St. Regis Lakes to Copper Lake Loop

The St. Regis Lakes are Montana’s twins of Idaho’s Stevens Lakes, nestled close together just across the stateline. This trail conveniently starts out near the Lookout Recreation Area and visits both lakes, then climbs an avalanche chute to the stateline ridge and its sweeping views. It follows the stateline eastwards, up an unnamed knob and steeply downhill into the Copper Lake basin. An easy hike along Copper Gulch and the Nor-Pac trail completes the loop.

Location Bitterroot Mountains
Rating 3.6 out of 5
Difficulty Strenuous (bushwhack up to stateline and down to Copper Lake)
Distance 9.7 miles
Duration 3:55 hours moving time (hiking)
Elevation Gain 2,481 feet
High Point 6,400 feet (stateline)
Low Point 4,404 feet (trailhead)
Trail Type Loop
Trailbed Gravel, packed dirt, bushwhack…
Water The lakes and St. Regis Creek
Status Unprotected
Administration Lolo National Forest
Permits None required
Conditions Excellent, except for the climb up to the stateline (no trail) and descent to Copper Lake (overgrown with spruce saplings)
Camping At any of the lakes and the trailhead
Maps USGS Lookout Pass, Mullan
Trailhead From I-90, take exit 0 (Lookout Pass) and head west. Once you are on the west side of the freeway take a left (ie, don’t go to the ski area). Follow the road downhill for a mile. A gravel road leads of to the right; that’s the trailhead, but you can take that road uphill for 1.5 miles to the upper trailhead. There is also a double-track about a hundred yards further downhill. You can hike along that, too, it also leads to the upper trailhead (can’t drive though, the road ends at a backcountry campground)

Google Directions (47.444859, -115.704447)

Season June – October
Squirrel Density Phenomenal!
Features Mountaintop, Lake, Meadow
Distance From
  • Coeur d’Alene 61.6 miles
  • Lewiston 178.4 miles
  • Sandpoint 106.6 miles
  • Seattle 372.0 miles
  • Spokane 94.2 miles
Resources
Nearby Hikes
Date July 30, 2017

A brook crossing FR 18591From the trailhead, take either the unmarked double-track or FR #18591 westwards, across the Nor-Pac rail trail to the upper trailhead. It isn’t quite 1.5 miles to that upper trailhead, and either trail is easy walking through light forest with a pretty understory of huckleberries and a couple of creek fordings. About halfway to the upper trailhead, shortly past one of the fordings, the two roads converge. There is a fork in FR #18591 at some point; bear left. If you drive to the upper trailhead (a high-clearance vehicle is recommended), you’ll find parking for maybe four or so cars. Then the trail turns into a single-track, heads southwestwards into the woods, but quickly changes tact, shifts northwest and crosses St. Regis Creek. Then it’s a pleasant hike up the flank of the ridge dividing the St. Regis drainage from the Stevens drainage. That section is only partially forested and leads through many open meadows splotched brightly with wildflowers.

St. Regis LakeYou’ll reach the lower St. Regis lake after about 3 miles, the last bit zigzagging up a steep hillside that’s nicely shaded. There are excellent campsites along the northern edge of the lake. The path gets a bit dubious as it moves along the lake, but it should be easy to find nonetheless, and once it moves into the woods becomes wider as it approaches Upper St. Regis. That lake is a bit boggy, and the best campsite is in the woods just before you get to the lake.

Follow that avalanche chute up to stateline. Its a bushwhack…You can probably circle the lake either way; we chose the northern side, which featured a narrow overgrown path. It crosses the small inlet to the lake, a perfect spot to fill up water bottles before the ascent to the stateline ridge. There is no trail and so we selected an avalanche chute southwest of the lake that reaches up into the ridge beneath a large rock-outcropping. Most of that ascent isn’t too bad, with the shrubbery only about knee-high and halfway up is a rubble field that’s easily rock-hopped. The most challenging section is near the top, where the slope is almost vertical. Don’t forget to look down every so often to see Upper St. Regis lake getting tinier and tinier.

Upper St. Regis Lake, taken from statelineAt the ridge-top the bushwhack continues, because the stateline trail is actually quite a bit lower on the Idaho side and you don’t want to miss the views from the knoll just east of the saddle you’ve climbed. Here you’ll see Upper St. Regis and the Montana ridges beyond, and on the other side you can see far into Idaho. Continue to the next knoll, and you’ll get a view of lower St. Regis lake as well. As you drop to the saddle below that knoll you’ll intersect the stateline trail, which is a wide double-track.

An unnamed boggy lake far below (taken from stateline)Follow that trail for a bit over a mile. At first it will head downhill, keeping to the Idaho side, then you’ll reach another saddle, very forested, but in some places you can bushwhack to the edge on the Montana side and spot a very marshy unnamed lake below. Then it’s uphill to an unnamed peak overlooking the Copper Lake basin (but you won’t be able to see Copper Lake).

Copper Lake basinAt the top of that peak (it is a flattish knoll, really) you’ll have to take the overgrown old road veering away eastward and soon you will discover that it is very smothered with spruce saplings. At first the saplings are only a few feet tall and interspersed with bare sections, but it gets worse and worse as you drop down towards Copper Lake. The “road” declines in sweeping switchbacks, and at one of the switchbacks we had enough and chose to bushwhack down a wide meadow full of beargrass instead of fighting the spruce trees. Great move! The only problem was the willows and mountain ash ringing the outer portions of the lake. They are hard to break through and many times harbor bears and cougars and moose and other unsavory characters. But none today, only lingering smells.

Copper Lake, taken from east endThe lake is relatively easy to circumnavigate. The southern and eastern side is a bit boggy and probably a real mess earlier in the year, but quite alright now. The northwest side is easiest of all, with an old logging road that’s been maintained. It leads to the outlet and a number of excellent campsites right on the lake. Then it’s downhill along trail #265, which is well maintained as well and framed with thimble-berry bushes. You’ll also come to an old mine with giant piles of mine tailings. Around the 8-mile mark you emerge onto the Nor-Pac rail-trail. Take that northbound, then northeastwards until you see the primitive campsites in the gully below after about a mile. Drop down to those campgrounds and follow the double-track out to the trailhead. 

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

FR 18591
FR 18591
Lookout Pass chairlift
Lookout Pass chairlift
FR 18591. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the later sections
FR 18591. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the later sections
A brook crossing FR 18591
A brook crossing FR 18591
The hillside towards stateline is covered with wildflowers
The hillside towards stateline is covered with wildflowers
St. Regis Lake
St. Regis Lake
Campsite in the woods at Upper St. Regis Lake
Campsite in the woods at Upper St. Regis Lake
Upper St. Regis Lake (outlet)
Upper St. Regis Lake (outlet)
Inlet to Upper St. Regis Lake
Inlet to Upper St. Regis Lake
Follow that avalanche chute up to stateline. Its a bushwhack…
Follow that avalanche chute up to stateline. It’s a bushwhack…
Upper St. Regis Lake, taken from avalanche chute
Upper St. Regis Lake, taken from avalanche chute
Wildflowers along the avalanche chute. I remember these from childhood hikes. If I recall right they make a popping sound when you squeeze them
Wildflowers along the avalanche chute. I remember these from childhood hikes. If I recall right they make a popping sound when you squeeze them
Bell flowers along the avalanche chute
Bell flowers along the avalanche chute
The Idaho side, taken from stateline
The Idaho side, taken from stateline
Upper St. Regis Lake, taken from stateline
Upper St. Regis Lake, taken from stateline
The view from stateline is phenomenal
The view from stateline is phenomenal
Another shot of Upper St. Regis Lake from further down the stateline
Another shot of Upper St. Regis Lake from further down the stateline
St. Regis Lake, taken from stateline
St. Regis Lake, taken from stateline
The stateline trail is a double-track
The stateline trail is a double-track
An unnamed boggy lake far below (taken from stateline)
An unnamed boggy lake far below (taken from stateline)
Bushwhack towards Copper Lake
Bushwhack towards Copper Lake
Copper Lake basin
Copper Lake basin
Elderberries
Elderberries
Copper Lake, taken from southwest end
Copper Lake, taken from southwest end
Currents
Currents
Copper Lake, taken from east end
Copper Lake, taken from east end
Mining spigot at Copper Lake outlet
Mining spigot at Copper Lake outlet
Campsite at Copper Lake
Campsite at Copper Lake
Copper Lake, taken from campsite at north end
Copper Lake, taken from campsite at north end
Mine tailings
Mine tailings
Nor-Pac rail-trail
Nor-Pac rail-trail
Trailmap
Alternate Routes

  • Skip the Copper Lake descent and instead continue north along the double-track, which will fork, with one branch heading west to the St. Regis Lake trailhead and the other east to the Nor-Pac trail
  • Head west along the stateline trail to climb Stevens Peak or drop down into the Stevens Lake or Lone Lake basins. The Nor-Pac rail-trail connects those basins back to Lookout
  • For the shortest hike to the lake, park at the upper parking lot and hike in on trail 267. That’s about 3 miles roundtrip


© 2016 – 2017 NaughtyHiker. All rights reserved. No duplication without permission.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. montucky says:

    Excellent post and trip account!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. naughtyhiker says:

      Thanks! Wasn’t quite prepared for all the bushwhacking…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike says:

    Enjoyed reading again, and looking forward to more!

    My JRT and I did that loop in reverse a couple summers ago. Quite the bushwhack up from Copper lake until we hit an old roadbed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. naughtyhiker says:

      Yes, that’s a tough climb up from Copper Lake. Glad we went the other way. Naughty had no problem, though, squeezing low through the spruce thicket

      Like

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