Leigh Lake, Montana, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Montana - Glacier Country -

Often described as one of the world’s most unique lakes, little Leigh Lake holds waters so clear that viewers feel as though they could reach down and touch the bottom many feet below. The lake, located in Montana’s Glacier Country, is the largest in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area portion of the Kootenai National Forest. Accessible by foot-trail only, the lake is a popular destination for hikers who can manage the mile-and-a-half uphill trail. Although there are almost no statistics available for Leigh Lake, it appears to have a surface area of around 200 acre, with the depth unknown.

Surrounded by towering peaks, the lake gains most of its water from precipitation, either directly or as snow melt from the mountains above it. At over 5,000 feet in elevation, the area gets large amounts of snow; the lake is the source of Leigh Creek, its main outflow. Although Blackwell Glacier lies on Snowshoe Peak above it, the pristine lake shows no sign of the milky blue hue from ‘glacial flour’ that comes from melting glaciers. The ice flows that often can still be seen floating in the lake as late as July may be the result of snowfalls in the form of small avalanches sliding down to the lake. The lake is stunningly beautiful as seen against the backdrop of Snowshoe Peak’s rocky face, a reward over 2000 visitors a year are willing to make the trek for.

Nestled within the alpine setting of the protected wilderness area, there are no facilities or lodging at Leigh Lake. Primitive camping is allowed if kept at least 300 feet back from the shoreline. No motors of any kind are allowed on the trail leading to Leigh Lake, so very few canoes or inflatable rafts even make it to the water. The occasional brave fisherman will backpack with a float tube to try his luck, and there are reports of rainbow trout, bluegill and largemouth bass in the waters. No one has yet claimed the fishing to be good, nor would anglers expect it to be given the sparse weed cover. The only bottom structure visible are many fallen trees lying on the bottom. But fishing isn’t why most hikers come to Leigh Lake; many come to scale Snowshoe Peak towering 3,000 feet above the lake. A trail near the lake outlet will lead hardy climbers to the summit and a view of Blackwell Glacier. The climb is far too strenuous for many who make it to the shoreline and they remain to camp overnight near the lake. Camping regulations can be obtained from the US Forest Service.

Located near the Idaho border, this area of the Kootenai National Forest receives more precipitation than others and is rich in plant life. Wildflowers scent the mountain air. When autumn arrives, usually in September at this altitude, the mountain maple, mountain ash, alders and larch paint the trees in brilliant scarlet, red, brown and golden yellow. A variety of wildlife inhabit the area, including mountain goats, mountain sheep, pika, bears, golden eagles, deer, elk, wolverine and many smaller mammals. Hikers often see mountain goats on the trail to Leigh Lake. One of the highlights of the trail is the waterfall along Leigh Creek which can be seen from the trail. The hike takes about three hours each way from the trailhead and is most accessible between May and October. Only the most intense winter sportsmen attempt the trail after the snow starts to fall. They often find the trailhead at Cherry Creek impossible to reach via car, so must snowshoe in to begin their hike. Some areas of the climb can be dangerous in winter, and only experienced climbers should attempt to reach Snowshoe Peak.

The Cabinet Mountains were named by French miners and trappers early in the exploration of the area, who thought that the towering peaks looked like cabinets. One of the reasons Leigh Lake is so popular is it is only about 13 miles from the town of Libby, Montana. The trail is more accessible than many others and closer to what many National Forest visitors choose as home base for their adventures. Libby is a former logging and mining town that has made the transition to tourism gracefully and with an eye toward the environment. An example is the annual Libby Logger Days Festival which celebrates Libby’s past as a logging center with timber-related competitions, log-rolling, axe-wielding and tree-cutting demonstrations interspersed with educational exhibits on environmentally-sound forest management and ecology. The history of the Libby area remains alive at the Libby Heritage Museum where all sorts of artifacts, buildings and memorabilia are displayed to acquaint visitors with Libby’s past.

Entertainment around Libby isn’t limited to reliving the past. The annual Riverfront Blues Festival is a popular music festival that draws visitors from several states. A shuttle service carries campers to the festival location from campgrounds located nearby. This popular vacation destination is well-supplied with nearby guest ranches, cabins, bed & breakfasts and motels to suit every taste for lodgings. Cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and brook trout are found in many of the nearby lakes and streams. Some rivers are suitable for whitewater rafting, with guided rafting trips available locally. The Kootenai River flows through the heart of Libby, and fishing guides upstream near Libby Dam provide guided fishing trips to mountain streams and the the bigger river itself. Winter snow welcomes snowmobiles, cross-country skiers and winter hikers enjoying the extensive trail networks in the lower valleys.

Leigh Lake is located about 90 miles from Kalispell and only 200 miles from Missoula. This makes the Leigh Lake area highly attractive for a mountain cabin or a riverfront seasonal home. Although millions of acres of western Montana are in public hands, there is still real estate available to buy either in the form of existing homes or buildable lots. Riverfront lots are often found. And Leigh Lake is simply the icing on the cake of this beautiful area. One visit and your entire family will fall in love with the mountains, the streams and the scenic views.

*Acreage is estimated as official statistics aren’t available.

Things to do at Leigh Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Canoeing
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Forest
  • Museum

Fish species found at Leigh Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Brook Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Leigh Lake Photo Gallery

Leigh Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

divider

Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 200 acres

Shoreline Length: 3 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,144 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

At LakeLubbers.com, we strive to keep our information as accurate and up-to-date as possible, but if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you!
Please let us know about it on our Content Correction form.

Spread the word! Share our Leigh Lake article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.