The 7.5-mile round-trip hike to Blanca Lake is more challenging than most trails of similar popularity. But don’t let the steep elevations gains scare you away: once you make it to the hike’s namesake turquoise-blue lake, so vibrant it seems as though it must be from another world, it will be easy to understand why so many people deem all that huffing and puffing worth it.
What Makes It Great
The trail starts at an elevation of 1,900 feet. Beginning through secondary forest in the Wild Sky Wilderness, it quickly gets down to business; a series of steep switchbacks ascend nearly 3000 feet over the first three miles. But if you visit in late summer, you’ll have plenty of snacks to keep you going up the hill: delicious huckleberries line this portion of the trail.
The path then comes out of the forest and continues to switchbacks up a rocky face. Here you’ll have you’re first mountain views. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see Glacier Peak.
Once on top of the ridge, the trail levels out and crosses alpine meadows, which are full of wildflowers in the spring. The meadows then lead you to Virgin Lake. This stagnant body of water is a known breeding ground for frogs and salamanders, and is fed entirely by snowmelt and rain (there is no inlet or outlet). Virgin Lake often turns into something rather more like a bog by late fall. If that sounds disappointing, don’t worry! At an elevation of 4,577 feet Virgin Lake is the highest point of the trip, but it is by no means the high point of the trip.
The route then drops 600 feet over the next 0.6-miles, over terrain that is often muddy, rocky, rooty, and steep (don’t say we didn’t warn you!). And then, finally, as you turn around the corner the prize comes into view: Blanca Lake, sitting in a basin surrounded by the peaks of Monte Cristo, Kyes, and Columbia. The Columbia glacier is also in the distance, as it feeds the vivid blue lake via twin waterfalls. The lake’s color is due to glacial till – the sediments brought in by the massive moving piece of ice above.
Due to its higher elevation, take note that the trail is typically only accessible July until October or November.
Who is Going to Love It
This trail is quite doable by most hikers, but it’s the promise of a bright blue lake that brings in some people who otherwise wouldn’t consider such a steep trek. There’s a special sense of exhilaration reserved for those who decide to push themselves for the pursuit of something beautiful!
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get there, take Highway 2 just past the town of Skykomish. Turn left onto FR65/Beckler River Road. Follow it for 15 miles, and then turn right onto FR63. Continue for two miles until a small spur road to the left, where you will find the trailhead.
There is only room for about 20 cars in the parking lot, so it often fills on weekends. Try to go during the week, or plan to get there early!