Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake
2 miles round trip, 50 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required; trail can be wheelchair accessible

Nowhere else in Washington State's North Cascades is there such easy access to a beautiful alpine lake. Rainy Lake sits in a bowl surrounded by the massive cliffs of Frisco Mountain, fed by waterfalls tumbling off the benches high up the mountain and ringed by forests of hemlock and spruce. Reaching this lake requires no strenuous exertion up thousands of feet of elevation gain: instead, hikers of any fitness and skill level can access Rainy Lake's emerald waters via a flat, paved trail through the forest from Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway. This trail is understandably popular as it delivers an alpine lake experience usually limited to hikers to all visitors passing through the North Cascades. Although the trail is designed to be wheelchair accessible, obstacles such as snow patches and fallen tree branches likely limited accessibility of the trail at the time of my visit.

I hiked this trail with two friends on our way back from an overnight atop Goat Peak in Mazama; although the trail to Rainy Lake was short, I had somehow never managed to make my way out to the lake on my multiple previous visits to the area. To reach the trailhead from Seattle, take I-5 north to Burlington and then follow Highway 20 east through North Cascades National Park to Rainy Pass; the trailhead is at the Rainy Lake Picnic Area on the western side of the road at Rainy Pass.

The paved trail headed off into a forest of spruce and hemlock, roughly paralleling Highway 20, which was within earshot through the trees. Signage described some elements of the vegetation along the trail. About a third of a mile in, the trail crossed the cascading creek draining Lake Ann (of the Maple Pass Loop) on a well-built bridge and a hundred feet later, passed the a trail junction for the trail up to Maple Pass.

Cascading creek
We stayed on the flat, paved trail, running into a few small snow patches before coming to a wooden platform on the north shore of Rainy Lake a mile from the trailhead. Frisco Mountain formed a wall behind the lake and a beautiful two-tiered waterfall thundered down into the cirque, draining snowmelt from a smaller pond higher up. There were plenty of other hikers and fishermen at this platform enjoying the sun and the views.

Rainy Lake from the viewing platform
We escaped the crowds by following a social trail on the western shore of the lake from the far end of the viewing platform. The path dove into the forest and around some massive blowdown and quickly came to a pleasant lakeside viewpoint that we had to ourselves. The path continued but we called it a day here, first soaking in the views of the lake and then cooling off in the lake's cold snowmelt waters.

Rainy Lake

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