The Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington State is absolutely a hiker and backpackers paradise. Every hike is filled with amazing mountain vistas and gatorade blue lakes around every corner. With over 700 hundred lakes to discover, there is never a dull moment when you are exploring this area.
The combination of craggy granite peaks and crystal-clear blue lakes is one that you won’t find in too many other places. It really does feel like you have stepped into another world up there. And while it’s growing in popularity, I would say it’s still fairly under-trafficked – so you can find some moments of solitude at the Alpine Lakes Wilderness if you go to the right places.
In this article, I would love to share with you my experiences at the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and provide you with recommendations for your visit. But before I do so, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ali Colner. I was born in Oakland, California but grew up mostly in Portland, Oregon starting at the age of seven. So I consider Portland, Oregon to be my hometown.
Up until the beginning of the pandemic, I was living in New York City but moved back home to save on rent and be near family. Now that things are getting back to normal, I’m not sure where the wind will take me next.
I think my love for travel and exploring began at a pretty young age. My parents loved to travel and always brought my brother and I along on vacations. I remember hiking a lot as a kid and our trips were always action packed. We also lived abroad in the Netherlands for a couple of years which I’m sure contributed to my interest in new places and cultures.
My Experiences at Alpine Lakes Wilderness
I first came across the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on blogs and other social media platforms when I was starting to do research on places to hike. This was when I came back to the Pacific Northwest at the beginning of the pandemic. I was struck by the colors of the water in these lakes that looked completely remote and peaceful. I knew I had to see them for myself.
My first trip into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was a one night backpacking trip to Tuck and Robin Lakes, which also happened to be my first attempt at backpacking. After that experience I was hooked on both the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and backpacking. Since then, I have gone back a couple times for day hikes and have lots more visits planned for this summer!
Highlight of the Area: Lake Ingalls
Every experience in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is so unique. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite place or compare different spots. But if I had to choose a highlight it would be Lake Ingalls. My friend and I hiked this trail on one of those rare sunny weekends at the end of October 2020.
It felt like summer had come again. The trail was almost completely empty since it was so late in the season and there was just enough snow from previous weeks that the trail looked completely magical but was still easily accessible. Lake Ingalls itself is stunning and comes after a climb that really makes you feel like you have earned the views you find at the end.
It was one of those days where the stars seemed to align for the perfect hiking experience. Maybe it was made all the sweeter knowing that it was probably my last major hiking adventure of the year.
Best Adventures at the Alpines Lakes Wilderness
You could easily spend months on end exploring this one area. I myself still have so much to see! But from my experiences so far, I would say these are the best adventures one can have at the beautiful Alpine Lakes Wilderness:
1. Take an Overnight Trip to the Beautiful Lakes
Tuck and Robin Lakes were amazing to see but there are also many other lakes to discover! The stars out here are incredible and permits in most places are self-issuing which makes an impromptu trip possible. Jade Lake, Tank Lakes and Lake Ingalls are also great options to name a few.
2. Hike to the Popular Colchuck Lake for Sunrise
The trail to Colchuck Lake is always crowded and for good reason! The lake is gorgeous but if you are like me, you will probably prefer some solitude out in nature. So coming early in the morning for sunrise is your best bet to enjoy the lake in relative peace before the masses arrive.
3. Pop into Leavenworth for a Quick Visit
Leavenworth is the cutest little mountain town and a nice place to give your feet some rest with a cold drink in summer. The town is Bavarian-styled with alpine-style buildings and restaurants serving German beer. Who would have thought something like this would exist in Washington?!
4. Through Hike the Enchantments for a Challenge
This is the only thing on this list that I have yet to try myself, but it’s on my bucket list for the summer. I was unable to get an overnight permit for this popular route, which is about 20 miles point to point. This isn’t surprising given that it’s one of the most competitive permit lotteries in the country. The only other way to see this gorgeous area is to hike it all in one day.
Where to Stay near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
As I mentioned, Leavenworth is a sweet town in the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that makes a great jumping off point for the hikes in the area. It’s not necessarily the most budget-friendly option but it has a lot to offer! There are also quite a few airbnbs scattered around the towns nearby.
Another option is car camping. This is usually my accommodation of choice when I go exploring in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as it allows me to save money and, if you have camped at the trailhead like we often do, also helps you get an early start on the trail. You want to do your research so you don’t find yourself car camping in a place where you could get a ticket!
Tips for your Visit to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
I would say the most important thing to remember, like anytime you go exploring in the outdoors, is to do your research before going. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is deep in the mountains and quite remote in places.
There is no service at most of the trailheads – so ensure you have a method of navigating trails offline, have alerted people to your whereabouts before departing and that you have checked the weather before heading out. Weather systems change quickly. Make sure you bring multiple layers and weather protection even if you think you have picked a sunny day.
My favorite apps are AllTrails Premium for trail navigation and Dark Sky for accurate weather forecasts. Something else to keep in mind when visiting this epic place is that this wilderness area is located within the boundaries of a couple different national forests. Therefore, a day use fee (usually $5) is required to park at all trailheads, even if you are only hiking for the day.
It’s easy to pay this fee online and print your pass before you go, or you can purchase a Northwest Forest Pass ($30) which is good for a year and is valid in other national recreation sites throughout Washington. On a more fun note, this area is great to hike in the fall. If you have ever wanted to go larch hunting, these alpine lakes can be a great place to find gold!
Lastly, if you are in Washington for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you would be amiss if you didn’t also check out the trails on the Olympic Peninsula. You have the chance to do beach hikes, see a glacier, wander through a rainforest and climb mountains all in one weekend. It’s a wonderful place to explore and is truly a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience.