The Cabinet Mountains along with the Selkirk Mountains close to the west are considered some of the most pristine and untouched “wild” mountains in the lower 48 starts of the United States. These lush, untamed mountains trend north to south with elevations ranging from a low of 2,880 feet (877m) down in the valleys up to 8,738 feet (2,663m) on top of Snowshoe Peak, seen in the image below in the middle of the range on the horizon. Ibex Peak rises above the northern ridge of Berray Mountain on the right and the crystal clear, pure waters of Bull River slowly drift by in the foreground, reflecting the brilliant colors of a winter sky.
In the image below, ghostly fingers of fog drape heavily forested mountainsides in the Kaniksu National Forest where Basin Creek makes its way down from the high ridges on Government Mountain, shrouded in clouds above. It is early spring with the snow melting, under heavy rainfall the long brown leaves of the densely matted reed canarygrass on both sides of the Bull River are still flattened on the ground by the weight of the winter’s snowfall.
The Cabinet Mountains have a long history of human activity. They were seasonal hunting grounds for the First Nations Kootenai for thousands of years and were used to hunt large game such as Elk, Moose and the Mountain Goat which was highly valued for its pelt in addition to being a wonderfully rich food source. They also used many plants which had adapted to high altitudes and were collected in the bush for food and medicinal purposes.
There are a couple of theories as to how or why they called it the Cabinet Mountains; there are either a set of rocks in the Cabinet Gorge on the Clark Fork or a set of canyons in the mountains which resemble cabinet furniture. The problem is I have never been able to find the canyons that support this theory and the rocks are allegedly underwater now due to the river being damned. But I have always held that story as rather suspect as that would have led to the River being called the Cabinet River instead of being used to name nearby mountains.
I have a different theory which I will propose here; they were named the Cabinet Mountains because, from certain points alongside the Bull River where the trappers would be been working and camping while they worked their way upriver, there is a nondescript and unnamed crag of rocks hanging off the southwestern side of Chicago Peak that actually looks like a set of 4 cabinets on top of the mountain. But this view is only available from certain points along the Bull River and the ancient Kootenai Native trail that traverses along the river between Clark Fork and Bull Lake.
In the images above and below, taken from different vantage points along the Bull River about 5 miles up from Clark Fork, you can see the uncanny resemblance to a set of cabinets sitting atop the ridgeline. Lensed in the middle of the summer, when the trappers would have been active on the river, these images illustrate very clearly how they would have come up with the name “Cabinet Mountains”.
In the image below, Billiard Table Mountain is seen from the old Kootenai Trail (now MT-56) where the East Fork joins the Bull River. When you look at the image above and then the image below, it is understandable that they would name these the Cabinet Mountains and the Billard Table.