|Liberty Bell and Early Winter Spires rise aboves the larches at Blue Lake|
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required
Nestled at the foot of the impressive granite spires near Washington Pass, Blue Lake is a stunning locale for seeing the fall colors of alpine larches in Washington State's North Cascades. As this may be the easiest hike to view alpine larches from a paved road in Washington State, Blue Lake is an understandably popular hike; while many hikers frequent the lake in summer, autumn brings the biggest crowds. Hikers who prefer peace and quiet with their golden conifers and don't mind a longer hike will want to look elsewhere, whether across the road at Cutthroat Pass or off the Harts Pass Road at Grasshopper Pass.
I hiked to Blue Lake with a friend on an overcast October Saturday. Setting out from Seattle, we followed I-5 north to Burlington, then followed Highway 20 east through North Cascades National Park and across Rainy Pass until reaching the Blue Lake Trailhead on the south side of the road, about a mile downhill from Washington Pass. Snow covered the North Cascades, with a fall snowstorm having dumped a few inches across the mountains before the larch needles had finished falling. The trailhead parking lot had filled by the time we arrived in the afternoon, so we parked alongside the road downhill from the lot. Although the crowds here certainly smaller than those I've seen at Rattlesnake Ledge (which has similar length and difficulty), there were far more people on this hike than I've seen in the past on hikes this far out from Seattle.
From the trailhead, the trail headed into the forest, at first paralleling Highway 20 on its way towards Washington Pass, climbing gently. The trail cut a few wide, sweeping switchbacks on the slopes of Liberty Bell Mountain, with each turn so far removed from the last that the switchbacks were essentially imperceptible. Snow covered the trail from the start, so we immediately donned microspikes and Yaktrax. Many hikers had come without traction devices for their shoes and were struggling to make their way uphill and faced an even more slippery time coming down on the well-packed trail.
A little under a mile of hiking, the trail emerged into the open for the first time, delivering the first views of golden larches lining the high slopes of the surrounding peaks.
|First view of the larches|
|Larches with Whistler and Cutthroat Peaks|
|Larches along the trail|
|Larches at the outlet of Blue Lake|
|Blue Lake, Liberty Bell, Early Winter Spires|