Williams Peak


Forest Service Trail #508

Why? Spectacular scenery, especially in fall.

Season: Mid-July through September

Ease: Difficult. It’s 9 miles with 1,200 feet down and 1,000 feet up from the Blacklead Mountain end of the trail to Cache Saddle.

Blacklead Mountain doesn’t look like much, but the trail that starts along its flank goes to some of the finest spots in the Clearwater. To make it even better, you don’t have to go far to see many of them. The farthest camp in my trip to the area was only 6 or 8 miles from the trailhead, in a hanging meadow on the northeast side of Rhodes Peak. And we probably didn’t hike much farther than 3 miles beyond that on a day hike. But the rewards were great.

The first was Goat Lake, set in a bowl at the base of a rocky cliff of black and white on the ridge that leads from Blacklead to Kelly’s Finger. The ridge south of Williams Peak and the route over it were visible, with Rhodes Peak behind it and to the north. In the evening sun, its light-colored rocks were a lovely pale and rosy maroon.

On the way to the Williams Peak ridge, the highpoint of the saddle between Williams and Silver Creeks is worth a side trip. The Williams Creek drainage drops off precipitously below, with Rhodes Peak high above on the right. A jagged black ridgeline tops the ridge to the left.

A second worthwhile side trip is to the top of Williams Peak, a pile of black rocks that are relatively easy to negotiate. A small dry lake sits below it on the north, Williams Lake to the south.

And the third side trip is Rhodes Peak itself. I didn’t make it to the top, but I’m told that the views from there were well worth the hike up.

The trail from Rhodes to Cache Saddle isn’t good. In fact, it doesn’t exist in some spots. But the hike is worth doing for some fabulous rocks.

One of the rock bits looked like a black castle perched on a dark green carpet of trees. Other piles of rock formed the high points of the ridges along and near the state line trail. Still others decorated our path to that peak from camp, across an area where the trail really was more a notion than a reality.

Two areas along that “trail” hung on the hillside and at first glance looked like they must have been old, old roadbeds. But they weren’t, for there have never been roads in these places. On closer inspection we decided that they must be areas that were covered by small glaciers or long-term snow. One had an interesting wavy, bumpy topography, possibly due to melting patterns. It also was lined on its outer edge with an array of rock columns that by themselves were worth the trip.

Name Note: Rhodes Peak and Williams Peak are named after Billy Rhodes and Lafe Williams, respectively, men who mined the Blacklead Mountain area for silver. Williams named Blacklead Mountain after the ore found there, which was black with silver mixed into it.

Trail Notes: The trail is now classed as a “mainline” by the Forest Service. However, we found it particularly difficult to follow between our campsite northeast of Rhodes and the saddle below the unnamed peak that was our farthest destination. A topo map helped, as would a GPS.

I hiked this trail in the fall, when the fall color was absolutely superb. We camped at Goat Lake, at a small lake on the saddle between Williams and Rhodes Peaks that doesn’t show on the topo map, and in a hanging meadow on the northeast side of Rhodes at the top of one of the Kelly Creek Forks watersheds. We hiked back to our car from that meadow in one day.

Directions: The trailhead at Blacklead Mountain is on the 581C Road, a right turn off the 581 or Toboggan Ridge Road which is a turn to the right off the Lolo Motorway at Cayuse Junction. After you turn onto 581C, your vehicle will determine how far to drive and where to start hiking. That part of the road to the trailhead is awful.

Information: North Fork Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 476-0129.

Maps: USGS Rhodes Peak, Idaho.

Connections: Although the map shows that this trail connects to the Stateline Trail at Cache Saddle, it’s a sketchy connection at best. And the Stateline Trail in that area most probably is sketchy at best, too.