ALPINE LAKES WILDERNESS, WA
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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).