Crystal Lakes (WA)

Crystal Lakes (WA)

A trip with almost constant ascent to a pair of beautiful alpine lakes, ringed by peaks. Along the way are views of Mount Rainier. The last mile or so is heavenly and well worth the effort.

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Highlights: Two gorgeous alpine lakes, ringed by peaks, often visited by wildlife and sporting abundant wildflowers in season. Mount Rainier views up and back.

Travel Time (from Urban Centers to Park/Trailhead): Almost two hours from Seattle, about 1 ½ hours from Tacoma, 3 hours from Portland.

Nearby Supplies and Gas: Enumclaw and Buckley.

Stop Along the Way: Wapiti Woolies in Greenwater, Wash., for coffee, huckleberry ice cream, gifts.

Difficulty: It’s a steady climb, though never exceedingly steep, with a few switchbacks.

Distance: 6.0 miles (out and back).

Entrance Fees: None, unless you are moving on to the national park’s closest entrance to Sunrise (then $25 per car per week, $10 individuals).

Top Elevation: 5,838 feet.

Elevation Gain: 2,310 feet.

Trailhead Waypoint: 46.9227, -121.5336

Maps: Green Trails Mount Rainier East No. 270, USGS White River.

Getting There: From Enumclaw, take WA-410 (Stephan Mather Parkway) to the national park entrance. From there, drive about 4 ½ miles, looking for a pullout on the right side big enough for about 20 cars. The trailhead is across the highway.

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The first time I did this hike, it was by complete accident. I was going to test my fear of exposed heights by driving up to sunrise, but a ranger discouraged me. I actually was driving home when I saw a pullout with some cars parked. This piqued my interest. I never would have imagined the treats that awaited!

Walk across the wooden footbridge and you’re on your way, almost always up through a fairly dense sub-alpine forest. About 1.3 miles along, you’ll get to the junction with Crystal Peak Trail. I’ve not gone there; it’s 2.5 miles out with 1,800 feet of elevation gain. ‘Nuff said?

It’s only another mile to the turnoff to Lower Crystal Lake. It’s only a little ways off the main trail and is not visible otherwise, so you might as well check it out. But if that’s your final destination, you’re crazy.

Not even a mile up, along a more-open, wildflower-strewn trail (if in season), is the Upper Lake, which is considerably larger and sitting inside a bowl-like setting with Three-Way Peak, to the northeast, being the most interesting. There are said to be elk there on occasion, sometimes the odd black bear, and mountain goats on the surrounding slopes. I saw none of those, but I did spy some pretty blue moths alighting on the muddied park of the trail.

It took a bit of effort to get there, and it was worth it, right? So stay a while, especially if you remembered to apply insect repellant. You’ll need it in the summer!

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