Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA: Rachel Lake and Alta Mountain

Pack for a quick overnight in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and discover hidden alpine lakes and the stunning panorama of peaks that is the Central Cascades.
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Pack for a quick overnight in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and discover hidden alpine lakes and the stunning panorama of peaks that is the Central Cascades.

There’s always time for a scramble up the side of a mountain. So when we discovered that Alta Mountain wasn’t too far beyond our planned hike to Rachel Lake our interest was piqued. At 6,240’ Alta not only promised some long views into the Central Cascades, but all of our trail maps ended near the base of the mountain. Excited to do some exploring off the trail, we geared up and headed out beyond Snoqualmie Pass to the trailhead.

The Rachel Lake Trail #1313 has always been a rough one. The trailbed is more rock and root than actual packed earth, a tangled mess full of trips and tangles, loose rock and unstable footing. Over the years many an agency has tried in vain to find a better route to the lake, but thus far it has fallen to volunteer groups such as the Washington Trail Association to do their best to try and smooth out the path to the top. Despite their admirable efforts, the trail remains challenging to navigate.

The trail begins on a gentle grade, hugging Box Canyon Creek for the first three miles, crossing numerous streams and cascades as well as dozens of creekside cul-de-sacs, perfect for a taking a break from the trail and clambering around on the rocks. Beneath a thin veneer of dust, stands of pine and cedar are surrounded by endless stretches of blue huckleberry, something of a contrast to the forests on the other side of the pass. The last mile to the lake contains most of the elevation gain, meandering around boulders and occasionally piggybacking on streambeds. As you get closer to the lake the trail begins to splinter, creating a network of interwoven side paths branching off to picnic nooks and secluded camp sites along the shore.

Pressing up toward Alta Mountain, pause on the exposed ridgeline to take in Rachel Lake, quietly nestled against Rampart Ridge with Box Canyon stretching out into the distance. At the saddle, the trail meets up with the Rampart Ridge Trail, which spans the entire length of the ridge from Rampart Lakes up to the top of Alta Mountain. Veer to the right through brush and meadows to another intersection where the trail splits leading up to Alta or continuing on to Lila Lake.

The trail up Alta Mountain is fairly well-defined at lower elevations, but as you trudge up the steep slope the path gets muddled on exposed rock. False summits abound on the way to the top; time and again we’d attain a ledge that we’d taken to be the end of the trail, only to find more mountain to climb. Marked with a gigantic cairn, the summit is breathtaking. The landscape unfolds in all directions. Alaska and Lila lakes can be seen to either side. Rampart Lakes shimmer in the distance to the south, just below Mt. Margaret. To the east the distinctive profile of Hibox grabs for your attention. To the north Chikamin Peak, Four Brothers and Mt. Thompson can me seen. As your eyes sweep west, Alaska Mountain stands above Alaska Lake and Red Mountain can be seen peeking up over Kendall Peak, then Snoqualmie Mountain in the distance with Denny Mountain just to the south.

Although the trail is challenging, making this hike feel more difficult than the elevation gains would suggest, the beauty and the view more than make up for effort. Rachel Lake and Rampart Ridge hold more than can be seen in a day, making this hike perfect for a short backpacking excursion.
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Trail Facts

  • Distance: 8.0

Waypoints

RL001

Location: 47.4008409, -121.2836729

Rachel Lake Trail #1313. Look for the start of the trail northeast of the parking area. If you walk off the pavement, you've gone too far.

Trailhead

Location: 47.40092, -121.2836123

Rachel Lake Trail #1313. Look for the start of the trail northeast of the parking area. If you walk off the pavement, you've gone too far.

RL002

Location: 47.4040261, -121.2856184

Creek Crossing

RL003

Location: 47.404712, -121.2866028

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Boundary

Log Crossing

Location: 47.4055384, -121.2867022

Off trail, crossing a log to get down to cascading waterfall along Box Canyon Creek.

Cascade

Location: 47.4055094, -121.2867451

Water gushing over the rocks on Box Canyon Creek

Boardwalk

Location: 47.4077458, -121.2873244

Walking on a nice boardwalk through a marshy clearing.

Waterfall Scramble

Location: 47.4229482, -121.3158631

Scramble up the creek to a stunning waterfall. A perfect place for a rest.

RL004

Location: 47.4227765, -121.329429

Rachel Lake Shore. Many camp sites line the shores.

Rachel Lake

Location: 47.4227159, -121.3296604

View of the Rachel Lake, looking south.

RL005

Location: 47.4232024, -121.3292826

Trail Marker. One mile to Rampart Lakes. It's easy to accidentally take one of the many false trails that are closer to the lake shore. Find this marker and you'll know you're on the main trail.

Trail Marker

Location: 47.4232095, -121.3292205

Follow the trail up toward Rampart Lakes

RL006

Location: 47.4241169, -121.3338768

Trail junction. Turn right to head toward Lake Lila and Alta Mountain. Going left will take you to Rampart lakes in about 1/2 mile.

Junction Marker

Location: 47.4241241, -121.3339627

Go right in the direction of Lake Lila

RL007

Location: 47.4278271, -121.3316764

Junction. Head up and to the left toward the top of Alta Mountain. The trail to the right goes to Lake Lila, which also has areas for camping.

On the Ridge

Location: 47.4300034, -121.3314629

Hiking through the meadows on the ridge of Alta Mountain

Lake Lila & Hibox Mountain

Location: 47.4327323, -121.3307762

Shot of Lake Lila below Hibox from Alta Mountain Ridge

False Summit

Location: 47.4338355, -121.3311195

One of multiple false summits in the distance that draw you toward the top.

RL008

Location: 47.4410228, -121.331968

Alta Mountain Summit. West is Kendall Peak, Alaska Lake, and Red Mountain. Look south to see Rampart Ridge and Lakes. Hibox Mountain looms over Lake Lila to the east.

East

Location: 47.4407441, -121.3306046

Looking east, and unnamed lake sits near the pass at Alta Mountain.

Summit Shot

Location: 47.4408602, -121.3319778

Hiker prepares his tripod for a shot at the cairn marking the summit of Alta Mountain

Finish!

Location: 47.4408602, -121.3314629

Shot at the summit, looking down Box Canyon, with Hibox Mountain and Lake Lila in the background