Slate Lake


Forest Service Trail #313

Why? Nice, mostly woodsy walk.

Season: Late May through early November.

Ease: Moderate to difficult. It’s over 5 miles and 1,500 feet up to the lake.

Hiking more than 5 miles up the trail to Slate Lake might seem silly given that you can drive to within a few yards of it. If you drive, however, you miss a rather nice walk along a rather nice stream, and the scenery along the way. It’s also amazingly quiet. Even on Labor Day the year I hiked it, I met just one other group of hikers.

The trail follows Slate Creek as it flows between Round Top and Little Round Top on one side and Gospel Hill and Gospel Peak on the other. All of these mountains are visible at one time or another along the way.

Most of the trail is through the woods with the usual rock outcrops and boulder areas. The rocks are predominately light grey and are often decorated with mosses and lichens. For relief there are a couple of large meadows that cry out for grazing animals, though none were in view when I hiked.

The trail is wide and the grades aren’t too steep because it’s actually an old wagon road. But it’s rocky in places and amazingly wet in other places, so wet that wood has been laid in the trail so the going isn’t too bad. The creek crossings pose no problem.

Slate Lake itself is pretty, though its shores are lined with marshes instead of beaches. It’s surrounded by trees on two sides, rocky slopes on another.

Along the trail I saw the usual grouse in addition to a grey fur streak about the size of a large housecat that ran across the trail. But the high point of my hike was seeing five snakes, a personal best for a single day hike. All were small. They were of three varieties, none identified except that they weren’t rattlesnakes.

Trail Notes: If you walk all the way to the parking lot, the lake is to the right down the steep hill. But there’s an easier way. As you get close to your expected hiking time for a 5+-mile trail, watch in the trees to the right and in front of you. The outlet of the lake forms a small meadow visible through the trees. After you pass that, there’s a flat area through some trees, a short uphill through a rocky area, then another short level spot in the trees. Look through the trees for the tell-tell “lake gap” in the canopy. If you see it, the lake spur is to the right and more visible once you’re over the small rise.

Slate Creek and Lake were so named because early miners found that there was only slate in the stream, no placer gravel.

Directions: Turn right at the sign for Snowhaven on Road 221 after driving through Grangeville, then go straight on the same road at the drive-in-theater screen about 1 mile later. Stay on 221 for 41.2 miles and turn left on Road 444 into the Gospel Hump just before milepost 30. The Slate Lake trailhead is signed on the right, 1.6 miles up this road.

Information: Nez Perce National Forest, (208) 983-1950.

Maps: USGS Sawyer Ridge and Hanover Mountain, Idaho; Forest Service Gospel Hump Wilderness Map.