backpack: Indian Heaven Wilderness – East Crater Trail to Bear Lake
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.
- distance & elevation gain to Bear Lake: 4.2 miles, 800 ft. gain
- day hike options: Lakes Basin loop; Lemei Rock
- best months: September – October
- location: SW Washington; nearest town: Trout Lake
- land management: Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Indian Heaven Wilderness
- trail conditions: East Crater Trail #48
- hike description: Washington Trails Association | Oregon Hikers
- permits: self-issued at the trailhead
- trailhead pass: none required
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.
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.
Once we reached Junction Lake, we took the Pacific Crest Trail north for another mile to Bear Lake to look for a campsite.
At Bear Lake, we found a campsite just outside of the day use area.
At dusk, I walked around the lake taking photos of small scenes with fall colors.
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.
We continued past Lemei Rock for views of Lake Wapiki and Mount Adams.
After our hike, we headed back to camp and I walked around Bear Lake to take more photos.
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!
On our hike out, the weather was perfect for taking photos of the colorful meadows without harsh sunlight.
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.