backpack: American Lake & Big Dewey Lake

Starting at Chinook Pass, we hiked south on the Pacific Crest Trail and camped at American Lake and Big Dewey Lake, both of which are just outside of Mount Rainier National Park.

ITINERARY

  • day 1 – Chinook Pass trailhead to American Lake: 7.8 miles, 1,030 ft. gain, 1,240 ft. loss
  • day 2 – rest day
  • day 3 – move camp to Big Dewey Lake: 4 miles, 490 ft. gain, 615 ft. loss
  • day 4 – hike out to Chinook Pass trailhead: 3.4 miles, 715 ft. gain, 425 ft. loss

TRIP PLANNING

Here’s a short video showing the hike in:

Day 1 – Chinook Pass trailhead to American Lake

7.8 miles with 1,030 ft. gain, 1,240 ft. loss

We started our trip at the Chinook Pass trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail heading south. This is part of the super popular Naches Peak/Tipsoo Lake loop hike and was fairly crowded even on a weekday.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Right from the start, the trail travels through subalpine beauty. Wildflowers were near peak blossom and lined the trail while open vistas of surrounding peaks were visible for the first couple of miles.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

The unnamed lake below was a busy area full of families and day hikers.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Looking down towards our first destination, Dewey Lakes.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

The trail descends about 700 feet to the lakes, and we were happy to enter the shade of forest about halfway down on this hot day.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

At Big Dewey Lake, we took a long break and then decided to keep hiking towards American Lake.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Lichen draped the tree trunks around the lake. Where the lichens stop is an indicator of winter snow depth levels.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Continuing south on the PCT, we passed through an area with open meadows and lovely streams.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Lupines in bloom along the trail

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

After the meadow section, the trail ascends a rocky section and traverses an open slope along a ridge with views to the east.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Just under two miles from Big Dewey Lake, we passed Anderson Lake and took another long break in the nearby camp area. The trail weaves in and out of Mount Rainier National Park, and Anderson Lake is within the park’s boundaries but the camp area is outside it, so national park permits are not needed.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

After our break, we continued on the trail and were treated to views of Mount Rainier to the west.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

At the trail junction for the American Ridge Trail, we turned left and continued for about 0.6 miles to American Lake.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

We spent two nights at American Lake, moving camp after the first night to a better location with a view of the lake after other campers left in the morning. Temps on this day reached 77 degrees, which at 5,500-6,000 feet feels very hot. I ended up having heat exhaustion from the hike in, with big red welts from a heat rash on my legs and a completely exhausted body, so we decided that the next day would be a recovery day at the lake.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Day 2 – rest day

We spent the entire day relaxing and exploring around the lake. This was definitely a beautiful place to do so! In the afternoon, we got in the water at a sandy beach on the lake’s peninsula to cool off. Near dusk, there were tons of fish jumping to catch insects hovering above the water.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

In the evening, we explored the area around the lake, taking in the many different scenes around us.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Day 3 – move camp to Big Dewey Lake

4 miles with 490 ft. gain, 615 ft. loss

In the morning, we decided to move camp to Big Dewey Lake so our hike out would be shorter. Revisiting the scenery we saw on the hike in, we took our time to soak it all in.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

At Big Dewey Lake, we found a large campsite with a view of the lake and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Day 4 – hike out to Chinook Pass trailhead

3.4 miles with 715 ft. gain, 425 ft. loss

Our hike out was easier since it was at least ten degrees cooler than the day we hiked in. The first part of the hike is all uphill but the trail is not too steep or difficult. Once we reached the Naches Loop section, there were quite a few more people than we had seen a few days earlier.

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Looking back at Big Dewey Lake

American Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking tripAmerican Lake & Big Dewey Lake backpacking trip

Overall, I loved this area and would love to return to it. We saw quite a few thru-hikers during our time here and I hope that they are all having a great time on their journeys to Canada and Mexico.