Lake Ingalls Hike Guide: Washington’s Beautiful Blue Alpine Lake

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Endless mountain views, roaming wildlife, and a pristine, blue alpine lake.

What more could you ask for on one of Washington state’s most beautiful hikes?

The Lake Ingalls hike is nothing short of magical, with views of Mount Rainier, Mount Stuart, and the magical Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

It’s perfect for adventurers in the summer months and especially in the fall when the larches turn golden.

If you haven’t checked out Lake Ingalls yet, you’re missing out this Enchantments-like trail that will truly amaze you.

Below you’ll find a full guide on what to expect as you trek through the wilderness to reach this magical lake.

Lake Ingalls Hike Details

Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet
Difficulty: Hard
Estimated Time: 6 hours
Type: Out & Back
All Trails Map

The second you’ve left the trailhead for Lake Ingalls, you’ll start seeing amazing views of the surrounding Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

You’ll be surrounded by trees, and soon, towering mountain views.

But I won’t lie to you, it’s definitely a tough hike with some scrambling involved that will test your capabilities.

Reaching that lake with Mount Stuart as its backdrop will be a reward that will make every second of the hike worth the effort!

Mount Stuart standing tall above other mountains amongst a blue sky.

You truly won’t believe your eyes for almost the entire trail because it feels like it’s just out of a fairy tale.

It’s a well-trafficked trail, so you can definitely expect to see many other people out here on the same day as you.

In the winter months, the main road into the trailhead shuts down, so you’ll need to wait for it to reopen in the summer.

The Trail to Lake Ingalls

The trail to Lake Ingalls can definitely be tricky to follow at some points, so I wanted to give you a detailed outline of what to expect.

This should help you stay on track while you’re on your way, as well as using WTA and All Trails to track your journey.

The Start

After you’ve parked at the small trailhead that fills up quickly, you’ll need to fill out a day permit.

This permit it required at any trailhead entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and is free.

Then, head out on the trail labeled ‘Esmeralda Basin.’

You’ll make your way through winding trees and along the North Fork Teanaway River.

It starts making its way uphill right away, preparing you for what’s to come on the rest of the trail.

This area doesn’t last for long before you make it to the split for the continuation of the Esmeralda Basin trail and the beginning of Ingalls Way.

Esmeralda Basin Split

Only about 0.4 miles into the trail, you’ll come across a fork where you’ll need to decide where to go.

If you’re planning on making your way up to Lake Ingalls, you’ll need to stick to the right here onto ‘Ingalls Way.’

There is a sign here marking the split, so as long as you’re paying attention, you should be fine.

To the left, the trail to Esmeralda Basin leads you past the Esmeralda Peaks.

Longs Pass Split

After you’ve passed the junction for Esmeralda Basin and have made your way onto Ingalls Way, you’ll start making some small switchbacks through the woods.

You will see a lot of uphill in here with a few spots that level out just enough to rest your legs.

As you continue on, you’ll pass through green trees and will start to see mountains peaking above the treeline.

At about 1.6 miles, you’ll come to another split in the trail, this one leading you to Longs Pass.

Snow-capped mountains in the distance as seen from the trail.

If you choose to head to Longs Pass, it’ll add about 1.4 miles to your trip, but also another 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

It’s a beautiful spot that takes you up to nearly 6,250 feet above sea level with a different perspective of Mount Stuart.

You can also choose to save Longs Pass for another day on continue on Ingalls Way.

Ingalls Pass

After you’ve passed the split to Longs Pass, the views will start to open up even more.

You’ll have chances to look out and admire the craggy Esmeralda Peaks and everything else surrounding you.

This is where it starts to become pretty magical because there is just so much to see.

If you’re visiting when there’s snow on the ground, the trail might be hard to navigate.

This was the mistake that we made when we visited, and ended up off-trail, having to route find our way back.

Even with All Trails or a navigation system, it can become tough. So keep an eye out for other footprints and trail markings.

You’ll continue along and soon you’ll see Ingalls Pass at the top of a tall, rocky incline.

Yes, you’ll need to make your way up that path to reach the pass, so use caution and watch your footing as you climb.

Once you’ve reached the top of the pass, you’ll finally be greeted with some of the most amazing views your eyes will see.

Myself and Tyler standing at the top of Ingalls Pass with mountains all behind us.

In front of you, Mount Stuart dominates the skyline, towering over all the other peaks around it.

This is the mountain that acts as the backdrop of Lake Ingalls and guards The Enchantments on the other side.

Behind you, Mount Rainier peeks out, high above the sky, as the tallest mountain in the state of Washington.

And surrounding these tall mountains, you’ll have views for miles of some of Washington’s most beautiful ranges.

On a clear day, you may even be able to spot Mount Adams, a 12,280-foot volcano in southern Washington.

Below lies Headlight Basin and to the left, the route around the basin.

It’s here that you’ll need to choose which route to take.

Headlight Basin vs. Route Around

From Ingalls Pass, you’ll look down into Headlight Basin, a beautiful meadow filled with larch trees, rivers, wildflowers, and wildlife.

Many people enjoy camping within the basin, as it isn’t allowed at the lake.

During the fall months, all of the green trees that you see turn a shade of golden yellow, known as alpine larches.

And you might spot families of mountain goats, roaming the area, searching for humans to steal salt from.

(Seriously. These goats will stop and stare at you, wondering when you’re going to squat to take a pee… they like the salt in human’s pee… 🐐)

Walking through a snow-covered Headlight Basin with trees in front of us and the climb to Ingalls Lake ahead.

The basin can be tough to navigate, as there are so many streams and trees to go around, and is especially difficult when there’s snow on the ground.

To the left at Ingalls Pass is a trail that skirts the edge of the basin, making for a much easier journey to the lake.

These trails do merge back together about 1/4 mile before you reach Lake Ingalls.

Most people tend to take the trail around the basin, just because it’s more easily navigated.

Personally, we took the basin on the way to the lake and the edge trail on the way back to the trailhead.

Whichever way you choose, be sure to use some sort of navigation to ensure that you’re staying on the trail.

Lake Ingalls

After you’ve made your way either around the basin or through it, you’ll have just one final stretch to the lake.

This point comes about 4.5 miles into the trail.

In the summer, you’ll climb up a short boulder field that feels much longer than it actually is.

When there’s snow on the ground, you might need your crampons to help get you up and over the ridge.

As the snow starts to melt, you may hear running water beneath the snow. This can be extremely dangerous.

Always use caution, watch for holes and thin patches, and be aware of post-holing.

Once you’ve reached the top of the ridge, you’ll finally have your first view of Lake Ingalls.

Myself and Tyler standing in front of Lake Ingalls after making the hike, with Mount Stuart behind us.

The magical alpine lake is surrounded by jagged peaks in every direction.

To the west, Ingalls Peaks tower above the flat faces of rock that drop to the ground.

And in the east, Mount Stuart sits high above at 9,416 feet above sea level.

These towering mountain views and the pristine, blue lake make it easy to sit here for hours.

In fact, I did. There’s a slanted rock on the south side of the lake, right as you come up the trail, that makes the perfect place to stop for lunch.

A trail does wrap around the west side of the lake that is visible when the snow melts, which meets up with other trails leading to Stuart Pass.

The Trail Back

Once you’ve somehow spent enough time (I don’t think you ever could!), it’s time to start heading back down.

This is an out-and-back trail, so the way you came is the way you’ll head back.

So make your way back down the short boulder field and decide if you’ll keep the same route or switch to Headlight Basin this time.

I recommend taking the lower route at least once because it gives you an entirely new perspective of the mountains.

You’ll feel so small in there and it really humbles you.

Mount Rainier in the distance as seen from the trail.

Either way, you’ll somehow get back to Ingalls Pass, and will take one more look at the incredible views.

Then, make your way back down the pass and onto the trail.

Head to Longs Pass if you’re up for it, before continuing along the switchbacks and towards the trailhead.

Almost 9 miles later, you’ll get your first glimpse of the parking lot and with tired legs and a happy heart, make your way to your vehicle.

Where is the Lake Ingalls Trailhead?

The trailhead to get to Ingalls Lake is located in the Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest.

It’s called the Esmeralda Trailhead and is found at the end of N Fork Teanaway Road (NF Road 9737) in the Teanaway Forest.

If you type ‘Lake Ingalls Trailhead‘ into Google Maps, it will bring you right there.

The road is dirt and can be bumpy in certain spots, so having a vehicle with somewhat higher clearance is best.

We made it just fine in my Ford Edge, so it’s not super necessary to have a huge car to get here.

Distances From Major Cities

Seattle: 2 hours 30 minutes
Portland: 4 hours 30 minutes
Vancouver, BC: 4 hours 40 minutes
Vancouver, WA: 4 hours 30 minutes
Spokane: 3 hours 45 minutes

How Long Does the Hike Take?

How long it takes for a person to complete a hike depends on a few things.

For the average person (hiking about 2 mph), it will take about 6 hours to complete this hike.

That factors in the distance, terrain, and elevation gain.

If you plan to stop more often or stay at the lake longer, or are a slower hiker, then you may need to plan more time.

A mother and baby mountain goat standing atop a large rock with snow in the background.

My boyfriend and I are average-paced hikers who take several breaks and sat at the lake for about 1.5 hours.

It took us about 7.5 hours from start to finish.

You can read more about hike duration and figure out how long it might take you in my post here.

I also like this tool for determining hiking time.

Is the Lake Ingalls Hike Hard?

The Lake Ingalls hike is by no means easy because you are hiking for 9 miles and cover nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

The terrain can be rough at times with boulder fields, stream crossings, and snow potentially into late July.

It’s definitely suited for a more intermediate-level hiker and wouldn’t be great as a beginner hike.

Having snow on the ground makes it even more difficult as you need to be aware of running water and post-holing.

When is The Best Time to Visit Lake Ingalls?

Lake Ingalls is a beautiful location that is great for many times of the year, but there’s definitely a better time than others to visit.

Let’s go over the best times of year and day to plan your hike.

Time of Year

Because the road to the trailhead closes in the winter time, it’s best to do this hike in summer.

It typically opens in early to mid-June and remains open all summer until the snow starts to fly in late October.

The best time to complete this hike is in late June or early July when the mountains are still snow-capped.

During this time, the lake is still slightly frozen, and the melting water creates an aqua-blue color that is very unique.

The teal blue color that you can see in Lake Ingalls with Mount Stuart in the background.

While you will likely need poles and crampons to stay standing in the snow, it’s really the best time to visit.

Plus, you’ll avoid some of the crowds that visit during the peak summer months.

Secondly, visiting during the fall time, from late September to early October is another great time.

This is when the green trees turn golden and create a wonderland of yellow larches.

This is many people’s favorite time to visit because the contrast of the yellow larches and the white snow is just beautiful.

Time of Day

You can hike this trail any time of day, but like most trailheads in Washington, the parking lot fills up quickly.

It isn’t a huge area, with only room for about 40 cars, and you may risk losing out on a spot if you don’t arrive early enough.

That being said, I recommend planning to start the hike no later than 9:00 am.

On most days by this time, you should get a parking spot and will be able to finish before the day gets too hot.

On peak weekends in the summer, you may want to arrive even earlier.

There is very little shade on this trail and it’s extremely easy to get burnt (speaking from experience…).

So hiking earlier in the day is best, all around.

Can I Camp Near Lake Ingalls?

Camping is prohibited within 1/2 mile of Lake Ingalls, but there are other places nearby to set up your tent.

Many people enjoy camping down in Headlight Basin, which is the drop at Ingalls Pass.

Or, there are many campgrounds on the forest road leading into the trailhead that offer free first come-first serve sites.


Here are just a few more frequently asked questions about hiking to Lake Ingalls to help you plan your visit.

Do I Need a Permit to Hike to Lake Ingalls?

Because Lake Ingalls is located within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you will need a day permit to hike the trail.

These are found at the trailhead and are self-issuing and free, but every group needs one.

You don’t need any advance permits to do the hike.

What Pass is Required for this Hike?

To park at the trailhead, you’ll need to have a Northwest Forest pass, which are pretty common at Washington trails.

You can purchase an annual one online here.

Tall mountains covered in snow as seen standing behind Lake Ingalls.

Is There a Toilet at the Trailhead?

There is a pit toilet at the trailhead.

If you need to go after you’ve left the trailhead, move off of the trail and away from water sources or campsites at least 200 feet.

This helps minimize environmental impact and also helps keep the local mountain goats who are searching for salt away from humans.

Is There Cell Phone Coverage on the Trail?

There is not much cell coverage on the trail or at the trailhead.

Download maps and send those final texts before you leave Cle Elum!

Are Dogs Allowed on the Trail to Lake Ingalls?

Dogs are only allowed on the 0.4-mile portion of the trail before it turns into Ingalls Way.

Leashed dogs are allowed on the Esmeralda Basin trail, but not on the trail to Lake Ingalls.

Tips for High-Elevation Hiking

Hiking at high elevations is very different than at low elevations.

It’s very important to be aware of a few things before heading out on the trail, especially if you aren’t used to it.

  • Drink more water than usual. Your body will need more water to avoid getting sick at high altitudes.
  • The sun’s rays are closer, so wear sunscreen and reapply to avoid getting burnt to a crisp (like I did). Don’t forget the chapstick!
  • Pack salty snacks to replenish your body after drinking so much water.
  • Take other measures of sun protection such as wearing a hat, long sleeves, and sunglasses.
  • Take more breaks if needed to keep yourself energized and maintain your stamina.

What to Pack for the Hike

Packing the right items for a hike can be the difference between a happy and a miserable hiker.

Here are a few of the most important items to pack to ensure an enjoyable adventure.

Water –> It’s recommended to have 1/2 liter of water for every hour of hiking. Use a water bladder like this for easy drinking.

Food –> On a 9-mile hike, you’ll want plenty of snacks as well as a lunch to enjoy while at the lake and keep you energized.

Navigation –> Whether it be a physical GPS or an app such as All Trails on your phone, have something to help find the route.

First Aid –> Keep first aid items such as bandages, first aid, and pain relievers in your hiking bag. Pre-made kits such as this one are perfect.

Sun Protection –> It’s so important to protect your skin while on a high-elevation hike with sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and clothing.

Portable Charger –> In case your phone battery gets low, carry a portable charger and a charging cord.

Identification –> You should always have your ID with you on a hike just in case.

Camera –> This is optional, but you should at least have a camera on your phone! Trust, me, you’re going to want it for this one.

You can also read my post here to find a full list of what to pack for a day hike.

Conclusion: Lake Ingalls Hike

If you’re looking for one of the best hikes in the entire state of Washington, look no further, because you’ve found it.

With magical mountain views, an incredible alpine lake, and roaming mountain goats, you really can’t beat it.

The Lake Ingalls hike will provide you with some of the most phenomenal views and it’ll surely be something that you remember forever.