ALPINE LAKES WILDER­NESS, WA

IN­SIDER’S GUIDE

Backpacker - - Contents - By Ryan Wichelns

Ex­plore a sum­mit-, wa­ter­fall-, glacier-, and lake­happy cor­ner of the Pa­cific North­west.

Yes, the peaks here are some­thing to be­hold. And there’s no way to down­play views of Pa­cific North­west forests and Cas­ca­dian vol­ca­noes. But look a lit­tle lower in the aptly named Alpine Lakes Wilder­ness, and you’ll see the real prize: 700 crys­talline tarns. The sharp to­pog­ra­phy hides pock­ets of wa­ter deep in basins, high on slopes, and ev­ery­where in be­tween. Here, it’s about the swimmable, cam­pable, and jaw-drop­pable lakes as much as it is the climbable sum­mits. And at the end of sum­mer, the wa­ter sure is fine. THE IN­SIDER

Craig Ro­mano likes to say hik­ing is his liveli­hood. The au­thor of more than 20 out­door guide­books, he has walked more than 25,000 miles in Wash­ing­ton alone for re­search. His lat­est goal? Dis­cov­er­ing offthe-beaten-path trips in the Alpine Lakes Wilder­ness, which, just one hour from Seat­tle, is rightly pop­u­lar with Pa­cific North­west hik­ers.

WEEK­END SOLI­TUDE

The En­chant­ments, on the north side of the 400,000-acre wilder­ness, at­tract hik­ers like ants to honey, leav­ing the nearby Chain and Doelle (“dool-ee”) Lakes com­par­a­tively va­cant. The 24-mile outand-back there fol­lows the Pa­cific Crest Trail from Stevens Pass for 4.9 miles be­fore veer­ing south onto the Icicle Creek Trail at fir- and cedar­trimmed Josephine Lake. Head 3.2 miles down the val­ley be­fore turn­ing east up the Chain Lakes Trail and climb­ing 2,000 feet to the first of the three Chain Lakes at mile 10.5. A ser­rated ridge frames the pool to the north, and 6,846-foot Bulls Tooth looms above it to the south. Keep go­ing up to the 6,200foot pass that sep­a­rates the Chains from the Doelles for views of the En­chant­ments’ multi-peaked Mt. Ste­wart. Drop north off the pass on­trail to visit the twin Doelles, ringed with gran­ite and mead­ows, at mile 12. Camp on the big­ger lake’s north side.

CUS­TOM HIKE

Not sure how far you want to go? Build your own day­hike start­ing with Dorothy Lake, the first in a se­ries of alpine pools. From the end of Miller River Road, it’s an easy 1.8

miles to the 1.5-mile-long tarn, which ref lects Big Snow Moun­tain at the far end when the weather’s calm. Most ca­sual hik­ers stop here—you don’t. The string of lakes that fol­lows—Bear, Deer, Sno­qualmie—is one of Ro­mano’s fa­vorites be­cause it’s so quick to leave the crowds. Con­tinue on the Dorothy Lake Trail, trac­ing high above the east and south shores, to reach much smaller Bear Lake and its quiet beach­front camp­ing near mile 4.8. From there, you can con­tinue to Deer and Sno­qualmie Lakes at miles 5.3 and 6.3, re­spec­tively.

MOUN­TAIN GOAT SANC­TU­ARY

Go goat watch­ing in the area around Tuck and Robin Lakes. The shaggy, white an­i­mals con­gre­gate on the talus slopes of 7,142-foot Gran­ite Moun­tain, high above tree­line, late spring through sum­mer. (Go in May and June to try to spy ba­bies.) To get there, tackle the 14.4-mile out-and­back from the Tuc­quala Mead­ows trail­head. Weave through a forested val­ley be­fore be­gin­ning the climb up to the lake basin at mile 4.5. At the twin tarns, scan for moun­tain goats bal­anc­ing on boul­ders and lin­ger­ing near snow­fields. Find a wind-pro­tected camp­site be­fore re­turn­ing the way you came.

BEST VIEW

Climb any moun­tain in the Alpine Lakes Wilder­ness and you’re pretty much guar­an­teed a view­shed of wa­ter, ice, gran­ite, and spruce, so it’s hard to go wrong. But Ro­mano’s fa­vorite is the view from Sur­prise Moun­tain, which stretches north across a broad, tun­nel-like glacial val­ley, all the way to 10,541-foot Glacier Peak, 30 miles away. Best part? The route there is just as good: Take the Sur­prise Creek Trail 4 miles south from U.S. 2 in Scenic to the path’s name­sake. (Stop for a swim; at just 4,500 feet, it’s rel­a­tively warm.) Keep go­ing on the Pa­cific Crest Trail, cross­ing Sur­prise Moun­tain’s north ridge to the De­cep­tion Lakes at mile 8. From there, climb up its south­ern flank on the Old Cas­cade Crest and Sur­prise Moun­tain Trails, sum­mit­ing near mile 10. (Want an­other Ro­mano fa­vorite? Tackle the 8-mile out-and-back to Gran­ite Moun­tain for fire look­out-as­sisted vis­tas south to Mt. Rainier. The trail­head is off I-90 on NF-9034.)

APRéS

Leav­en­worth is the undis­puted cap­i­tal of the Alpine Lakes, but Ro­mano prefers the qui­eter town of Roslyn for post-hike eats. His fa­vorite: Base­camp Books and Bites, which sells—you guessed it—hik­ing books and food.

TRIP PLAN­NER

SEA­SON June to Oc­to­ber PER­MITS Most trail­heads re­quire a North­west For­est Pass ($30; store.usgs.gov/forest­pass) and back­coun­try per­mit (free; self-is­sue). CON­TACT www.fs.usda.gov/okawen

Visit the stained-glass wa­ters of the Thun­der Moun­tain Lakes on an 8-mile piece of the Pa­cific Crest Trail from Tun­nel Creek. Or, scram­ble 1.2 miles up from Sur­prise Lake (see Best View).

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