Rainy Lake (WA)

Rainy Lake (WA)

One day you’ll tell a friend, “I just took the best hike.”

When you divulge the location (Rainy Lake), she or he will respond, “That’s no hike. You can take a walk like that anywhere in the city.”

Don’t back down. This is a hike. The fact that you won’t have to suck oxygen at the end only makes it a great hike.

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Highlights: Alpine lake in beautiful setting, picturesque streams, waterfalls, paved trail, dog-friendly, picnic areas at trailhead and site.

Travel Time (from Urban Centers to Park/Trailhead): About 3 hours from Seattle, about 3 ½ hours from Tacoma, about 3 hours 15 minutes from Vancouver, B.C.

Nearby Supplies and Gas: Mazama (22 miles east), Winthrop (35 miles east), Marblemount (53 miles west).

Difficulty: One of the trails that not only claims it is wheelchair accessible, but also actually is.

Distance: 1.8 miles.

Entrance Fees: No entrance fee, but this land is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, so a Northwest Forest Pass ($5/day, $30/annual) is required, various passes.

Top Elevation: 4,800 feet.

Elevation Gain: 50 feet.

Trailhead Waypoint: 48.30.908, -120.44.157

Maps: Green Trails Washington Pass No. 50; USGS Washington Pass.

Getting There: From the North Cascades Highway (WA-20), travel 36 miles east of Newhalem, Wash. (where North Cascades National Park Visitor Center is located) or 22 miles west of Mazama, Wash., to milepost 158.

Click Here for Multimedia Map, Elevation Profile & Presentation of the Hike

No one’s discovered an out-and-back hike that is downhill both ways, but this comes close. People may walk their dogs a corresponding length, over similarly paved, easy urban thoroughfares. But they’re not going to cross charming streams, pass under giant forests, or reach a blue-green alpine lake, tucked into an eye-popping amphitheater, with a serious waterfall spilling into it.

They certainly aren’t going to traverse that route while covered in snow in the summer. Does that count toward degree of difficulty? It actually took my contingent (wife, bichon-poodle and me) two tries to make this hike because the first time even the drive into the picnic area and trailhead was covered in pretty deep snow – at the end of June.

Our second attempt — in November, no less – was much easier sledding (not literally, however). The paved trail was as trouble-free as advertised, though there was a patch of white stuff on the wooden bridge that crosses the lively creek about a quarter-mile along.

Rainy Lake is reached in no time after the bridge. Even those who’ve seen alpine lakes in what appears to be a big bowl carved out of the mountains and rock will be impressed by the scene that awaits. You’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t pack at least a snack, to munch away while gazing at this beauty from the benches at the viewpoint.

Glance over to the right (northeast) and locate Rainy Lake Falls, partly fed by what’s left of Lyall Glacier, which tumbles some 800 feet before joining the otherwise tranquil lake. The roar can be heard, even though the falls is about half a mile away. A dirt pathway, accessed behind the lake overlook, leads closer to the falls.

A much larger picnic area sits around the trailhead, with pretty well-maintained “facilities,” so a well-earned meal still can be had. During which, of course, you’ll all marvel over one of the most feature-rich hikes, per calorie burned, you’ll ever find.

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Rainy Lake (WA)
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