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Crater Lakes

North Cascades

Location

North Cascades -- Methow/Sawtooth
View map below

Length

8.6 miles, roundtrip

Elevation

Gain: 2220 ft.
Highest Point: 6980 ft.

Rating

3.77 out of 5

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
 
 
Hike to a pair of beautiful lakes. Haloed by larch on the steep, rocky slopes above, once here, you'll see the reason this area is sometimes called the Golden Lakes.

While early summer provides the new green growth, it also provides bugs around the shallow lakes. It's best to come in the fall, when the air is cool, the bugs are gone, and the larch are gold.

The hike starts on the Eagle Lakes Trail (431) at the Crater Creek Trailhead (4760 feet of elevation). Nothing like a little confusion to start things off!

But it's straightforward once you're on trail. Follow the multi-use Eagle Lakes Trail for 0.7 mile as it climbs slightly, then rounds a bend into a open area, providing a view up the Eagle Creek Valley, before a gradual descent to the bridge over Crater Creek. 

Just beyond the bridge is the junction with the Crater Creek Trail (416). The character of the trail changes as it narrows and steepens. The climb is partly thanks to a prohibition on motorcycles; driving up this on a motorcycle would cause serious rutting. While open to mountain bikes, the trail has a number of steep sections between benches that tend to reduce the number of bicyclists on the trail.

As the trail climbs, the sound of the creek gradually overpowers any sound of the motorcycles on the Eagle Lakes Trail. The pleasant forested trail can be brushy in places with alder, blueberry, & kinnickinnick. In mid-summer when it's hot, the shade is welcome to stay a bit cooler.

At 1.4 miles, the trail crosses Crater Creek on a bridge, before continuing its climb up the valley.  At 2 miles the trail climbs by a smooth granite slab for a short section and from the top has a down-valley view all the way to the Methow River. 

As the climb continues, the forest starts to change, adding whitebark pine to the mix of spruce & fir. The distributed viewpoints improve as the trail continues to climb, passing through an old burn area with a much younger forest at 2.7 miles. At 3.5 miles is a side path to a large "rest" rock with good views across the valley to pockets of larch and down the valley.

After a little more climbing, the trail parallels a large meadow with a horse camp, and then drops towards the lake. 

A large campsite is reached at 4 miles just before Lower Crater Lake, at 6840 feet of elevation. There are more camps to the right on the north shore of the forested lower lake. In fall, the view across the lake is of an unnamed peak draped in golden larch.

Through the first campsite is a boot trail to more campsites across the outlet and the route to the more scenic upper lake. After crossing the outlet on logs or rocks, continue in the south-southwest direction drifting away from the lower lake shore and toward the upper lake, 0.3 mile away. The route through the open forest is a mix of boot trails and game trails. Stay within 50 to 100 yards east of the inlet stream to the lower lake.

The most defined route finishes in a wide, open climb to a low point between two bumps (4.3 miles from the trailhead and at 6980 feet of elevation). The view across the lake to the shoulder of Mount Bigelow is more stark than the lower lake. The scree slopes and boulder fields are dotted with a vivid larch forest around the upper lake. There are large campsites on each of the two bumps with a couple more on the west side of the outlet. Both lakes have good fishing for small trout.

 

Crater Lakes

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 48.2204, -120.2678 Open map in new window

Trailhead

North Cascades -- Methow/Sawtooth

Crater Lakes (#416)

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Methow Valley Ranger District

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)

100 Hikes in Washington's North Cascade National Park Region (Spring & Manning

1994)

Washington Hiking (Leonard

2005)

Golden Lakes Trails (Amazing Maps)

USGS Martin Peak Quadrangle (7.5 minute

2017)

Buy the Green Trails Prince Creek No. 115 map

Download a map to plan your hike

Getting There

Access to the trailhead starts from the Gold Creek Loop Road which has two intersections with State Route 153.

From Carleton, go south on State Route 153 for 3.5 miles and turn right onto Gold Creek Loop Road. Follow Gold Creek Loop Road for 1.6 miles and turn right onto Gold Creek Road.

From Methow, go north of State Route 153 for 5.8 miles and turn left onto Gold Creek Loop Road. Follow Gold Creek Loop Road for 0.8 miles and turn left onto Gold Creek Road.

Once on Gold Creek Road follow it for 5.0 miles, where the name changes to USFS Road 4340 (North Fork Gold Creek Road). Along the way don't get fooled by the creek signs by bridges on side roads which say "North Fork Gold Creek". Follow USFS Road 4340 for 1.6 more miles. Turn left onto USFS Road 4340-300 and follow it for 4.4 miles to the Crater Creek Trailhead.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
 

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Crater Lakes

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