backpack: Alpine Lakes Wilderness – Rachel & Rampart Lakes
On this challenging three night backpacking trip, we stayed at Rachel Lake the first night, then continued up to Rampart Lakes for two more nights.
This area is extremely popular and gets overcrowded on weekends, so trips during the week are highly recommended. Self-issued permits are available at the trailhead; campfires are not allowed at Rachel Lake or above 5,000 feet; and privies are available at both Rachel and Rampart Lakes.
Trip Overview Map
Day 1: hike in from Rachel Lake trailhead
4 miles 2,200 ft. gain
True to it’s name, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is filled with peaks and lakes. We were supposed to go to the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon, but there was a fire weather watch in place, so we opted to go here instead.
The hike in to Rachel Lake is easy at first, but the last mile to the lake is up a steep and rough trail filled with roots and rocks. At times, the trail is difficult to follow so it’s good to have a route on Gaia to keep you on track.
For the last mile, the trail is rough… and relentless.
When we reached Rachel Lake, it was starting to get dark so we camped here for the first night. A cold wind was blowing off the lake, so we opted for a lower camp spot. We thought we were the only ones there, but I saw a light from campers at the other end of the lake.
Day 2: hike up to Rampart Lakes
1.5 miles 550 ft. gain
In the morning, we packed up for the hike up to Rampart Lakes. The trail starts out rough and steep again until we climbed the ridge above Rachel Lake.
Once we reached the top, we turned left at the junction to continue to Rampart Lakes.
Now we were entering an area full of subalpine beauty with granite mounds and green conifers mixed with fall color on huckleberry and mountain ash shrubs in shades of yellow, orange and red.
Looking back at views of Alta Mountain, East Alta, Box Ridge and Hibox Mountain.
Rampart Lakes aren’t visible until climbing over large granite hills. We crossed a creek and climbed up short granite face, then began looking for a campsite. There are quite a few campsites scattered around the lakes. We chose a well established site next to one of the lakes.
After setting up camp, we explored the area and checked out where the privy is located (up, up, up a steep hill). We also found an alternate trail to get in and out of the lake area so we wouldn’t have to climb up or down the granite face again.
On our first night at Rampart Lakes, a pretty sunset filled the sky with streaks of pink.
Day 3: day hike towards Alta Mountain
Sunrise the next morning was just as pretty as sunset the night before.
After breakfast, we hiked to Alta Mountain. The last time I was here four years ago, I hiked 3/4 of the way up Alta. On this trip, however, I was having some digestive issues and not feeling great, so when we reached the base of Alta my friends did the hike and I turned around to head back to camp to rest.
After deciding not to hike up Alta with my friends, I headed back to camp by myself and stopped to enjoy the views along the way.
As I got back to Rampart Lakes, fog started rolling in and I could only see the top of Alta Mountain in the distance.
Within just a few minutes, the fog thickened and hid views of all of the peaks in the area. When I reached our camp, I felt a few sprinkles of rain so I got in my tent. As soon as I did, heavy rain started to fall and continued for several hours. High wind kicked in, and the entire area was now enclosed in fog with sideways mist that didn’t let up all night. After a few hours, my friends returned to camp and I found out that the rain was much heavier at Rampart than it was at Alta.
I ended up spending 18 hours in my tent and cooked dinner in my vestibule to avoid getting wet and muddy. The wind and rain kept up all night long as I watched it shake my tent side to side.
Day 4: hike out to the trailhead
It was still foggy in the morning, but the wind eventually blew it out and it was clear and sunny for our hike out. I packed my camera in my backpack and didn’t take any pics on the hike out. Instead, I was more concerned about the steep and rocky descent that we had to do.
We passed what seemed like at least a hundred people hiking in… so many backpackers, day hikers and trail runners. I’m not sure where all of the backpackers would be able to find campsites so I was glad we timed this trip and had both Rachel and Rampart Lakes mostly to ourselves while we were there. I love the scenery of this place, but it kicked my ass so I’m not sure that I’ll do this trip again.