backpack: Indian Heaven Wilderness – East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

My favorite place to see fall color is at Indian Heaven. On this two night backpacking trip, we hiked in via the East Crater Trail, camped at Bear Lake, and day hiked to Lemei Rock.

Day 1: East Crater trailhead to Bear Lake

4.2 miles 800 ft. gain

I’ve backpacked and day hiked in Indian Heaven Wilderness many times (this was my 6th backpacking trip here), but this was the first time I hiked in from the East Crater Trail. From Portland, we drove to Trout Lake, then took Forest Service roads to the trailhead. The roads were in good shape – the gravel sections had only a few washboards and potholes, but not bad at all. No parking passes are needed for the East Crater trailhead.

At the trailhead, we filled out a self-issued wilderness permit and began our hike in. The East Crater trail was impacted by a wildfire in 2017, and this trail follows the eastern edge of the burned forest, passing through it briefly.

The trail starts in the forest, but soon reaches meadows full of fall color. Indian Heaven is full of lakes (150 of them!) and meadows filled with huckleberry shrubs that turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, red and purple in the fall. It’s always been my favorite destination in the fall, so I was happy to get to experience it again this year.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

fall color on the East Crater Trail

 

We passed several small ponds on the edge of the burned forest that had a stark beauty I hadn’t seen before in a burn area.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

 

Once we reached Junction Lake, we took the Pacific Crest Trail north for another mile to Bear Lake to look for a campsite.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Junction Lake

 

At Bear Lake, we found a campsite just outside of the day use area.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

our campsite at Bear Lake

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

sunset at Bear Lake

 

At dusk, I walked around the lake taking photos of small scenes with fall colors.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Day 2: day hike to Lemei Rock

6 miles with 975 ft. gain

From Bear Lake, we headed north on the PCT to the Indian Heaven Trail #33, then took the Lemei Trail to Lemei Rock.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Bear Lake in the morning

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Clear Lake

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

the fall color was spectacular!

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

small meadow and Lemei Rock

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Lemei Rock, the tallest point in Indian Heaven Wilderness

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

exploring around the base of Lemei Rock

 

We continued past Lemei Rock for views of Lake Wapiki and Mount Adams.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Lake Wapiki

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Mount Adams

After our hike, we headed back to camp and I walked around Bear Lake to take more photos.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

mountain ash shrubs

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Day 3: hike out to East Crater trailhead

In the morning, I was cooking breakfast and looked up to see pink in the sky. I barely got my camera in time to capture this… the color faded so fast!

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

sunrise at Bear Lake

On our hike out, the weather was perfect for taking photos of the colorful meadows without harsh sunlight.

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Junction Lake

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

hiking out on the East Crater Trail

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

burned trees surrounded by beauty

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

one of several large dry stream beds

The East Crater Trail is the easiest access to Indian Heaven Wilderness that I’ve experienced, and it’s a very well maintained trail so I’ll be looking forward to hiking on it again next fall.

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