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.
The Crystal Lakes Download
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.
(NOTE: Clicking on an image opens full-sized version).
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!