Deadwood Lakes - Visit Rainier

Deadwood Lakes

Area: Chinook Pass
Hike Type: Dog-friendly Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
Distance: 3.35 mi RT Duration: 3 hrs Difficulty Level: Easy
Elevation Start: 4,837 Elevation End: 5,704 (Park Boundary) Elevation Gain: 867
Snow-Free: Mid-July – Mid-Oct    

Looking for a hike “far from the madding crowd”? The trail to Deadwood Lakes, no longer maintained so it seldom sees hikers, leads to a pair of picturesque lakes through an area frequented by elk. Chances are you’ll have this trail to yourself.

Never an ‘official’ trail, to the best of my knowledge this hike has been written up only twice, once by the late Harvey Manning in the second edition of “50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park” (1969) and in “Hidden Hikes” published in 2002 by Mountaineers Books. However, enough fishermen have used this trail over the years to render it passable so once you find it, it is not difficult to follow.

The trailhead for this hike is the Pacific Crest Trail below Chinook Pass on SR 410. From the PCT trailhead a short spur (left) leads to the PCT. At the PCT turn right. If you are heading for the Naches Peak Loop, turn (left) toward Chinook Pass.

In less than ¼ mile look for an obvious trail heading uphill (left) (N 46° 52 ’55”, W 121° 30′ 48″). There were a few branches across the trail when we were there recently but don’t count on them being there. If the branches are gone, look for obvious tread. Once on the path it is easy enough for an experienced hiker to follow.

After a short climb we came to a pass on the ridge top where the trail enters Mount Rainier National Park (N 46° 53′ 00″, W 121° 31′ 00″). Here, a sign posted by Mount Rainier National Park elaborates rules and regulations for use within the park.

From the pass the trail drops, at times steeply, about 400 feet to the lakes. En route there are overlooks of the lakes; one overlook is especially outstanding (N 46° 53′ 09″, W 121° 30′ 59″). At about 5,704 feet elevation or so look for a hard-to-miss path (left). It leads to a nice overlook of the lakes on an outcropping with a picturesque snag and colorful clumps of penstemon.

As you hike, keep a lookout for elk, although you are more apt to smell them than see them.* Larger than deer, elk generally live about 15 years in the wild on a diet of lichen, bark, shrubs, sedges, leaves and mushrooms. Their long legs enable them to run up to 35 miles per hour. Males can weigh up to 1,100 lbs and in the fall you may hear bull elk bugle during mating season.

Back to hiking – the main trail leads to the first of the two lakes; Yakima Peak rises above upper Deadwood Lake, bold and imposing. Quiet meadows and willow bogs encircle the lake. In July it is hard to reach the lake shore without getting your feet wet; the meadows soggy and fragile with grasses, sedges and plants just coming into bloom. A dense, forested isthmus separates the lakes.

The second lake is harder to locate; it is well hidden by a tangle of fisherman and game trails. It took us a few tries to find it but we were determined. If you walk clockwise around the lower lake on a rough path you’ll discover a small, sandy crescent-shaped beach; it’s a pretty spot to linger. Look for elk and goat prints on the “beach”.

In July there is a variety of flowers; western pasque flowers, bear grass, glacier and avalanche lilies, heather, columbine and Mertensia at lower elevations. Mountain ash is prevalent; in fall the white flowers transform to bright orange-red berries. A few marsh marigolds are popping up in boggy areas, especially around the lakes. Look for gentians in meadows near the lakes when summer winds down. I call gentians the “goodbye flower” as it heralds the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

On our way out we stopped again at the pass. My companion took a break in the shade as I explored a path along the ridge in an easterly direction toward Peak No. 6,468. The easy path leads to stunning overlooks of Deadwood Lakes. The best view is from the first outcropping about 50 feet above the pass and is easy to get to. You can continue on this path as far as your off-trail abilities allow. However it appears that getting to the summit involves a tricky scramble; best left to those with climbing and route-finding skills.

– Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert

* The total elk population in this area is unknown. In the 19th century, ranchers shot many to reduce competition with livestock for food and since then, their range has dwindled because of land development and hunting.


Starting Point: 46.874956701888614, -121.51747941970825  

Notable Waypoints:

Chinook Pass Trailhead (PCT): N 46° 52′ 30, W 121° 31′ 04
Upper lake: N 46° 53′ 13, W 121° 31′ 14
Lower lake: N 46° 53′ 16, W 121° 31′ 24