Get fantastic views of the North Cascades, Glacier Peak Wilderness and Mountain Loop Highway peaks and camp on a pristine subalpine lake.

North Lake is everything you could want in a subalpine lake: emerald green hues, cold, clear water, lots of brook trout and far from cell-phone reception. This backpack is perfect when the weather gets hot and sunny, though it does reside in what is known as “the wettest section of the Cascades,” so be prepared for the rain, especially at the beginning and end of summer.

From the trailhead parking lot, the path leads up a few switchbacks gaining some quick elevation before leveling out for the first mile or so to Independence Lake. Independence is a great place for a snack or lunch break and a swim and you’ll marvel at its deep blue color and clarity. There are a few campsites around the lake on both the north and south shores if you feel like calling it there. Otherwise, continue on the trail around the left shore and begin ascending the wall of switchbacks on the northeast corner of the lake.

These switchbacks can seem endless and account for most of the elevation gain you’ll encounter on this hike. You’ll know the strenuous portion of the hike is coming to an end when you come across a gigantic Alaskan Yellow Cedar on your left (you can’t miss it). What’s easy to miss, however, is the turnoff for the last push up and over the ridge into the North Lake Basin. When you reach the ridge take a few minutes to gawk at the views north to Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan and the North Cascades and east to Glacier Peak.

Bear right to stay on the trail and keep an eye out for a small blow-down on your left a few hundred feet down the trail. It’s often marked by arrows made out of sticks on the ground and a few cairns leading up. If you reach a large tarn with a few campsites around it, you’ve gone too far. Crest the ridge and begin the meandering descent to the lake.

There are a few campsites scattered around the lake, but the best spot is atop a large, flat rock about 100 feet from the lakeshore. It requires a very short scramble to get on top and, while not completely level, the perch has a ready-made fire ring and offers great views in every direction. It’s perfect for sleeping under the stars.

Take a swim, relax in the sun, crack a beer or two and enjoy the summer vibes. Whatever you do, rest up because tomorrow, you’ve got to climb 700 feet off the bat to get out of the bowl. Retrace your steps back to your car.

Pack List

  • 10 Essentials
  • Northwest Forest Pass
  • Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad
  • Camera and Tripod
  • Swimsuit
  • Hammock
  • Fishing Rod
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RT Distance 7 Miles
Elevation Gain 2200 Feet
Activities Camping, Fishing, Photography, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Summer
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Lake
Scenic
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

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