Winthrop, WA: Blue Lake

Hike this short trail between two Cascades passes to the foot of a brilliant blue lake in a stone amphitheater beneath the towering Early Winters Spires and Liberty Bell Peak.
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Hike this short trail between two Cascades passes to the foot of a brilliant blue lake in a stone amphitheater beneath the towering Early Winters Spires and Liberty Bell Peak.

North Cascades National Park, near the border of Washington and Canada offers hikers an abundance of trails to explore what many refer to as the "American Alps." Not many of these trails however are easily accessible from the only road - Highway 20 - that runs through the park. One trail, on the park maps, but actually outside the park boundary, treats hikers to a gem of an alpine lake nestled in a basin of sheer stone walls.

Start the 2.4 mile trail to Blue Lake at the signed trailhead parking area just west of Washington Pass. The trail first parallels the highway as it crosses several boardwalk areas over spruce-forested wetland, then passes a roomy campsite near a large beaver pond, before beginning an easy climb away from the highway toward the lake. 1.5 miles up, the scene opens as the trail momentarily skirts a wide path of avalanche debris. Look for a variety of wildflowers in this meadowy area - paintbrush, lupine, fireweed, aster, penstemon - as well as views across the valley and up toward the sharp ridge of the Early Winters Spires.

The trail then dives again under the cover of forest, turning to alpine larch and whitebark pine, passing by a faint climber's trail to Liberty Bell Peak. A few more long, gentle switchbacks brings you to the outlet creek of Blue Lake. Rock-hop across, then take the trail to the left to reach the north shore of Blue Lake, noticing the remains of an old miner's cabin near the trail. Find an ideal spot to settle for lunch on a large rock outcrop, and enjoy the serene beauty of the vivid blue-green lake surrounded by tall jagged peaks above. Explore at will, then retrace your path back to the trailhead. Camping at the lake is not permitted.

Mapped by Eli Boschetto

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 3.9

Waypoints

BLU001

Location: 48.5191, -120.674146

Blue Lake trailhead.

BLU002

Location: 48.52004, -120.671709

Look for a large campsite, with a large beaver pond nearby.

BLU003

Location: 48.514813, -120.671296

Skirt the edge of an avalanche track, filled with wildflowers amid forest debris.

BLU004

Location: 48.512563, -120.665703

Trail spur to the Liberty Bell climber's route.

BLU005

Location: 48.508961, -120.672429

Fork left at this junction. Area ahead closed for restoration.

BLU006

Location: 48.508468, -120.672278

Cross the outlet creek below Blue Lake. Find the remains of an old log cabin above the trail.

BLU007

Location: 48.508243, -120.672077

Blue Lake. Drop gear and enjoy lunch on the rocks, with views of the lake basin and Early Winter Spires.

Beaver Pond

Location: 48.519618, -120.672498

This large pond sits in the trees behind a large campsite, not far from the trailhead. © Eli Boschetto

Forest Boardwalk

Location: 48.520868, -120.670609

Boardwalks have been installed along the trail over a few wetland areas. © Eli Boschetto

Avalanche Track

Location: 48.514728, -120.670524

Clouds obscure the valley from the Blue Lake Trail. © Eli Boschetto

Liberty Bell

Location: 48.511061, -120.667434

The Liberty Bell (L) and Early Winter Spires are clearly seen from the Blue Lake Trail. © Eli Boschetto

Mountain Ruins

Location: 48.508701, -120.672541

An old miner's cabin can be found above the trail near the outlet of Blue Lake. © Eli Boschetto

Blue Lake

Location: 48.507791, -120.671983

A large rock outcrop near the foot of the lake offers a fantastic place for a lunch or snack with spectacular views.