backpack: Indian Heaven Wilderness – Junction Lake
Indian Heaven Wilderness is my favorite place for fall color, and this year was exceptional with spectacular color and warm weather – a great way to end backpacking season.
- distance & elevation gain to Junction Lake: 2.7 miles, 675 ft. gain
- day hike options: Lakes Basin loop; Lemei Rock
- best months: September – October
- location: SW Washington; nearest towns: Carson, 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 Junction Lake
2.7 miles, 675 ft. gain
The hike in from the East Crater trailhead is one of the easiest entries to Indian Heaven at only 2.7 miles to reach Junction Lake with minimal elevation gain. Right away, fall color lined the trail.
The 2017 East Crater wildfire burned part of this area but I think the burn area here is pretty with fall color lining small ponds along the trail. East Crater is visible through the trees in the photo below.
Huckleberry shrubs in the fall are what make Indian Heaven so beautiful. They turn brilliant shades of red and purple, contrasting with parts that are still green. And many of them still had ripe huckleberries.
When we reached Junction Lake, we found a private campsite in the trees to setup camp for two nights.
After setting up camp, we explored an unmaintained trail with beautiful meadows.
Watching the full moon rise over Junction Lake
Day 2 – Lakes Basin loop
5 miles, 480 ft. gain
In the morning, we headed out to hike the Lakes Basin loop, taking our time to soak it all in.
At Clear Lake, we took a long lunch break, then took an unmaintained trail along the lake and across to Bear Lake.
At Bear Lake, with two horse riders on the peninsula.
Both nights were unusually warm for October, with lows in the 50s and very little wind… and no rain!
Day 3 – hike out
2.7 miles, 675 ft. loss
The hike out was fast and easy… I’m happy that I was able to visit this special place again.