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Rachel Lake

A wet, muddy, cold, and colorful hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

By the Numbers

Distance
8 miles
Elevation
2265 feet
Moving Time
3h0m
Nutrition
Water is plentiful along the trail
Logistics
Ample parking after a short drive on an easy gravel road
External

The vast majority of my hiking takes place in, and around, Olympic National Park because it doesn’t require a ferry ride. Wanting to see some fall colors, I reviewed some of the popular hikes in the I90 corridor on the WTA site and Rachel Lake was a frequent addition and the photos suggested wonderful fall scenery would be on display.

Trail

My plan was to hike to Rachel Lake, take a few photos, continue on to Rampart Ridge, and finally reach one of the many Rampart Lakes for lunch. I left the trailhead at 9:30am and started on my hike.

Reviewing the topo map, it appeared the trail was more or less flat for the first few miles before turning up steeply to reach the lakes. I had also read in one report the trail was like “hiking a river” which I didn’t fully understand – I do now! The trail was in good shape for the first few miles, and then turned decidedly rooty, rocky, muddy, and very wet. There were many stream crossings and small sections of deep mud. At the truck I had debated footwear but the reports led me to opt for waterproof boots, a decision I did not once regret.

Trail through the woods
Trail through the woods

Along the way, both directions, I stopped to photograph many small waterfalls and mushrooms, though I was determined to arrive at the lakes with enough time to have lunch, coffee, and walk around. After screwing around a bit longer than planned, I eventually decided to walk continuously and made my way up the steep trail, often requiring grabbing a root or carefully picking a path. There are a lot of little social trails, shooting off from the main trail, which all generally lead to the same place but make for a bit of confusion as to which path to follow.

Peak-a-boo colors dot slopes on either side of the trail but they are not easily accessible and the cloudy, misty sky discouraged too much off trail adventuring.

Colors as you arrive at Rachel Lake
Colors as you arrive at Rachel Lake
Rachel Lake in the mist and fog
Rachel Lake in the mist and fog

After four miles and nearly two hours of walking & photography, I arrived at Rachel Lake. The colors in the small meadows surrounding the lake were pretty but unfortunately the lake itself was difficult to see clearly through the fog and mist.

After taking photos and exploring a bit I found a great little ledge for coffee and lunch. I had decided with the views so poor, and a light rain starting, the plan to hike to Rampart Ridge was off and I’d go no further than Rachel Lake on this day.

I’m really enjoying this coffee tradition. The bulk of the stove, Aeropress, and other essentials were well worth it on a cold and rainy day.

After my coffee, and with the rain starting to pick up and getting colder, I packed up and headed back to the truck. I really enjoyed my time in the Cascades and hope to make a few more trips before winter arrives.

Mushrooms

The fall mushroom season is well underway and mushrooms of all varieties were visible along the trail and into the woods.

Waterfalls

A waterfall among fall colors
A waterfall among fall colors

In addition to the mushrooms, I was captivated by the number, and variety, of the small falls on the trail. I am a huge fan of small waterfalls nestled into the woods of the PNW and this trail had many including a number of weeping walls and larger falls.

Box Canyon Creek Falls

On the drive in to the trailhead I noticed some falls from the road and marked the mileage so I could stop on the way back. It turns out it’s a popular spot called the Box Canyon Plunge Pool. Definitely worth a visit.

Route

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