Hiking to alpine lakes is one of the great joys of living in Washington state.
ON A HOT, sunny day, a biting cold plunge into a glacier-fed lake can be refreshing after a sweaty trip up a hiking trail. Or so people say. I love the idea of an icy lake in August and have witnessed happy swimmers paddling about in alpine lakes. But when faced with silty blue water, I prefer to dip my toes.
Hiking to alpine lakes is one of the great joys of living in Washington state, even if you are not inclined to jump in. Alpine lakes are scattered throughout the Cascades — including the classic Snow Lake at Snoqualmie Pass — and are as lovely a destination as any out there.
Many of the best Washington hikes end at an alpine lake or include a beautiful gem along the way. Spend time exploring. And if you’re especially hardy, jump in.
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Rachel Lake is one of those gems, just east of Snoqualmie Pass and close enough to Seattle to make it a straightforward day trip. The hike begins along Box Canyon Creek on a gentle, shaded trail before it abruptly starts to climb for what can feel like forever. It’s well worth the effort to get to this pretty little alpine lake at the foot of Rampart Ridge. Stay on the trail to preserve the fragile alpine meadow surrounding the lake. Soak your toes or ease into the blue waters to cool off after the steep climb. Or ditch the crowds for the last, steep slog up the ridge to Rampart Lakes, where you can play among alpine lakes and meadows while enjoying spectacular views.
Round Trip: 8 miles (Rachel Lake); elevation gain: 1,600 feet. More info: http://bit.ly/19zUFUZ
Deep Lake (Cathedral Rock)
If you make it to Deep Lake in a day, you will definitely want the refreshing dip to recharge before heading back. The hike to Deep Lake, near Salmon La Sac, takes you up the Cathedral Rock trail, offering sumptuous views as you climb. Break up the length of the hike by turning it into a two-day trip and finding a spot to make camp and explore the peaks and lakes in the area. Round trip: approximately 15 miles. More info: http://bit.ly/18K4X66
One of the entrances to the famed alpine Enchantment Lakes area, Colchuck Lake is so spectacular that once you are there, you may never want to leave your perch on a slab or rock by the shore. That also may be because you earned your rest; it’s an arduous hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness near Leavenworth. It also is worth it for the view of silty blue waters, snowy Colchuck Glacier and dramatic Colchuck and Dragontail peaks towering above.
Round Trip: 8.4 miles; elevation gain: 2,200 feet. More info: http://bit.ly/dnV0Jh
Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap
This hike east of Enumclaw is easy to get to and also is relatively gentle while still offering stunning views and a beautiful lake. The trail follows hillside meadows and takes you past Sheep Lake before climbing up to Sourdough Gap. You have to do a bit of a scramble to get views of Mount Rainier, or settle instead for a swim in Sheep Lake on your way up or down.
Round Trip: 7 miles; elevation gain: 1,100 feet. More info: http://bit.ly/1aSFKTy