Backpack to Tank Lakes

Washington Necklace Valley Trailhead

Added by Mitch Pittman

  • Dozens of tarns
  • Solitude
  • High alpine lakes
  • Breathtaking peaks as far as the eye can see

Tucked high in the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Tank Lakes has everything you could ask for out of a Washington hike. You start low at the Necklace Valley trailhead just south of Skykomish along Highway 2 and meander five miles to a giant log crossing of the East Fork Foss River.

From here the trail turns UP for a thigh-burning 2.5 miles before emerging into the wonderfully named Necklace Valley, comprised of a strand of lakes named Jade, Emerald, and Opal.

Enjoy the relatively flat valley, because the route finding and scrambling begins at the end of Opal Lake! Note that the route from the small boulder field to the Foehn Lakes drainage you're looking for can be rather confusing and there are multiple paths. Keep your heading to the southwest through the patch of trees and be on the lookout for cairns.

After that, it's an off-trail paradise following sparse but reliable cairns to the saddle between Foehn Lakes and Tank Lakes, two remarkable clusters of tarns. Think of it as a miniature version of the Enchantments but without the permits or crowds.

Find a camping spot by one of the Tank Lakes and eat your dinner staring out at the sunset behind the jagged peaks of Bears Breast, Overcoat, and Lemah. Take a good look around - you won't find any signs of civilization as far as the eye can see. No lights, no roads, no clear cuts. Pure wilderness.

For the more adventurous, route variation and peak scrambling abound. An area I've heard referred to as 'The Magic Carpet' lies on a shelf just below Tank Lakes, and beyond that is the traverse over Iron Cap the the West Fork Foss drainage - a loop Fred Beckey called the "Alpine Lakes High Route." (Something that should only be attempted by experts, as there is very difficult and committing route finding involved.)

A trip to Tank Lakes is just as much about solitude as it is the views. Not 'famous' enough to require permits and not easy enough to draw hordes of adventurers, this is a wilderness experience that will be earned and cherished for a lifetime.

Pack List

  • A good map
  • Camera
  • 10 essentials
  • Whiskey for the sunset
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Backpacking, Hiking, Photography, Swimming

Skill Level:



Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



18 Miles

Elev. Gain:

3400 Feet



Swimming Hole

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How to Get There

about 2 months ago

Great Adventure...

...But it's closer to 22 miles out and back, and 4200 feet elevation gain. You have been warned! :)

about 2 months ago

Added by Mitch Pittman

I live in Seattle, but my life happens in the mountains. My hobbies include long walks in the woods, whiskey in hot springs, and carrying skis up long slogs for a few turns in late summer.

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