Once you reach the trailhead for Chicago Peak and the surrounding area, you will note that few summits in the Cabinet Mountains are even remotely as accessible. The trick is, however, to get your vehicle to the trailhead. Good ground clearance is a must and 4WD can be handy as well -- not to mention puncture resistant tires.
The area around Chicago Peak has something for everyone. If you want to just lounge around next to cool alpine waters, there is Cliff Lake (Copper Lake is nearby too). If you want an all day summit scramble with impressive views down a sheer north facing wall, the West Ridge of Rock Peak is hard to beat. Or, if you want a mid-level walk up with views deep into the heart of the range (and even Glacier National Park on a clear day), St. Paul Peak is a nice option. And for those who want an easy peak-bagging trip or just want a summit to while away a couple hours, there is Chicago Peak.
[img:515629:alignleft:small:As you can see, Chicago Peak is in quite a nice setting.]
Now at first one wonders why on earth would someone be thinking of a big city (from the Midway as well!!!) while in the mountains. The rock formations on Chicago Peak do resemble a city skyline. Still, true wilderness enthusiasts don't think such things. The real inspiration for the name (as noted in 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest, pg 253)is not much better. According to Landers, it, as well as St. Paul Peak and Milwaukee Pass, is named after the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad that opperated in the region back in the early 20th century. You'd think one would be inspired to forget about all things pertaining to industrialized civilization in an area so punctuated with magnifiscent mountain scenery.
The views from Chicago Peak are splendid. To the west and far below is the Bull River Valley. Accross Bull River is the west Cabinets with the peaks of the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. To the north lie the monarchs of the Cabinet Range: Snowshoe, A Peak, and Bockman Peak. To the east are St. Paul Peak and Rock Peak. To the south is Engle Peak and the Clark Fork Valley.
It appears that Chicago Peak (like many others in the Cabinets) is composed largely of sedimentary rock with the rest being beargrass. Huckleberry is also abundant. The beargrass becomes much more noticeable while descending as it seems to defy any tracting your boots and shoes may bear. Watch your step.
Getting ThereTo get to Chicago Peak, you'll need to get on highway 200 and head about 2 miles east of Noxon, MT, near milepost 17 (Trails of the Wild Cabinets, pg 56). From there, turn on to Rock Creek Road, drive a couple hundred yards, and turn right, on Rd 150. Follow this about 8 miles to road 2741, turn right, and try not to be fooled by the gentle begining. Road 2741 deteriorates gradually and in the last few miles goes from logging road to some sort of wide way-path made by giant mountain goats until it ends after 6 miles (if your vehicle made it that far).
Red TapeNot much red tape to speak of. No parking passes or anything. Federal Wilderness regulations apply. Contact Kootenai National Forest for more info:
Kootenai National Forest (Cabinet Mountains Wilderness)
1101 Hwy 2 West
Libby, MT 59923
CampingCamping is not necessary, but for those who have a hard time leaving beautiful places, limmited backcountry camping can be found at Cliff Lake. Please be careful not to damage the meadows. And remember, you are in grizzly bear country, so take the proper precautions. [img:321199:alignleft:medium:Looking down at Cliff Lake from Chicago Peak]
RouteGetting to the top from the trail is too straightforward to warrant a separate route page, so I'll describe it briefly here:
[img:516873:alignright:small:Descending the beargrass to the level bench. Engle Peak in the background.] From the trailhead, the trail ascends slightly to go over a small ridge and then drops down onto its east side. After about 3/4 (+/-) of a mile, the trail comes to a level bench that makes an arc that goes around the east side of Chicago Peak, Milwaukee Pass, and Cliff Lake. Once at this level area, Chicago Peak should come into view with its grassy eastern slopes plainly visible. Follow the trail until you come to a convenient spot to leave it for the peak. Follow the grassy slope (beargrass) up to an obvious notch in the south ridge just left of the summit area. Once at the notch, turn north (right) and follow the way path (or game trail) to the summit. The very top may require light scrambling. The west side of the peak is much less steep than the east side and many small firs grow there as a result.
On the descent, follow the route you took up. Only watch your footing on the slippery beargrass and loose talus rocks.
References100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest by Rich Landers
Trails of the Wild Cabinets by Dennis Nichols