Best Northwest Lake Getaways: Alpine Camping

Head uphill with a backpack for lake camping without the crowds.

By Roddy Scheer


July 13, 2017

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

If you love camping by lakes but hate the crowds, it’s time to strap on a backpack and go deep…into the wilderness, that is. Luckily, Washington state is blessed with some of the best backpacking terrain in the world; the hardest part might be deciding which off-the-grid spot to head toward.

Wherever you go, be aware that you may need a permit of some type, whether to camp or to park your car (see below).

Clocking in at 414,161 acres, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness—spread across two national forests and occupying that huge green void between U.S. Highway 2 and Interstate 90—is a backpacker’s mecca. Upward of 700 lakes dot the topologically diverse terrain. Some favorite lakeside overnight spots include: Pratt Lake, Deep Lake, Lake Malachite, Larch Lake, Lake Stuart, Venus Lake and the Rampart Lakes.
Permit required: Free self-issued backcountry permits available at trailheads; Northwest Forest Pass for parking in some areas ($30/year)

Bonus option: Apply to enter the otherworldly Enchantments Basin; permits are issued by lottery for this especially beautiful and vertiginous section of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The 18-mile out-and-back hike has a 7,000-foot elevation gain that passes by Colchuck Lake, Lake Viviane, Perfection Lake and Snow Lake.
Permit details: Applications for Enchantments permits are due in early March, but the Forest Service’s Wenatchee River Ranger Station in Leavenworth reserves a limited number of day-of applications available on a first-come, first-served basis. (509.664.9200; search for “enchantment area wilderness permit”)

In the North Cascades/Mount Baker region, head for Lake Ann, the Chain Lakes, Goat Lake, Dagger Lake, Thornton Lake, Pyramid Lake, Buckskin Lake, Libby Lake, Lake Dorothy or Anderson and Watson Lakes.
Permit required: Free walk-up permits at North Cascades National Park’s Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount; from rangers at Stehekin, Sedro-Woolley, Hozomeen, Winthrop and Chelan; or online ($20).

In the Olympics, try Boulder Lake, Blackwood Lake, Royal Lake, Lake of the Angels, the Flapjack Lakes or the Black & White Lakes. The Seven Lakes Loop, while challenging, always dazzles.
Permits required: A Wilderness Camping Permit is available from rangers throughout the park. Reserve by application by mail or fax starting on March 15 every year. 

Around Mount Rainier, backpacking options put you near gems such as Palisades Lake, Frozen Lake, Mystic Lake and Three Lakes.
Permit required: Free backcountry permits are available park-wide at wilderness information centers, ranger stations and visitor centers, or reserve in advance for $20.

Check out the rest of our 26 Best Lakeside Getaways package here.


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