Blue Lake

  • Difficulty
  • 7km
  • 305m
  • 2-3h

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The family-friendly hike to Blue Lake is another North Cascades gem. The whole family will enjoy a leisurely hike out to the pretty Blue Lake flanked by the dramatic Liberty Bell Mountain spires. Hiking to Blue Lake is especially excellent during fall when the larches turn gold.

Getting there

From Newhalem, drive 42 miles east on Highway 20. The signed trailhead is on the right (milepost 161). Northwest Forest Pass required.


Total Gain: 305m


Type of Hike Out and Back
Crowd Levels High
Route Signage Good
Toilets Yes
Family Friendly Yes
Backcountry Campgrounds No
When to Do Summer – Fall

 Detailed Description

Hiking the Blue Lake Trail is a North Cascades favorite. We love it because of the spectacular scenery and ease of access. Located right off Highway 20 (no forest road required), the trailhead is consistently busy during weekends in the summer and fall.

Set out on the trail as it climbs gently through the forest. You’ll be near enough to the highway for this first stretch to hear cars cruising by. But the further you go, the noise dissipates, and the scenery improves. At 0.9 miles, the trail pops out of the woods into an open meadow. During early summer, this meadow is alive with wildflowers, from heather to lupin and asters. In the fall, golden larches line the trail.

As the trail winds through fragrant wildflower fields, the Liberty Bell Mountain Group comes into view. The most massive of these spires are Liberty Bell (7,720’) and South Early Winters (7,907’). Peering up at these massifs from below, it’s hard to believe that climbers attempt to scale them – but they absolutely do. You’re likely to pass a few climbers along the trail. At 1.7 miles the climbers path branches off Blue Lake Trail to the left, marked by a rock cairn. Continue straight for the lake.

As you hike, views open up to the west of Whistler Mountain and Cutthroat Peak across Highway 20. Reach Blue Lake after hiking 2.2 miles, where you can choose to hike around the east or west lakeshore. These trails are out-and-back paths – do not attempt to loop around Blue Lake’s steep southern end. Head west (right) to cross a sturdy log bridge over a stream and pass the remains of an old cabin. Just ahead, a large rocky area makes for the perfect picnic spot next to Blue Lake.

It’s possible to continue hiking along this trail to the south end of the lake, where wildlife sightings are common. Watch for mountain goats on the high talus slopes, and listen for pika calling out. Always be sure to keep your distance from, and respect all wildlife on the trail.

Return by hiking back the way you came.

Insider Hints

  • Hiking to Blue Lake in Autumn is stunning with the golden larches.
  • Stop at nearby Washington Pass Overlook for more Liberty Bell views and a nice picnic area.
  • No backcountry camping is allowed. The nearest trail open to backcountry camping is the PCT North from Rainy Pass.