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.
- 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
- best months: July – October (depending on snow levels)
- trailhead: Chinook Pass Overlook Trailhead
- land management: Mount Rainier National Park & Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
- trail conditions: Naches Ranger District
- hike description: Washington Trails Association: American Lake
- permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint
- passes: NW Forest Pass (trailhead)
- water sources: trailside streams, outlets at lakes
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.
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.
The unnamed lake below was a busy area full of families and day hikers.
Looking down towards our first destination, Dewey Lakes.
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.
At Big Dewey Lake, we took a long break and then decided to keep hiking towards American Lake.
Lichen draped the tree trunks around the lake. Where the lichens stop is an indicator of winter snow depth levels.
Continuing south on the PCT, we passed through an area with open meadows and lovely streams.
Lupines in bloom along the trail
After the meadow section, the trail ascends a rocky section and traverses an open slope along a ridge with views to the east.
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.
After our break, we continued on the trail and were treated to views of Mount Rainier to the west.
At the trail junction for the American Ridge Trail, we turned left and continued for about 0.6 miles to American Lake.
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.
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.
In the evening, we explored the area around the lake, taking in the many different scenes around us.
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.
At Big Dewey Lake, we found a large campsite with a view of the lake and spent the rest of the day relaxing.
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.
Looking back at Big Dewey Lake
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.