A lot of rock formations on the broad summit.
South summit North summit
For purposes here, this summit is referred to as Horseshoe Summit, though it doesn’t really appear to have an official name. Some sources refer to it as Horseshoe Viewpoint, while others call it Horseshoe Lake Lookout, though Horseshoe Lake is about two miles away. It forms a spur ridge separating Howard Creek and Gravey Creek in the upper Cayuse Creek basin off of the main Lochsa/North Fork Clearwater divide. At 6,985 feet is one of the highest points along this extended ridge system of the Clearwater National Forest. Its northern slopes rise nearly 3,200 feet above the canyon bottoms of Cayuse Creek and indirectly 4,200 feet above the Lochsa River to the south. A lookout was established here in 1921, but it burned in a 1961 forest fire. Today the large summit area is still open with only sparse scattered trees offering expansive views into the more remote sections of The North Fork Clearwater River basin. The word “Horseshoe” was spelled in rocks to identify the lookout from the air and these rocks remain today.
The summits along the extensive divide system generally are not well pronounced forming clear peaks or mountains. Rather the ridges rolls on for many miles with broad, gently waving high points that often are not named. Horseshoe is one of the higher points that also forms a defined summit. But perhaps its most noteworthy features are the several fascinating rock formations on the wide summit area. Large irregular formations of weathered granite are not uncommon along this otherwise featureless ridge system; however on the summit of Horseshoe these are probably the largest and densest to be found. These rocks provide good bouldering opportunities and are popular with photographers.
The history of the area is very significant as Lewis and Clark followed the main divide on an old Indian trail that today is known as the Lolo Motorway. It is in this extensive sea of mountains that the Corps of Discovery had their greatest trials and nearly perished due to hunger and harsh conditions. The Motorway is popular today with people tracing the trail of Lewis and Clark and visiting the many significant historic points along the Indian trail.
Access is provided from Highway 12 via the Lolo Motorway (Forest Road 500) from either the east or west. The quickest way is to turn off Highway 12 onto the 107 road at the mouth of Indian Grave Creek. Follow the 107 road for approximately seven miles to Saddle Camp, which is the junction with the 500 road. Five roads meet here. Take the first right, which is the 500 road. It’s very narrow and the entrance may appear partially obscured by brush. Follow the 500 road east for approximately four miles a junction with the 588 road at a point labeled on the map as Howard Camp (note, the Clearwater National Forest visitor map indicates Howard Camp to be up the 588 road, but signs on the ground and USGS quads label it as occurring at the junction of 500/588). Wherever it actually occurs turn left on 588 and follow it for approximately four miles to its end on the summit of Horseshoe.
The 500 road is very narrow with few limited pullouts or places that would allow two vehicles to pass each other. If two vehicles meet someone will likely have to back up a long ways. If the road has not been maintained or brushed recently, then expect some wear on your vehicle. High clearance is recommended and 4wd is a good idea, though other cars can make the drive if one is cautious and takes it easy. If there are concerns then cars can be parked at Saddle Camp or Howard Camp, which would allow people to hike in a few miles to the summit.
Horseshoe Lake trailhead
A great place to camp on this mountain is the summit itself. It’s broad and open and provides great views in all directions. Campers here would really have a great “top of the world” feeling. Also the granite castles and towers would provide nice setting to camp. The only drawback is that the summit is dry so campers would need to bring water in. Another good option is Horseshoe Lake that is accessed off the 588 road about halfway between the mountain and the 500 road. The lake is not visible from the road, but a sign indicates the trailhead and it’s less than a quarter mile or so into the lake. Other remote camping opportunities can be found at some of the junctions and wide spots along the 500 road such as at Howard Camp or some saddles that provide great views over the expansive Lochsa canyon and the Clearwater and main Bitterroots of Montana beyond. Developed campgrounds charging a minimal fee are scattered along Highway 12 in the low country and cabins can be rented at Powell Junction.
When to climb
Obviously summer and fall are the best times to reach the higher elevations of north central Idaho. During the fall many hunters may be found in the area, especially camping in the lake basins and most of the summer the mosquitoes will be terrible, even up on the apparently dry ridges. Thunderstorms are frequent in the summer afternoons. As with any high mountain come prepared for a variety of conditions and watch weather reports closely.
Generally the mountain gets no winter use; however snowmobiles may access the Motorway and conceivably reach Horseshoe. Someone with snowshoes could get into the mountain or at least close along the roads. Winter and spring snow levels are always heavy in these mountains.
Mountain Conditions and Information
Go to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. Weather and temperatures can vary dramatically between the canyons and the mountain.
Contact the Powell Ranger District of the
Clearwater National Forest for information and current conditions
Powell Ranger District
192 Powell Road
Lolo, MT 59847