree on ridge
Windswept tree on ridge
Great views from Pend Oreille divide
Great views from Pend Oreille divide
Snow was up to a foot deep on the divide
Snow was up to a foot deep on the divide
Views north towards the Purcells
Views north towards the Purcells
Mount Pend Oreille shrouded in fog
Mount Pend Oreille shrouded in fog
Uprooted tree on the divide
Uprooted tree on the divide
Trekking through snow along the divide
Trekking through snow along the divide
Naughty turning her paws into "snowshoes"
Naughty turning her paws into “snowshoes”
Dropping below the snowline on trail #161
Dropping below the snowline on trail #161
Seasonal brook
Seasonal brook
Steep meadows on trail #161 are a likely location for elk sightings (we didnt see any, though)
Steep meadows on trail #161 are a likely location for elk sightings (we didn’t see any, though)
The bottom section of #161 follows an old logging road
The bottom section of #161 follows an old logging road
Trailmap
Alternate Routes

  • Continue along trail #67 (Pend Oreille Divide trail). This is part of the Idaho State Centennial Trail. Good stopping points are Lunch Peak (featuring a lookout tower) to the south and Pend Oreille Peak to the north.


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