Woods Lake trail a hidden gem

The Woods Lake trailhead is a hidden gem of the entire Whitefish Trail system.

Gentle trails to three scenic overlooks allow hikers to look straight down onto Woods Lake, and offer distant views toward Whitefish Lake and the entire Whitefish Range. It’s easily the most dramatic and scenic segment of the 26 miles of trail in the system, but also the most difficult to reach.

Drive time from Whitefish to the trailhead is between 30-40 minutes.

Head west out of town on Highway 93 toward Eureka. Turn right onto Beaver Lake Road, then follow the well-marked signs to the trailhead, passing Murray and Beaver lakes along the way. It’s slow going on the sometimes rough gravel road.

The ample parking lot was empty last Sunday morning when my wife and I arrived with our toddler daughter in tow. He had the place to ourselves, other than a few quiet mountain bikers passing through in a blur.

After looking at a map posted on the trailhead kiosk, we decided to hike a 4.2-mile loop up to the three scenic overlooks.

The trail starts out flat and follows along the east shore of Woods Lake. The alpine lake includes a primitive boat ramp to launch a kayak or canoe. It’s known for having big fish, but we didn’t bring our gear for this trip.

About 0.3 miles into the hike, we veered uphill to start our ascent to the first overlook. The trail passes through open forest of larch and fir before topping out at a rock outcropping that looks down onto the lake — a perfect spot for a water break or a lunch spot with a view.

Continuing along, the trail meanders up and down before reaching the 1.2-mile scenic loop. The views on this segment peek at Whitefish Lake and Big Mountain, and open up to expansive vistas of the entire Whitefish Range. Bring a camera, for sure.

The hike back goes quick as it’s mostly downhill. It was too chilly for a swim, but on a hot summer day it would be a nice option.

Total hike time with a toddler in the backpack was about 1.5 hours.

Maps and trail details are online at www.whitefishlegacy.org/trailheads.

Local’s Tip: The fall foliage on this stretch of trail is amazing with a number of large larch dominating the forest canopy.

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