Blue Lake Golden Larches Hike

5 miles round-trip
1,000 feet
Summer through fall
Hiking to Blue Lake in Washington's North Cascades is a breathtaking experience, especially during larch season. The 5-mile out-and-back trail winds through a forest of larch trees, which turn a brilliant golden yellow in autumn, providing an incredible backdrop for the lake's reflective blue waters.

To witness the fall colors at their peak, I recommend hiking to Blue Lake during the first couple weeks of October. When planning your trip, it's best to check recent trip reports on websites like AllTrails to get an idea of current conditions. On our trip, we hiked Blue Lake on October 8th and the timing was perfect. Be aware that the timing may vary depending on the current weather.

Blue Lake in the North Cascades

Getting There and Parking

The Blue Lake trailhead is approximately a 3-hour drive from Seattle, and is a popular destination during Larch season. The medium size parking lot may fill quickly on fall weekends, so be prepared to park on the shoulder of Highway 20 or even walk up to 1/2 mile to the trailhead if you do not arrive early in the morning.

On our visit, we arrived at the trailhead around 1 PM on a weekend and the closest available parking was over 1/2 mile from the trailhead.

The following pin shows the location of the Blue Lake parking lot off Highway 20. Note that Highway 20 is closed seasonally from November through late spring. A Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent is required for parking, you may also self-issue a $5 day pass at the trailhead.

Hike Details

The 5-mile round trip passes through the colorful larch forest, switching back and forth as you gain around 900 feet of elevation towards Blue Lake. On the way up, you'll see the crags of the Early Winter Spires rising above the forest to your left. After reaching the lake, explore its surroundings from multiple rocky outcroppings that offer views of its amazingly reflective waters.

Reflections on Blue Lake

Once you've finished exploring Blue Lake, I recommend continuing your hike along the right side of the lake. This side path winds to a picturesque loop surrounding a shimmering tarn (a small mountain lake). This trail is quieter than the main trail, and is a relaxing spot to set down your pack and snap a few photos.

A small tarn above Blue Lake

Return back down the same path, taking in the autumn colors one last time before reaching the trailhead.

Reflections on the tarn

Camping Nearby

Because of the trail's distance from population centers and its popularity, I suggest camping in your car or at one of the nearby campgrounds, and hiking in the morning. Colonial Creek South Campground is 30 minutes west on Highway 20, and has 10 first-come, first-served spots after the summer reservation season ends (usually in September or October). Lone Fir and Klipchuck campgrounds are also first-come, first-served and are located 10-25 minutes east of the trailhead. Lone Fir and Klipchuck campgrounds offer a range of amenities, including drinking water, pit toilets, and fire pits. Both campgrounds are set in beautiful forested areas and provide easy access to nearby trails. Dispersed camping is limited in this area due to its proximity to North Cascades National Park and the lack of access roads.

Lone Fire Camping
In the following section, I've added pins for Colonial Creek South, Lone Fir, and Klipchuck campgrounds. We stayed at Lone Fir Campground during our trip and found it to be an excellent base camp for exploring the nearby trails.

Other Info

Blue Lake is close to many other breathtaking trails in the North Cascades. Continue reading for a couple more of our favorites.

Maple Pass Loop

8 miles, 2k feet gain

Get ready to be mesmerized by the natural beauty of larch season at the stunning Maple Pass Loop in Washington's North Cascades. This 8-mile loop hike offers the perfect blend of breathtaking views and autumnal splendor as the larch trees transform into a sea of golden hues. With alpine lakes, jagged peaks, and plenty of photo ops around every bend, the Maple Pass Loop is a must-do for any nature lover.

The best time to hike the Maple Pass Loop is the first or second week of October, when the Larches are at their prime. Make sure to check trip reports before you depart, so you have a good idea of the current conditions.

Backpacking Snowy Lakes In The North Cascades

20 miles round-trip
4,500 feet
Mid-summer to early fall
Explore stunning landscapes and the natural beauty of northern Washington with a backpacking trip to Snowy Lakes. These high alpine lakes are an ideal backpacking destination, tucked deep in the heart of the North Cascades and surrounded by a multitude of snowy peaks.

On this 20-mile out and back, you'll spend the majority of your hiking time well above the treeline, taking in constant views of the Cascade Range. Wildlife is also abundant on this trail, which you may be lucky enough to see (we saw mountain goats and a solitary black bear). While Snowy Lakes is suitable as a day hike for experienced hikers, it's best experienced as a backpacking trip. This will allow you to spread out your miles and fully experience the gorgeous campsites at Snowy Lakes.

The trail starts at the Pacific Crest North Trailhead across Highway 20 from Rainy Pass, just outside the North Cascades National Park. Campsites at Snowy Lakes are first come, first serve, and there are no required permits for backcountry camping along this stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
Snowy Lakes, Washington.
Still have questions? Send me a message over email to connect. Happy Trails!
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Thanks for visiting our travel blog, Trails And Trekking! We're Lauren and Anders - an adventure loving couple currently stationed in the Pacific Northwest. We're avid hikers, backpackers, and travelers. We're both originally from Oregon, but we've spent the last two years traveling the Pacific Northwest and beyond. We created this blog to share our passion for exploring the outdoors, and to inspire you to get outside.