Backpack the Cutthroat Lakes

Walt Bailey Trailhead

Enjoy beautiful subalpine meadows and tarns with the option to scramble to Bald Mountain with views of Mt. Rainier.

Along the Mountain Loop Highway, past the crowds crawling over Mt. Pilchuck, lies the muddy, unkempt Walt Bailey Trail into a verdant subalpine basin speckled with tiny tarns. The Cutthroat Lakes are a delightful location to spend the night with optional day hikes up to exposed ridgelines and craggy peaks.

While the trail’s pitch is rarely too strenuous, the mucky, rocky, rooty bootpath requires a bit of diligence to navigate safely. The trail begins climbing through second-growth forest along a series of switchbacks before opening into a series of boggy meadows. The path levels out here, and at times is lined with crushed gravel, a welcome relief from the uneven footing of the rest of the trail.

After reentering the forest for a bit more switchbacking, you will emerge at a creek crossing and an open slope that appears to take the brunt of an avalanche deposit in the winter. Follow the cairns marking the way across the talus field before one last forested pitch to the ridge above the basin where you will spend the night. At the top the trail finds level ground, snaking between numerous tiny tarns. Several campsites line the waters’ edge, but hikers continuing down to the two larger lakes will find more plentiful overnight options.

This area is known as the wettest part of Washington’s Cascade Range and the greens crawling up the hillsides attest to this fact. The trail splits dozens of times in the basin itself, spiderwebbing through the lakes and ponds, but the main section continues up to the ridgeline above the valley where a moderate scramble attains Bald Mountain. From there, views of Mt. Rainier and the central Cascades abound.

Pack List

  • 10 Essentials
  • Bug Spray
  • Fishing Rod
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • Tent
  • Water filter
  • Waterproof outerlayer
  • Camera and Tripod
  • Gaiters (the trail can be very muddy earlier in the year)
  • Swimsuit
Show More
RT Distance 7 Miles
Elevation Gain 2300 Feet
Activities Camping, Fishing, Photography, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Forest
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Great Easy day hike

In late May the lake was still partially frozen over, but the trail was easy to navigate and only a little snowy towards the top. Beautiful lake surrounded by snowy peaks, and quite easy to get to


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