4th Of July: Circumnavigating the Cabinets, Part 2

This is Part 2 of our 4th of July adventure in Montana. (Part 1)

I woke up snuggled between Forrest and Sprocket and not too horribly cold at all. The sun was shining and we had the whole day for adventuring. We let Sprocket out of the tent as we emerged from the tent. It took him about thirty seconds to hop into the river. We pulled the tent into the sun for the dew to dry and ate our breakfast of bagels and cream cheese. Our plans to hike off of Vermillion Pass sort of got trashed when we had to head lower to find a camp so we decided to make up the day as we went along—especially since we didn’t have a map for the Kootenai National Forest and were functioning only with the bleed from our Lolo and Idaho Panhandle National Forest maps.

Sprocket in Happy Gulch

Forrest picked out Silver Butte Pass (4,272′, Pass #3) as a likely destination. Down the Vermillion River we went to the junction with the Vermillion River road. We took a quick look at Vermillion Falls and then branched off the main road to the Pass. As we wound our way up the mountain, I realized, “Hey, I’ve been here before!” And then, “Oh dear, I think this road only exits the mountains to the east.” (I totally had been there in Fall 2010 on my first Cabinets adventure). The east side of the mountains was a little further than we were planning on going but by the time I was sure I knew where we were headed we decided to go for it anyway.

Camping
Rainbow over Vermillion Falls

Sure enough, we popped out of the woods on Highway 2 about thirty miles south of Libby. Although we didn’t have a map, we knew that most of the Cabinets were either official wilderness or a designated roadless area so we either had to go back the way we came or head up to Libby. We figured that Libby would have some sort of 4th of July festival so we headed that way. Turns out, Libby doesn’t have much of anything.

Kootenai Falls

We bought some fruit and chips and decided to head back into the mountains to BBQ the rest of our hot dogs. We stopped to hike down to Kootenai Falls—pictures just can’t do justice to the amount of water moving through that canyon! Leaving the falls, we looped back south on Montana Highway 56 back towards Thompson Falls. We stopped to let Sprocket swim in Bull Lake but there were a lot of people around so we decided to continue on. Just south of the lake we started to get some amazing views of the Cabinets and then we spotted a Forest Service road heading up towards them. Based on the edges of the area we could see on our maps I guessed that it was a loop that would bring us back to the highway in about 10 miles so away we went.

Dock jumping at Bull Lake

We detoured up a spur road that seemed like it would give us some views. The maps even showed a lookout on top. The road ended in a buggy area with some decent views but we were hungry and decided to cook the last of our hot dogs before deciding what to do. Although we weren’t sure how far the lookout was (it was either a mile or 3 miles…) we decided to go for it. When we spotted the lookout, it was over on the next ridge, about two miles away, and since the bugs were really bad, Team 3Up made the call to settle for our views from the parking area.

Chipmunk in the Jeep

After we made it back to the main road, going over Snake Creek Pass (3,604′, Pass #4) and then back to the highway, it was time to get ourselves home. The drive home over Thompson Pass (4,862′, Pass #5) and Dobson Pass (4,235′, Pass #6) was all pavement and uneventful aside from getting an ice cream cone in Prichard.

Cabinet Mountains from the west