Olympic National Park is more than just ridges, rainforests, and the best stretches of coast in the nation.
It is home to hidden, watery gems, each shimmering and shining underneath majestic peaks. High alpine lakes in Olympic often get overlooked when people come to America’s 5th most popular National Park, yet their beauty rivals any high alpine lakes in the National Park Service. Along the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountain Range, high above the fjord-like beauty of Hood Canal, five alpine lakes are sitting, waiting for you to fall in love with their splendor.
The high alpine lakes in Olympic aren’t very popular for a number of reasons, with the main being that they require a bit of hiking to get to, with none of them accessible by car. In fact, many of the best hikes in Olympic are only accessible after a drive down a dirt road, and then up a steep trail that tests the limits of most day hikers. Close enough to Seattle to use less than a tank of gas, these five high alpine lakes are only for those hearty souls in search of a full day adventure into the wilderness of Olympic National Park.
Anecdotally, I find myself coming back to these trails again and again, continuing to fall in love with the trails, the views, and the entire experience. If you haven’t explored the high alpine lakes of Olympic National Park, you won’t regret checking these challenging, yet rewarding day hikes out.
1. Upper Lena
Distance from Seattle: 118 miles
Miles Round Trip: 14.6
Elevation Gain: 3,800ft
Upper Lena Lake sits shimmering and sparkling with Mount Bretherton and Mount Lena reflecting off its calm, placid waters. After a beast of a hike, the lake becomes an oasis of beauty over half a mile above the Hamma Hamma River below. In the lake, take a dip in the cool waters from melting snows while enjoying the views of this peaceful valley. Getting here can be hard work, and the steep route from Lower Lena Lake can be a challenge to those not used to the incline of Olympic Mountain trails. If the hike seems a bit much for a day, take a long weekend and camp along the shores of Upper Lena. To camp at Upper Lena, you will need the proper NPS permit at Upper Lena Lake, while Lower Lena is in the National Forest Service. Please make sure you are courteous to other hikers and campers, as well as leaving no trace.
2. Black and White Lakes
Distance from Seattle: 112 miles
Miles Round Trip: 21
Elevation Gain: 3,700ft
One of the lesser known lakes in Olympic National Park, Black and White Lakes get you high up above the North Fork of the Skokomish River. There are two approaches to Black and White Lake, with the route near Flapjack Lakes being the easiest, and least steep. You can reach the twin lakes from a steep path directly up from the Skokomish River, but that route is not recommended. Either way, getting here is a long day hike, rising up from the Staircase Ranger Station up toward the southern flank of Mount Gladys. To the north, the view isn’t much to look at, but in every other direction, the world opens up and stunning panoramas await. The area is also known to be popular with bears, and the rare mountain goat has been sighted, so be aware.
3. Flapjack Lakes
Distance from Seattle: 112 miles
Miles Round Trip: 15
Elevation Gain: 3,200ft
Yet again in the Staircase Region, Flapjack Lakes are another set of twin lakes that offer awesome views and a fun hiking experience. The area is also a popular backcountry camping destination, often frequented by hordes of Boy Scouts in the summer months. Even with the campers at the lake, however, the area is gorgeous. To get up to the lakes, the trail, like most everything in the region, is a steep uphill haul. The path is highlighted by the always awesome Donahue Creek Falls, just a half mile below the lake. Once at the lake, walk out into the center path that splits the lakes in two, you won’t regret it. Also in this region, just a few miles further up the trail, is Gladys Divide, one of the best views in Olympic.
4. Lake Constance
Distance from Seattle: 70.6 miles
Miles Round Trip: 10
Elevation Gain: 4,200ft
If you have ever thought to yourself, “I wish there was a hike that would kick my ass, and then reward me with breathtaking views,” Lake Constance is the trail of your dreams. Starting out on the old Dosewallips Road, the trail is mostly flat for three miles, before gaining 3,200 feet in two miles. The path up is brutal at first, but once you've worked your way through a burn area, the trail opens up a bit, even though it is still steep. Passing cascading waterfalls to your right, the short trail will exhaust you before you finally reach the lake. Lake Constance is truly inspiring, sitting under the rocky summit of Point Harrah-South Peak. For the best experience, bushwhack around the lake and complete the circumnavigation, as it offers a true feel for the wilderness of the area and shows off some impressive, rarely seen views.
5. Lake of the Angels
Distance from Seattle: 125 miles miles
Miles Round Trip: 7
Elevation Gain: 3400ft
Lake of the Angels is one of the most stunning lakes in the National Park Service, and yet, few outside of the hiking community of the Olympic Peninsula ever hike to this majestic destination. Full of marmots, mountain goats, and awe-inspiring views, Lake of the Angels is a must hike. The trail starts along the Hamma Hamma River, quickly gaining 3,400 feet in 3.5 miles, and will challenge those not used to steep hikes. There are sections of the path that are being eroded due to bad weather, and there are a few areas where the trail might vanish, but that shouldn’t stop the adventurous from hiking to the lake. Once there, the steep trail fades away, opening up a natural wonderland where Mount Skokomish reflects off the clear mountain lake waters. Mountain goats circle the lake, marmots whistle in the rocks, and life feels perfect. Lake of the Angels is a heavenly destination that needs to be seen often.