It’s always fun to get away with a hike earlier in the season than guidebooks suggest. Yes, you may have to contend with snow or a downed tree or two, but often a hiker can push the envelope a bit and get away with it. And a hike to scenic Lost Lakes is well worth it. Journey though old-growth forests and view the turquoise waters of alpine lakes along the way. Soak in the solitude as you reach your destination at Lost Lake. And as a lower elevation hike, it beckons to those anxious hikers ready to hit the trail early in the season.
Such an experience was a recent hike to Lost Lake in the South Cascades – we weren’t sure how far we’d get. The trail can be accessed from the Greenwater Lakes trail (described on this website) and from there, the hike to Lost Lake is such that even if you’re barred by snow or another major obstacle you can turn around or settle for lazy time in the warm, spring sunshine back at pretty Greenwater Lakes closer to the trailhead. The hike to Greenwater Lakes is also popular for those who’d prefer a shorter hike.
Hiking to Lost Lake is long in mileage but modest in elevation gain. The hike is 12 miles round trip with a moderate elevation gain of 1,800 feet – this kind of elevation gain on a well-maintained trail can go by quickly for experienced hikers.
Since the hike to Greenwater Lakes is already described we won’t go into detail about this part of the hike except to say the trail to the lakes is in good condition and all bridges are in place with sturdy railings. Since it’s only a couple miles to Greenwater Lakes, it makes a good turnaround for a shorter hike and provides a scenic spot for a break on the way to Lost Lake.
We hiked to Greenwater Lakes at a moderate and steady pace – not too fast to miss the splendor of the lakes but fast enough that we’d get to Lost Lake without feeling rushed. After crossing the Greenwater River for the last time on a double bridge, the trail begins a gradual climb through beautiful old-growth forest.
There are occasional views down to the Greenwater River before the trail comes to a junction (3,028 feet) a little over three miles from the trailhead. Lost Lake is straight ahead the trail to Echo Lake is to the left.
Past the junction, we crossed a few small tributaries (none of the crossings warranted a bridge) and noted that Devil’s club is beginning to leaf out as well as nettles (hikers will want to avoid brushing against these two northwest natives!). Flowering currant was in bloom as were stream violets and trilliums. Much to our delight we noted one Calypso orchid just peeking out from the duff. There will soon be more.
As the trail pulled away from the river we began to encounter snow. Here, determined hikers had already beaten a path into the snow. The snow should be gone by mid-June – you might want to consider trekking poles earlier in the season in case you do encounter recalcitrant snow.
About a mile from Lost Lake we met hikers who had made it to the lake – just barely. They said the snow was softer and deeper ahead though we should be able to follow their tracks to the lake. About a half mile from Lost Lake the trail contours above small, beautiful Quinn Lake, notorious for its turquoise-colored water and sense of solitude. A short spur leads down to the lake for a closer look.
We continued on through the patches of snow; the sight of beargrass beginning to appear lured us on. Beargrass should be well in bloom by June. We found the lakeshore snow free (4,007 feet) with a good selection of dry logs to sit upon for lunch. From our lunch spot we enjoyed views of Noble Knob above, the surrounding ridges, the patterns of melting ice in the lake and in nearby old growth trees near the shoreline; especially the Alaska (yellow) cedar trees. There are good campsites in the forest, set back from the lake.
We made good time heading back to Greenwater Lakes where only a few hikers remained, like us reluctant to leave these lovely lakes.
Getting to the trailhead: From Greenwater on State Route 410 (heading east) turn left on Forest Service Road No. 70, continue about 9 miles on the paved road to the trailhead (right). A Northwest Forest Pass is required. If camping at Lost Lake or Echo Lake you will need to fill out a wilderness permit for the Norse Peak Wilderness Area (pick one up at the Enumclaw Ranger Station en route).
Maps: Green Trails No. 238 Greenwater and No. 239 Lester.
Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert