Five Lakes Butte


Forest Service Trail #233

Why? Scenery and fall color

Season: Mid-July through September

Ease: Easy to moderate. It’s just 2 miles and 1,000 feet up to Gold Lake.

My hike to Five Lakes Butte was unique in that it’s the only backpack I’ve done where I willingly shortened the hike in so as to camp in an unplanned spot. I did so because we found a place too beautiful to not stop, Gold Lake, and I never regretted the decision.

Gold Lake is small, nestled right up to the base of Five Lakes Butte. The cubic lines of the rocks in the butte are reflected in the lake, as are several rock slides. The rocks are grey with faint coral overtones, and hold some patches of green or yellow vegetation.
To the left of the lake the butte is less rocky. There are clusters of dark evergreens, and early the September I hiked to the lake, there were clusters of dry plants that from a distance looked a darker shade of the coral in the rocks. The rest of the hillside was a tapestry of greens.

I sat for hours at both ends of each day we stayed and admired my view. I got up before sunrise to see it in the early light, for it faced east.

There are four other lakes near Five Lakes Butte, probably not a surprise given its name. You pass Tin and Copper Lakes on your way to Gold. Both sit in a marshy open meadow about 1 ½ miles in. You also pass Silver Lake, though it’s not visible until after the trail passes the spur to Gold Lake. Silver sits against a vertical grey rock wall and has several good campsites.

The trip to Heather takes longer. It was our original destination and though I’m glad we stopped at Gold, Heather has its virtues. The primary one is yet another smashing rock wall in shades of gray and pink. It looks like a cubist painting gone three-dimensional.

Getting to Heather is both interesting and vexing. The trail that brings you to the other lakes continues past the spur to Gold, going up and past Silver to a saddle. The trail forks there. I don’t know where the left fork goes, but the right continues around the back of Five Lakes Butte. Though that trail offers easy views into the St. Joe River drainage and in fact is the divide between the St. Joe and North Fork Clearwater drainages, it won’t get you to Heather Lake.

At the saddle above Silver Lake where the trail forks, you have to leave the trail and head up the ridgeline on the right to the top of the butte. There’s no obvious trail at that point, but once on top you’ll find snatches of trail. When you reach the high point, angle down the right side toward Heather, which you will have seen a bit of from the top. There’s no trail, or none that we found. While it’s an easy bush whack, it’s steep in places.

The trail to Gold Lake uphill for the first 1½ miles, but well graded and not arduous. There’s a small meadow part of the way, but most of the hike is through trees, mostly hemlock and sub-alpine fir. This means that even if you hike in the middle of the day, this part of the hike will be mostly in shade.

Directions: Take Highway 12 east from Lewiston to Greer. Turn east on Highway11 at Greer and continue through Weippe almost to Pierce. Just before Pierce turn east on French Mountain Road. Soon after, you’ll see signs indicating the mileage to Kelly Creek – 49 miles. This road is paved at the start, then gravel, as is the road along the North Fork of the Clearwater which you’ll turn east on 30 miles later.

Turn left on Road 250 at Kelly Forks, and stay on this road until after it crosses Lake Creek. Turn left over the North Fork a few yards later on the road to the Cedar Grove campground, but then turn right just across the bridge onto Road 720, the Fly Hill Road. When the road splits into three parts about 7 miles in, stay in the center. At about 10 miles in, go right on Road 715. The trailhead is on the left just past 18 miles in.

It is signed, and there’s some off-road parking space.

Information: North Fork Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 476-4541

Maps: USGS Bacon Peak has all of the trail and area except for the first few hundred yards or so which are in Chamberlain Mountain.

Connection: In theory, you can continue on the trail from above Gold and Silver Lakes along the St. Joe Divide Trail #233, the hike down the Lost Ridge Trail #283 to Skull Creek and a road. However, water availability along either trail is questionable, which I why I haven’t done the hike.