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Libby Lake

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Hidden in a high cirque in the hinterlands of Hoodoo Peak, Libby Lake is one of the loneliest and loftiest in the Sawtooth Range. And floating at an elevation of 7618 feet, it's also one of the highest alpine lakes in the entire Cascades. Surrounded by towering walls and tailings of talus, Libby's setting is stark. But its outlet is graced with rows of stately larches. In summer their delicate needles add soft green streaks to the barren basin, while in autumn their golden transformation adds light. It's a stiff climb, best attempted early to beat the Okanogan sun.

Trail No. 415 starts in an old cut. A few remnant ponderosas still stand, and swaying grasses and quaking aspens adorn the stumps. The trail wastes little time in attacking the ridge in front of it, steadily gaining elevation. In early summer, boughs of balsamroot turn the open southern slope a sunny yellow. In the distance, Hoodoo Peak's hood peeks above the Libby Creek valley.

After about 1 mile of stiff climbing, crest the ridge and enjoy a bit of level hiking. In 0.5 mile you'll enter the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness in a forest of lodgepole pine punctuated with granite glacial erratics. This is classic Okanogan Highlands topography. More stiff climbing ensues, than a slight descent as the trail crosses Libby Creek at about 2.5 miles (elev. 5800 ft).

Now in cool forest and across bogs and granite slabs, the trail works its way into a broad basin. Peer up at the imposing craggy walls encasing you and continue with more stiff climbing. At 5 miles stop to take a break and inspect an old cabin (elev. 7250). The final grunt awaits. After pushing up a steep slope studded with larches, the trail finally relents, reaching the 1.5-mile-high lake. Its clear waters are rippled by cool breezes and probed by snowy fingers-Libby is made for looking not for soaking.

Admire the forbidding walls casting their long shadows across the lake. Ponder at what appears to be the ruins of an old rock dam at the lake's outlet. Built in 1911 by farmers far below, it was used for irrigation control. The gatekeeper must have been in one heck of a good shape.
Driving Directions:

From Twisp drive State Route 20 east for 2 miles. Continue south on SR 153 for 9.4 miles, turning right onto Libby Creek Road, also known as County Road 1049 and signed "Blackpine Lake 12 miles." The turnoff is 1.3 miles south of Carlton. (From Pateros follow SR 153 north for 21 miles to the junction.) In 2.4 miles the pavement ends at a junction. Turn left onto FR 43, signed "Blackpine Lake 9 miles." In 5.2 miles turn left onto FR 24, signed "N FK Gold CR." In 1.2 miles turn right onto FR Spur 700, signed "Libby Lake Trailhead." And in 1.5 miles bear left onto FR Spur 750. Follow it for 1 mile to the road end and trailhead (elev. 4300 ft).

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 9 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Libby Lake — Sep 01, 2012 — matthejo
Day hike
Issues: Road to trailhead inaccessible
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Note: the route suggested by WTA is inaccessible due to a washout on Libby Creek Rd (NF 43), but you...
Note: the route suggested by WTA is inaccessible due to a washout on Libby Creek Rd (NF 43), but you can get all the way to the trailhead via Gold Creek Rd (NF 4340). From SR 153, turn on Gold Creek Rd and follow NF 4340 until you reach NF 700, which has clear signage mentioning Libby Lake trailhead. Take a left onto NF 700, then another left onto NF 750 to the trailhead.

Perhaps because of the washout, I saw only one party the entire trip, but the lake was beautiful and the trail was well-kept.
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Libby Lake — Jul 18, 2011 — chigman
Day hike
Issues: Washouts
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We attempted to do some scrambling of the top 100 peaks in Washington in the Sawtooth area via Libby...
We attempted to do some scrambling of the top 100 peaks in Washington in the Sawtooth area via Libby Lake, but had to change our plans after we realized the FS road 43 was washed out at 4.6 miles. This washout adds about 4 miles of road walking on each end of the hike. Be advised.
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Libby Lake — Jul 15, 2011 — Lace Thornberg
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Sorry that there is not more to report. The road is closed by a large washout four miles short of th...
Sorry that there is not more to report. The road is closed by a large washout four miles short of the Libby Lake Trailhead.
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Libby Lake — Jun 29, 2011 — trailhop
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Blowdowns | Bridge out | Snow on trail
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Started hitting snow just before the first crossing of Libby Creek. Numerous blowdown that are easy...
Started hitting snow just before the first crossing of Libby Creek. Numerous blowdown that are easy to cross. Still 3-4 feet of snow in the basin. Great hike but be prepared for some route finding in places.
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Libby Lake #415 — Oct 01, 2006 — the ole goat
Day hike
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For years I’ve looked at the guidebooks and reading the description for Libby Lake and have desire...

For years I’ve looked at the guidebooks and reading the description for Libby Lake and have desired to hike into the remote and seldom visited lake. The time had finally come; the larches were turning a bright gold and the heat of the summer had gone south. Rather than drive up to the trailhead Friday night, we left early Saturday morning for the 3-½ hour drive up to the Methow and the trailhead. Also, departing from our normal routine, we brought the dogs, “TaTa” and “Buddy” along for the hike. Driving up along the Columbia River we couldn’t help but notice the Black-billed Magpies, which were as common as Crows were on the West Side of the Cascades. Than driving up the gravel road toward the trailhead we could see, high upon the peaks, near timberline, the larches. They’re bright gold, contrasting beautifully against the blue sky and gray rocky peaks. We knew we had picked the perfect weekend to see the larches at their best with fairly good weather to boot.

We left the trailhead at 9:10 AM, on what would prove to be the longest 5.5-mile hike we’d ever been on. Felt more like 6.5 miles to all of us by the time we reached the lake. The trail starts out switchbacking through Quaking Aspens and Ponderosa Pines, interspersed with meadows with sagebrush. Which surprised me as the trailhead is at 4400 feet. After about a mile, the trail reaches the ridge top and a thick growth of Lodgepole Pine. The trail rises and falls along the ridge top, before dropping on a long traverse to a crossing of the North Fork Libby Creek, and the first possible campsite. Supposedly 2.5 miles in from the trailhead. The trail then climbs up through alternating slabs and Lodgepole Pines, which slowly give way to Spruces and then the golden larches. At 5 miles we came to an old log cabin with more campsites but very little water. The trail then climbs up quickly through cliffs, granite slabs and more larches and increasingly fewer Pines and Spruces, although they were present at the lake which is 7600 feet. The rocky slopes of HooDoo Mountain rose up to our left, and to the right, across the valley rose up a steep canyon wall with golden larches clinging to its precipitous slopes. Shortly before reaching the lake, the trail traverses a steep treacherous rocky slope, where the skeletal remains of a horse warn of the danger here. The trail then climbs slowly up a rocky bench with scattered larches before climbing up the final slope to Libby Lake.

It was 3:30 PM when we reached the lake, and everyone agreed it felt longer than 5.5 miles, even the dogs were beat. The lake was ringed on three sides by steep talus slopes falling down off the cliffs higher up. A few permanent snow patches lied at the bottom of the cliffs, and some snow from two weeks previously could be seen. Only on one side was there any ground flat enough for a tent, and those were hard to find but with all the rocks and boulders scattered among the larches, which of course, at their best, a bright gold. The cold wind that blew down off the cliffs blew many of the needles off the trees, and the ground was covered with a golden brown covering of needles. We found a spot, where we could set up the tents about 20 feet apart and 50 feet from the lake. We set up the tents and settled down to eat. I had gone to long without anything to eat, and what with the elevation gain, I was sick and found it hard to keep anything down. Need to stop and get some nourishment before I get to that point again.

After eating a late lunch, Princess and the Little Lady climbed into their mummy bags to get out of the cold wind, the Trailmaster went off exploring and Me Lady and I went down to the lake to try some fishing. We knew there were fish in the lake from earlier reports and because we could see them rising. On my second cast I had a strike, and on my third cast, using my spinning rod and a Panther Martin spinner I had a nice 10-inch cutt on. Two casts later I had one get away, then on the very next cast I had another cutt on. To make a long story short, in less than 30 minutes, I caught five cutthroat trout, 9-11 inches, had two get away and three strikes. We now had dinner! It was the best fishing I’ve ever experienced, and both Me Lady and I are ready to return someday.

Dinner that night was, of course, trout, fried with Rosemary Cracker crumbs, baked beans with bacon, maple syrup and brown sugar, rice and mini sausages. Sounds good doesn’t it? Bet your mouth is watering right now! After dinner we cleaned the dishes in the gathering darkness and climbed into our mummy bags. TaTa sleeping with Me Lady, the Trailmaster and I, keeping our feet warm all night, and Buddy with Princess and the Little Lady, keeping their feet warm. Shortly before turning in both Me Lady and the Little Lady heard the baa-baa of a Mountain Goat.

We fell asleep that night, despite the rocks jabbing us in our backs and sides, except for Me Lady who lucked out, and found a spot that didn’t have any rocks, and the wind buffeting the tents all night and howling down the cliffs above. Occasionally the wind blew with such force that it would force one side of the tent flat threatening to flatten the tent entirely and waking us up. Finally, the wind let up, a few hours before dawn.

Oct. 1, 2006

Me Lady was first to wake up, and upon sitting up she woke me up. I could see by looking out from underneath the rain-fly that dawn was approaching. I then un-zipped the back of the tent and Me Lady and I watched the sunrise over the Methow valley and slowly turn the rocky peaks around us gold. I hated to climb out of the sack, but the three of us; TaTa, Me Lady and I needed to answer a most important call that couldn’t be ignored. So we reluctantly crawled out of our mummy bags and out into the cold morning air. The girls could be heard in their tent and from what they were saying we knew Buddy needed to answer the same call. After answering the call of nature, we fired up the stoves and prepared a breakfast of freeze-dried eggs with ham and both green and red Bell Peppers and freeze-dried raspberry crumble. It was actually pretty good, but there wasn’t enough to satisfy everyone.

After breakfast, The Trailmaster went off exploring in one direction, while Me Lady, Princess, the Little Lady and I, along with the dogs, scampered over boulders to the other side of the lake, by the talus slopes to get a picture of the lake with the golden larches. The going was a little rough for TaTa, so the girls stayed with the dogs while Me Lady and I climbed over some of the larger blocks to get our picture. While taking our pictures of the lake and larches, I couldn’t help but notice that several large trout were cruising right along the shoreline. Meanwhile, TaTa, showed her devotion toward me by whining and making a fuss whenever I disappeared from view, even if just for a brief moment. After taking our pictures, we headed back to camp and began to pack up for the hike out. We were on the trail out by 11:10 AM.

We made quick work getting down to the old picturesque cabin, with several small trees growing on the roof. We had planned to take a break there, but upon arriving found five tents, from a group of Seattle Mountaineers, scattered around the cabin. From past experience with man-made structures in the mountains I’ve come to expect mice with them, so I usually avoid camping near them. So we dropped on down to the crossing of the North Fork Libby Creek before taking our break and having a bite to eat. Then we hiked up the rising traverse to the ridge top, taking breaks whenever Tata showed signs of being tired or one of us felt the need for a drink of water. The Trailmaster, with Buddy on a leash, easily pulled ahead, and surprisingly the Little Lady did also. We took a final break on the ridge just above the switchbacks leading down to the trailhead. We arrived down at the trailhead around 3:20 PM. With all of us, once again, saying that it was the longest 5-½ miles we ever hiked.

Even though we’d like to return to Libby Lake sometime, I wouldn’t go before September. On the lower reaches of the trail, rattlesnakes, ticks and cattle could be bothersome. The latter was much in evidence by dried cowpies, which when fresh would also attract lots of flies. Add the heat of the summer sun, and mosquitoes, autumn would be a much better time to do this hike.

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Libby Lake ole goat.jpg
Libby Lake Larches. Photo by ole goat.
Libby Lake (#415)
North Cascades -- East Slope
Okanogan National Forest - Methow Valley Ranger District
Roundtrip 11.0 miles
Elevation Gain 3320 ft
Highest Point 7618 ft
Fall foliage
Mountain views
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Buttermilk Butte No. 83
Prince Creek No. 115

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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Red MarkerLibby Lake
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