Mountain Lake Backpacking Trips in Oregon & Washington

These backpacking trips to mountain lakes range from short and easy trips for relaxing – to tough and challenging treks with stunning scenery.

Difficulty Ratings

The difficulty ratings listed here are based on hiking in to a campsite and does not include additional hike destinations on the trip.

  • Easy: Hike in up to 6 miles, and up to 1,000 ft. gain to camp area
  • Moderate: Hike in up to 8 miles with 1,000-2,000 ft. gain to camp area
  • Strenuous: Hike in up to 10 miles with 2,000-3,000 ft. gain to camp area
  • Very Strenuous: Hike in up to 12 miles with 3,000-4,000 ft. gain to camp area

Mount Hood Wilderness: Burnt Lake

Mount Hood – Burnt Lake backpacking trip

The alpenglow on Mount Hood reflected in Burnt Lake is a sight you won’t soon forget. Take this moderately easy hike to a mountain lake and stay overnight to watch the mountain change colors several times in a day.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 3.3 miles, 1,400 ft. gain
  • difficulty: moderate
  • day hike options: East Zigzag Mountain, Cast Lake
  • best months: September-October
  • permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint
  • more info: Burnt Lake backpacking trip

Mount Jefferson Wilderness: Hunts Cove

Mount Jefferson Wilderness - Hunts Cove backpacking trip

Hike in next to Pamelia Creek, past popular Pamelia Lake and up to Hunts Cove to setup camp at Hanks or Hunts Lakes. Access the Pacific Crest Trail via the Old Hunts Cove Trail for outstanding views of Mount Jefferson.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 6 miles, 2,230 ft. gain
  • difficulty: strenuous
  • day hike options: Pacific Crest Trail to Shale Lake
  • best months: mid-July to September
  • permits: required in advance (Central Cascades)
  • more info: Hunts Cove backpacking trip

Mount Rainier: Sheep Lake & Upper Crystal Lake

Sheep Lake & Upper Crystal Lake backpacking trip

On the eastern edge of Mount Rainier National Park, take an easier route into Upper Crystal Lake via Chinook Pass and Sheep Lake. Permits are required at Upper Crystal Lake, but not at Sheep Lake which is outside the national park.

  • distance & elevation gain to Upper Crystal campsite: 4.1 miles, 1,065 ft. gain
  • difficulty: moderate
  • day hike options: Pacific Crest Trail north
  • best months: July to September
  • permits: required in advance from Mount Rainier National Park
  • more info: Sheep Lake & Upper Crystal Lake backpacking trip

Mount Washington Wilderness: Tenas Lakes

Mount Washington Wilderness - Tenas Lakes backpack trip

Located in the Mount Washington Wilderness in Central Oregon, Tenas Lakes are a group of subalpine lakes with rocky shorelines and blue-green water.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 2.5 miles, 600 ft. gain
  • difficulty: easy
  • day hike options: Scott Mountain
  • best months: August – September (avoid July due to mosquitoes)
  • permits: required in advance (Central Cascades)
  • more info: Tenas Lakes backpacking trip

Goat Rocks Wilderness: Packwood Lake

Packwood Lake backpacking trip

Packwood Lake is at low elevation in Goat Rocks Wilderness, so it’s a good early season backpack when the snow levels are above 3,500 ft. Due to the easy access, the lakeside campsites can be heavily crowded, especially in the summer, so go early in the season if you can.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 4-6 miles, 400-700 ft. gain
  • difficulty: easy
  • day hike options: continue on the Packwood Lake Trail to the end of the lake
  • best months: May – June (due to crowds in the summer months)
  • permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint
  • more info: Packwood Lake backpacking trip

Three Sisters Wilderness: Doris Lake

Three Sisters Wilderness - Doris Lake backpacking trip

The Six Lakes Basin in the Three Sisters Wilderness is full of lakes that are perfect for a relaxing backpacking trip. The trial to Doris Lake is short and fairly flat – a good destination for beginners and families.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 3 miles, 400 ft. gain
  • difficulty: easy
  • day hike options: visit any of the numerous lakes in this area
  • best months: August to September (avoid July due to mosquitoes)
  • permits: required in advance (Central Cascades)
  • more info: Doris Lake backpacking trip

Alpine Lakes Wilderness: Rachel & Rampart Lakes

Alpine Lakes Wilderness - Rachel & Rampart Lakes backpacking trip

A challenging hike up a steep and rocky trail, Rampart Lakes is a collection of small lakes in a superbly scenic subalpine area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 5.7 miles, 2,300 ft. gain
  • difficulty: strenuous
  • day hike options: Lila Lakes, Alta Mountain
  • best months: August – September (avoid July due to mosquitoes)
  • permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint
  • more info: Rampart Lakes backpacking trips

Olympic National Park: Royal Lake

Olympic Mountains - Royal Basin backpacking trip

Royal Lake provides access to some of the best subalpine and alpine scenery in the Olympic Mountains. From Royal Lake, it’s a short hike to explore the Upper Royal Basin – which sits just below the Olympic’s second highest peak, Mount Deception.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 6.5 miles, 2,800 ft. gain
  • difficulty: strenuous
  • day hike options: Upper Royal Basin
  • best months: mid-July to September
  • permits: required in advance from Olympic National Park
  • more info: Royal Basin backpacking trip

Eagle Cap Wilderness: Wallowas Lakes Basin

Wallowas Lakes Basin backpacking trip

Deep in the heart of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, this trip to the Lakes Basin is scenery packed – with granite boulders and slabs, alpine lakes and meadows scattered throughout and surrounded by peaks. The Two Pan trailhead provides the most direct access into the Eagle Cap Wilderness with shorter mileage and less elevation gain than other options.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 7-8 miles with ~2,000 ft. gain
  • difficulty: strenuous
  • day hike options: Lakes Basin loop, Eagle Cap summit, Glacier Lake
  • best months: mid-July to September
  • permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint
  • more info: Wallowas Lakes Basin

Olympic National Park: Seven Lakes Basin

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

The Seven Lakes Basin is accessed via the High Divide loop in the Olympic Mountains. The hike in can be shortened with a stop at Deer Lake for the first night. This area is extremely popular and advance permits are required for all backcountry campsites.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 9.2 miles, 3,070 ft. gain
  • difficulty: strenuous
  • day hike options: explore the Seven Lakes Basin
  • best months: August to September
  • permits: required in advance from Olympic National Park
  • more info: High Divide backpacking trip

Three Sisters Wilderness: Green Lakes

Three Sisters Wilderness - Green Lakes backpack

Located in the Three Sisters Wilderness between the mountains South Sister and Broken Top, the Green Lakes area is a popular backpacking destination that showcases the best of Central Oregon’s Cascades. Advance backcountry permits are required for all campsites.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 5.5 miles, 1,100 ft. gain
  • difficulty: moderate
  • day hike options: Golden Lake, Park Meadows, meadows below Broken Top
  • best months: mid-July to September
  • permits: required in advance (Central Cascades)
  • more info: Green Lakes backpacking trip

Alpine Lakes Wilderness: Pete Lake & Spectacle Lake

Pete Lake and Spectacle Lake backpacing trip

Spectacle Lake is indeed a spectacle – surrounded by peaks in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This scenic lake is popular side trip for thru-hikers and section hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 10 miles, 2,260 ft. gain (for a shorter option, spend the first night at Pete Lake before continuing to Spectacle Lake)
  • difficulty: strenuous
  • day hike options: explore the Spectacle Lake area
  • best months: July to September
  • permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint
  • more info: Spectacle Lake backpacking trip

Mount Rainier: Upper Palisades Lake

Mount Rainier – Upper Palisades Lake backpacking trip

Mount Rainier may not be visible from the trails in the Palisades Lakes area, but the subalpine beauty of the lakes and meadows below the peaks of The Palisades makes this a worthwhile destination.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 3.7 miles, 610 ft. gain, 880 ft. loss
  • difficulty: easy
  • day hike options: Hidden Lake, Brown Peak
  • best months: July to September
  • permits: required in advance from Mount Rainier National Park
  • more info: Upper Palisades Lake backpacking trip

Indian Heaven Wilderness: Bear Lake

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

Late autumn is the best time to visit Indian Heaven Wilderness. The mosquitoes the area is famous for are gone, and thousands of huckleberry-laden shrubs literally cover the entire area in stunning shades of red, yellow and orange. One of the easiest access points is via the East Crater Trail, providing access to Junction Lake (shown above), Bear Lake, and many other lakes in the area.

  • distance & elevation gain to Bear Lake: 4.2 miles, 800 ft. gain
  • difficulty: easy
  • day hike options: Lakes Basin loop; Lemei Rock
  • best months: September – October (avoid July and early August due to mosquitoes)
  • permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint
  • more info: Bear Lake backpacking trip

Mount Jefferson Wilderness: Jefferson Park

Mount Jefferson Wilderness - Jefferson Park backpacking trip

Jefferson Park is a subalpine basin filled with scenic lakes at the base of Mount Jefferson. Several wildfires have impacted trail access to this area, and advance backcountry permits are required for all campsites in the area. Check with the local ranger station for more info about current conditions.

  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 6 miles, 1,800 ft. gain
  • difficulty: moderate
  • day hike options: explore the many lakes in Jefferson Park
  • best months: mid-July to September
  • permits: required in advance (Central Cascades)
  • more info: Jefferson Park backpacking trip

Related Posts:

I Heart Pacific Northwest is a participant in affiliate link programs which provide a small commission if a purchase is made through gear links on this site (at no additional cost to you). I am not sponsored by any gear companies and the items listed here are owned by me and unless otherwise stated, are purchased with my own funds. Thank you for supporting this website!