The Bitterroot Mountains are the largest group of the Bitterroot Range, which follow the Idaho/Montana border. Most of these peaks are only 6000 to just under 8000 feet high and while rugged, offer little in the way of climbing. Eagle Cliff Peak however, presents a massive 1200 foot high cirque that drops into Cliff Lake and provides several possibilities for more challenging routes. With a prominence of 1079 feet, it is the second highest peak in Mineral County, Montana and lies about 9 air miles NW of Illinois Peak. There are two summits. The SE summit has a 2 foot high pipe marking the state line. Slightly E from there is the USGS benchmark. Scramble along the ridge to the NE summit, which is only slightly lower, but far more rugged. Although described in Tom Lopez's book on Idaho Mountains, it actually is more easily approached from the Montana side. This mountain lies on the border between the Superior Ranger District of Lolo National Forest and the St Joe Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.
Getting ThereThe easiest way into the area is via Dry Creek Road. Take Exit 43 from I-90, just 3 miles west of Superior, Montana. Turn south onto Southside Road, cross the river and then railroad tracks. A few miles further a road takes off to the right, and is signed 342. Follow the road, which soon turns into gravel but is in excellent condition for passenger cars.
Depending on which way you chose to climb Eagle Cliff, you can either turn off at the junction of road 7843 after 9 miles and follow this road about 4 miles to the parking/camping area at Diamond Lake or you can continue on to Dry Creek Saddle for another 4 miles. At the saddle the State Line Trail #738 crosses the road.
Red TapeNONE! No permits, no fees. Everything is better in Montana!
Camping and AccommodationsCamping is available at Diamond Lake. There are about 4 official camping spots with firepits. There is a vault toilet but all garbage must be packed out. There are some primitive campsites at Cliff Lake. People also seem to camp at various places along Dry Creek road.
If traveling from far away, Superior, Montana, is the closest town with motels and cafes. Rosie's Cafe, located in the old school in the heart of town before the bridge, is a very good and inexpensive place to eat.
Eagle Cliff is easily done in a day from Missoula.
Class 1 and 2
The easiest way to the summit of Eagle Cliff is to hike the State Line Trail from Dry Creek Pass for about 3 miles. You will eventually be following the crest of the ridge leading to Eagle Cliff and will have spectacular views down to Cliff Lake and across to Eagle Cliff Peak. Where the trail veers off and starts to descend towards Binocular Peak, you should turn to the NE and follow the slopes and finally the ridge to the summit. The State Line Trail continues on to Binocular Peak and eventually intersects Cedar Creek Trail, 9 miles away. One can continue on to Illinois Peak and then drop down to Cedar Creek Road. This might make for a nice overnight trek, provided you have some one pick you up or have arranged a car shuttle!
NW Gully Route
Class 2 and 3
From Diamond Lake, hike Trail #100 to Cliff Lake (1.2 miles, 600 vertical up, about ½ hour). The trail ends at the creek outlet on the NE end of the lake. Continue on primitive trail around the east side of the lake to the prominent gully. This gully is filled with talus (in early season with snow) and leads to a saddle just east of the NE summit. Scramble from the saddle along the ridge crest to the summit. Continue along the ridge to the SE summit. About 1.5 to 2 hours
We encountered a lot more snow in the gully than we were prepared for, so we scrambled up a steep side gully and came out near the saddle. Any number of steep couloirs and ridges in the face should also offer some fun climbing.
There are 2 ways to return to Cliff Lake. One is to reverse your route. The other is to descend the slope to State Line Trail #738 and head NW. It is important to not miss the junction with Dry Creek Divide Trail which rises sharply to the ridge dividing Torino and Dry Creeks. Where the trail is on the Cliff Lake side of the ridge, bushwhack down the slope along the trees. Trend always to the east, as the slopes directly above the lake are very steep. You want to hit the stream exit of Cliff Lake, as this will provide the easiest stream crossing. There are waterfalls below the lake. It takes about 2 hours from summit to the stream crossing, and another 20 minutes from the end of the lake to the parking area. See the map!