Whether you’re looking for a peaceful place to pitch your tent, a spot to take a cool dip, somewhere to get your fly wet, or just a scenic destination to achieve, these lake hikes offer it all. Hikes to bodies of water always posses a certain lure to adventurers. Water is an essential element to existence; our bodies are made up of about 60 percent of the stuff so it’s no surprise that it attracts us. These trails traverse through some of the most alluring scenes the Pacific Northwest has to offer and lead to crystal clear rocky alpine pools surrounded by soaring peaks and vibrant foliage. These hikes are well worth the effort and sure to not disappoint.
1 Sawtooth Lake (Idaho):
Distance: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1720’
Map Used: Earthwalk Press Sawtooth Wilderness Hiking Map and Guide
Fee: Free wilderness permit
Sawtooth Lake rests in a serrated bowl at 8430’ in the heart of the northern tip of the Sawtooth Wilderness boundary. After an elevation gain of 1720’ from the trailhead it provides a tranquil fluid accent to the otherwise rugged and captivating surroundings. This hike also comes with a bonus. A little more than halfway up the trail it passes Alpine Lake a smaller yet no less enticing lake with views of the jagged peaks that encompass it.
It was at Alpine lake that I meet a seasoned veteran of these routes; he asked if I was continuing up to Sawtooth Lake. I told him that I was. He smiled and told me after I make it to imagine a plane flying through the tight ragged pinnacles and onto the lake. He went on to explain that back in the sixties, when he was younger and able to spend more time among the cliffs, a rescue floatplane actually accomplished this feat to conduct a rescue on Sawtooth Lake. I kept this in mind and as I reached the banks of the lake I realized the severity of this operation.
The most efficient way to reach this oasis is by following trail 640 from the Iron Creek Trailhead, which is located at the end of road 619 from the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route Highway.
2 Mirror Lake (Oregon):
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2144’
Map Used: USDA Pacific Northwest Eagle Cap Ranger District Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Oregon
Fee: Paid Parking Permit/ Wilderness permit
At 7740’ Mirror Lake sits in the Lake Basin at the foot of Eagle Cap the namesake and highest point of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. While not extraordinarily large, Mirror Lake stretches and sprawls along the granite bases and boggy banks of the neighboring prominences and basin where the trail encounters it. With its outreach this lake creates several natural jetties and small rocky islands to gain magnificent vistas and vantages from. And since this area of the Lake Basin is just at tree level it makes for a perfect spot to break, rest and take in the views, or make camp. There are also numerous nearby lakes and pools within a short distance, to explore and discover.
This trek begins from the Two Pan Trailhead on trail 1662. Two Pan is accessed by the Lostine River Road, which begins in the town of Lostine. This long route begins as an improved road that leads through private ranch land into a mountainous canyon where it shifts to dirt as it enters the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
3 Doubtful Lake (Washington):
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1800’ (to Cascade Pass) but then descends 800’ (as you travel down to Doubtful Lake)
Map Used: Trails Illustrated National Geographic North Cascades National Park #223
Fee: Free (backcountry permit needed for multiday use)
Even at 5385’, Doubtful Lake is surrounded by summits at neck breaking heights. It’s probably the smallest lake on this list, but it produces the most intense vantage of sky scrapping peaks out of all of them, and for this list that’s saying something. After reaching Cascade Pass and traveling toward Shale Glacier, Doubtful Lake and its small island comes into view. It’s an aerial perspective from which you can make out the descending contours that form it as well as reflections of sky and rocky spires. The vantage is just above tree line allowing the small waterfalls that feed Doubtful Lake to be clearly seen melting from the ice and snow above. As the steep trek is made down to this pool, however, the tree line is reintroduced creating a true all included experience. Doubtful Lake is an ideal site to observe the Cascades and all that this alpine wonderland has to offer.
To get here, follow Cascade Road, which turns into cascade River road, from the Highway 20 as it climbs and eventually ends at the Cascade Pass Trailhead. Follow Cascade Pass Trail to Cascade Pass and toward Shale Glacier where it will intersect the trail leading down to Doubtful Lake.