Northern Cascades National Park – Blue Lake Hike

Thursday, September 27Another beautiful day greeted us this morning. Scarcely a cloud in the sky. It will be a great day for another of our favorite hikes. The Blue Lake trail is a 5.3 mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 958’. It is a pretty gradual gain over the 2.6 miles up and is sort of typical of hikes around here as far as terrain goes. We started in heavy forest and slowly curved our way up the mountain. Occasional breaks in the forest provided nice views from time to time. It is another contrasty day, so finding angles to photograph from is harder.We were on the trail by 9 am and really glad we were. This is a very popular trail and there were several cars already in the lot when we arrived. Several hikers passed us by the first mile, and we could hear more further down the trail. The first larches started appearing about halfway up, but there were only a few areas to stand without trampling the delicate heather growing all around.We kept climbing up the trail, stopping occasionally to catch breath and look around. Before we knew it, we were at the lake. There was only 2 other people there when we arrived, and they soon left. We started making images around the lake while we had it to ourselves. We had maybe 20 minutes before people started streaming in.
As more folks arrived, we backtracked to where the Tarn Loop trail branches off from the end of the Blue Lake trail. We couldn’t  hike this loop 2 years ago because of snow we didn’t want to slog through. But today it was open and clear. It is maybe a quarter mile loop around several alpine tarns and starts off with a steep little incline that opens to new views of the lake and Liberty Bell Mountain Group. No one seemed to be coming up the trail behind us and it quickly got nice and quiet as the voices from the viewpoints faded off. We had our lunch in this higher vantage to the sound of pika chirps coming from the boulder field behind us. Walking along the trail, we found branch trails dropping down to the lake. We lingered here for a time making pictures of  reflections and getting some nice views of the mountain group. The lake surface went from smooth to rippled constantly, and reflections did the same.
The trail moves uphill a little more, wrapping around several small ponds that make up the tarns. As it rounded one, wide views of the surrounding mountains were revealed. The trail then bends back toward the start and it is a nice easy walk back through forest. People were really streaming in now, so we beat a hasty retreat back down the mountain trail. We had to stop on several occasions to let long trains of bunched up groups go by.As we walked into the parking area, I look up again at Liberty Bell Mountain and saw a couple of paragliders  (or whatever you call those propelled sail riders). We watched them circle lazily up there while we sipped our coffee down here.
This was another wonderful hike. I still prefer more dramatic weather conditions, but I was also happy to be able to walk some new areas while up there. Another hike I would love to do again.

More unsettled weather is supposed to come in over the next week and we are planning a couple more days in Winthrop before moving to a different area of the park. I’m not sure what the connectivity will be there, so this may be the last blog post for a week or so.

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