Alpine Lakes Hikes
WTA recommends ten alpine lakes within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness for our wonky weather year of 2011. There are some that are more remote or higher that are still iced over well into August. We'll leave those for a more representative year. But these ten hikes are sure to please lake-lovers of all stripes.
When you go, please practice . Lakes are and the shores of these lakes are fragile ecosystems. Be careful not to trample the plants and do all of your business - camping, washing dishes and relieving yourself - at least 200 feet away from the lake. Also note that all of these hikes are within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, so hiking parties must be kept to 12 or fewer (that includes dogs and horses). And speaking of dogs, nearly every trail leading into this wilderness requires dogs to be on leashes (in the Enchantment permit area, dogs are not allowed).
When you're back from your hike, please post a Trip Report about your adventures!
Snoqualmie Pass Corridor
Mason LakeRound Trip: 6 miles
Elevation: 2550' gain
High Point: 4750'
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a muddy, rooty and steep gully of a trail to Mason Lake. Today, inspired by Ira Spring, an icon of Washington's hiking community (and a founder of WTA), a beautiful trail takes hikers to the very same alpine lake. The journey is almost as great as the destination, as the Ira Spring Trail affords fine views of the Snoqualmie Valley below and exquisite wildflowers (including beargrass) in July and August. The lake itself is pretty and forested, with a few campsites around it.
We recommend this trail especially as a basecamp for exploring the numerous other lakes and peaks in this corner of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Within a mile are four other lakes (Kulla Kulla, Blazer, Island and Rainbow), as well as trails to the top of both Little Bandera Mountain and Mount Defiance, affording even more awesome views of the area.
Pratt LakeRound Trip: 11.5 miles
Elevation: 3000' gain
High Point: 4200'
Pratt Lake beckons hikers who are looking for a bit more seclusion, while still starting their hike from Snoqualmie Pass. At 11.5 miles round trip, it is just beyond reach for many day hikers - though you will certainly have company at the start with all of the people ready to summit Granite Mountain. The way takes you through deep forest, with occasional great views of mountains and Olallie Lake down below.
Our hiking guide entry only describes the hike to the Pratt Lake Basin - and not all the way to the lake. Take a backpack and go all the way to Pratt Lake. There are many possibilities for sidetrips and multi-night exploring, including Lower and Upper Tuscohatchie Lakes and, well beyond, Kaleetan Lake where you will likely be the only person admiring Kaleetan Peak from its glassy waters.
Melakwa LakeRound Trip: 9 miles
Elevation: 2300' gain
High Point: 4600'
Melakwa Lake is one of the finest lakes that is easily accessible from the Snoqualmie Pass corridor, with its rocky shore giving it a alpine character lacking in some of the other lakes in the region. The trail starts as a super highway, ferrying extended families to the "waterslide" along Denny Creek. A bridge is out at the creek, which is an impediment early in the season. After shedding the waterslide crowds, hikers will pass two lovely waterfalls, hike through buggy meadows and finally reach Melakwa Lake. Admire the stony crags of Kaleetan and Chair Peaks before returning - or continue on with backpacks to Lower Tuscohatchie Lake, Pratt Lake and beyond. A sort of loop (you'd need two cars) is possible here.
Round Trip: 8 miles
Rachel Lake and the Rampart Lakes
Elevation: 1600' gain
High Point: 4600'
Snoqualmie Pass is finally getting the big melt in August, and Rachel and the Rampart Lakes are open for business. This is an excellent hike for August and September - known for its fall color and berries. More than one Trip Reporter has said that this trail has "a little bit of everything" - mountain views, waterfalls, flowers and lakes. It also is a crowded trail, with a super steep rocky and rooty stretch, and mosquitoes at the lake. But the views are pretty sublime, and it is easy to see why so many people make the trek.
The trail to Rachel Lake is snow-free as of mid-August, and there is one snow patch between there and the Rampart Lakes, which may be even prettier - if that is possible. Check out Don Guyer's Trip Report from October 2009 for an additional reason to go.
Stevens Pass Corridor
Lake DorothyRound Trip: 3.5 miles
Elevation: 800' gain
High Point: 3060'
Lake Dorothy is a large, alpine lake that is easily accessible for the whole family. In a bit less than two miles, hikers can reach its shores and walk for two more miles along this long lake. It's a great choice for a first backpacking trip - or for taking a fishing pole. Just don't expect to be alone.
Those who wish to shed the crowds can hike on to Bear and Deer Lakes (about 11.5 miles round trip), or even push on to Snoqualmie Lake. Do note that as you proceed, the trail receives less maintenance, and those making a thru hike to the Taylor River valley and the Middle Fork will encounter many a blowdown. But you're unlikely to see anyone else either.
West Fork Foss LakesRound Trip: 13 miles to Big Heart Lake
Elevation: 3700' gain
High Point: 4900'
If a challenging hike or backpack to a gorgeous series of alpine lakes is what you're looking for, this hike will deliver. The challenge starts just one-half-mile into the hike, where a bridge is out, requiring crossing on a log. Then there are blowdowns, the very rocky trail and lingering snow. Those who persevere will be rewarded handsomely, however. Guidebook author Craig Romano describes the five lakes along this trail as "among the biggest and most beautiful within the 393,360-acre Alpine Lake Wilderness."
Hikers will first come to little Trout Lake at 1.5 miles. Then there is Lake Malachite, Copper Lake, Little Heart Lake and Big Heart Lake in succession. The trail is in fair shape to Copper Lake, where most hikers turn around. Going beyond, expect snow and bring trekking poles. It is worth the effort to reach Big Heart Lake, and those backpacking can even explore further - to Angeline Lake, Chetwoot Lake and more.
Surprise LakeRound Trip: 9 miles
Elevation: 2400' gain
High Point: 4500'
The north side of Stevens Pass is a challenge for hikers this summer. Late snow lingers and lakes usually accessible in July are still iced over. Surprise and Glacier Lakes are no exception and snow persists there into August. Hikers should be able to make it to Surprise Lake, however. This is a good spot for a day trip or overnighter. People who enjoy shade during their hike will appreciate the forest canopy; hikers enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness almost immediately and enter a thick forest for most of the way. Surprise Lake sits in the shadow of the granite spires of Spark Plug and Thunder Mountain. Glacier Lake, another mile up the trail, is more rugged and alpine in character - but still snowed in as of mid-August.
From the East
Colchuck LakeLocation: near Leavenworth
Round Trip: 8.4 miles
Elevation: 2200' gain
High Point: 5600'
With Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks and two glaciers as an imposing granite backdrop, and the Upper Enchantment Lakes an enticing climb over Aasgard Pass, Colchuck Lakes emerald waters lure many visitors. From June 15 - October 15, hikers need a hard-to-get permit to camp here, but day hikers are welcome to come and go. The ascent isn't easy, but the reward is definitely worth it. Many people believe Colchuck Lake is the most spectacular of Washington's many gorgeous alpine lakes. We certainly can't argue with that (though it does have several competitors).
Lake IngallsLocation: The Teanaway
Round Trip: 9 miles
Elevation: 2600' gain
High Point: 6500'
One lake that can take on Colchuck Lake in a competition for most spectacular is Lake Ingalls. And it's not just the lake that is pretty. This is one of Washington's premiere wildlflower hikes as well - with broad meadows that explode in a diverse and ever-changing flower display in summer and dazzle with amazing fall color in autumn. All along the way are incredible views. Ultimately, hikers will be delivered into the alpine lake nirvana of Lake Ingalls where you will be greeted by its rocky shore and an up-close view of Mount Stuart. Also, perhaps, some mountain goats.
Pete LakeLocation: Salmon la Sac
Round Trip: 9 miles
Elevation: 400' gain
High Point: 3200'
Here's a lake you can swim in! It's cold, to be sure. But refreshing after your hike up the forested Copper River Valley. This lake is a great destination for families, and a good place from which to access the PCT and all of its wonders. Many hikers use Pete Lake as a jumping off stop for a longer backpacking trip that penetrates deep within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The trail should be in pretty good shape too, as several of WTA's Youth Volunteer Vacations have been up here in year's past.