backpack: Indian Heaven Wilderness – Thomas Lake to Blue Lake
Wanting an easy backpacking trip to see fall color in Indian Heaven, we hiked in to Blue Lake for a one night backpacking trip via the Thomas Lake trailhead.
- distance & elevation gain to Blue Lake: 3.3 miles, 980 ft. gain
- best months: September – October
- location: SW Washington; nearest town: Carson
- land management: Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Indian Heaven Wilderness
- trail conditions: Thomas Lake Trail #111
- hike description: Oregon Hikers – Blue Lake Trail
- permits: self-issued at the trailhead
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass
The drive from Portland is about two hours, and while the last 12 miles is gravel, the road is in good shape. The parking lot trailhead fills up fast on nice weekends, so it’s best to arrive early, or better yet, during the week. Camping is only allowed in designated campsites in the areas surrounding Thomas Lake and Blue Lake.
Day 1 – Thomas Lake trailhead to Blue Lake
Blue Lake is a great destination for a short backpacking trip in the fall. The beginning of the trail heads through a former clear cut area, but soon reaches denser forest. In the first half mile is Thomas, Dee and Heather Lakes . Turn right before reaching Eunice Lake to stay on the Thomas Lake trail.
After a short uphill section, the forest thins and meadows begin to appear. During late September to early October, the meadows are full of brilliant fall color on ripe huckleberry shrubs.
The trail descends for the last half mile approaching Blue Lake, passing several additional lakes along the way. Just before Blue Lake, Sahale Tyee Lake appears on the left.
The largest of the lakes in Indian Heaven Wilderness, Blue Lake lives up to it’s name with bright blue-green water.
We stayed at designated campsite #10 just above Blue Lake. A short but steep side trail leads to the private campsite. This is a large campsite that had more than enough room for our two tents and two hammocks.
A smaller lake that is hidden from the trail is nearby, making for a nice spot to relax in a quiet and secluded spot. After dinner, we hung out here until it was dark (and cold).
Day 2: hike out
The next morning, fog had settled in and changed the way everything around us looked, including the no longer blue Blue Lake.
We packed up and headed back the same way to the Thomas Lake trailhead.
On the hike out, the fog gave the meadows an ethereal feel.