Beautiful little hike through a larch forest to a high mountain lake in Washington’s North Cascades.
Distance: 4.6 miles
Type: out and back
Difficulty: easy with 900′ elevation gain
Best Season: July to October
We had enjoyed two magnificent days of fall hiking in Washington’s North Cascades. The Galena Chain Lake Loop at Mt. Baker and Maple-Heather Pass Loop off the North Cascade Highway had both been worth their place on my bucket list. Tuesday morning we had time to do a short hike before heading for home. It had rained around 4:00 and the forecast was for 80% rain later in the morning, but for now the sun was shining. We had originally planned to hike the short hike to Rainy Lake, but at the last minute we decided to do the longer Blue Lake hike just off Washington Pass.
We left Marblemount and headed east along North Cascade Highway almost to Washington Pass. One mile west of the pass we turned into the well-marked Blue Lake trailhead at 5,450’ elevation. There was one other truck, but we wouldn’t see a single soul on the way in or while we were at the lake.
We hit the trail about 8:30 with sunny skies. The trail climbs steadily, but gently with good tread. Initially we strolled through a forest of hemlock and then transitioned into larches which were beginning to turn fall yellow. The second half of the climb opened up to good views of the peaks around Washington Pass. We passed several boulder fields that were abuzz with pika activity.
We reached Blue Lake at 2.3 miles (elevation 6,350’) after a 900’ gain. Blue Lake was gorgeous, but lighting conditions were challenging for photography. A sign at the trailhead had warned about habituated mountain goats at the lake, but we didn’t see any. We took a nice break overlooking the lake and then began the return hike just as the clouds were starting to move in. We passed four groups headed in on our way out. Two different couples asked if we had sun at the lake—it was really getting gray by now.
We returned to the car after 2 hours and 4.6 miles. We changed our shoes, grabbed a snack and then pulled out of the parking lot around 11:30. Within seconds of hitting the highway the rain began and would continue for the next several hours. We had timed that just right!
rain moving in
That was the end of our mini-vacation to the North Cascades. I had checked a couple items off my bucket list, but many hikes remained!
Directions to the trailhead: from Marblemount, WA drive east on North Cascade Highway (SR-20) to mile marker 161 (1 mile west of Washington Pass) and turn right into well marked trailhead.