Washington is definitely the land of stunning alpine lakes, and Blue Lake is numbered among 1 of the must dos. It’s great for families or adventurers just looking for a shorter time out. While it’s definitely still a bit of a work out, the switchbacks are all excellently graded and the overall length is short and sweet. The lake at the end is stunning and I particularly couldn’t get enough of the surrounding mountain peaks and spires of the North Cascades. You can also swim in this lake but be warned… it’s REALLY cold even by my standards.
Distance: 4.8 to the lake. (Add 0.5 if you do the upper loop add on)
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
Time: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Easy/ Moderate
Fees: $5 cash fee at trailhead or display you NPW forest pass/ National Parks Pass to cover the fee.
Trail head Directions:
The trailhead for Blue lake is just off of HWY20. If you are coming from the East (Winthrop) the trailhead will be just 1 mile on your left past the Washington Pass overlook (which is on your right and another worthy stop) If you are travelling from the West, the trailhead will be on your right about 4 miles past the Rainy Pass TH.
From the brown house potties and trail head marker, follow the trail back into the trees. It will follow the road a short ways before veering to the right and beginning switchbacks up the hill.
The switchbacks are very long but even out the trail nicely so the elevation gain is less noticeable. As you climb higher you’ll start being able to see incredible mountain peaks through gaps in the trees and even the start of some high alpine wild flowers. Eventually the trail comes near a little creek and heads straight up alongside it. This is when you are almost there!
Once you reach the lake, you’ll come to a fork. Continue left to stay long the shore and even when the trail looks like it ends- continue through the rocks and you’ll find even more peace and quiet without the crowds.
If you want to extend your hike a little and get great views down onto the lake, take the right fork and follow it a short ways up. The trail to the right loops around in a 0.5 mile loop or you can just retrace your steps after getting a good view back to the main trail which you follow the same way down.
A note on crowds:
This hike can and will get busy as it is one of the best known short trails in the North Cascades National Park. There is extra parking allowed on the road but be safe as it is a highway. We started hiking around 1 on a Monday and there was ample parking in the lot and the while we certainly saw people on the trail and around the lakes- it never felt crowded. So a weekday if you can is best.
A note on swimming
After the grand success of Colchuck I was ready to swim in another alpine lake. Let me tell you though this lake is NOT the same. It was pins and needles the entire time and I could barely handle having my upper body in the water at all. (Talk about sucking all the heat out of your body in an instant cold) We took a few photos where I stood on rocks off shore so my upper body could remain out of the water but just the short swims to get out there were a little painful. So unless REALLY cold water is your thing, I don’t really recommend a swim in this lake. It is allowed however if you so choose.
What do you think, would you take a dip in this alpine lake? Whether you swim or not, Blue Lake is yet another pristine alpine lake worth the hike in one of America’s most underrated National Parks. I highly recommend checking this one out!