This two-night hiking trip is one of the premiere hiking loops near Washington's Lake Chelan and provides incredible views of the North Cascades. The route leaves from Stehekin, and it is perfect for people looking for beautiful views of a stunning lake, massive Cascade peaks, the isolation of the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness, and a relatively moderate trail. You can pick up the trail right behind the Golden West Visitor Center, which is conveniently located about 500 feet up a short hill from the ferry and sea plane landing.
Stehekin, Washington is a community nestled in the Northern Cascades that is only accessible by ferry, sea plane or a 90-mile hike in from the Pacific Crest Trail. Located at the northwest end of Lake Chelan, Stehekin is home to about 150 permanent residents, a one-room school house, and beautiful scenery. Most visitors arrive by a ferry that is run year-round from the towns of Chelan, Field's Point, Lucerne and Stehekin by The Lady of the Lake. It's a walk-on ferry only, so while bikes and baggage are allowed, cars are not.
The first day climbs about 6,000 feet over 8.1 miles of multiple switchbacks up to Purple Pass from Stehekin. Make sure you have plenty of water, as the next source is not until Juanita Lake, which is your campsite for the night. Begin by following the Purple Creek-Imus Trail for a short distance before the trail breaks off to Purple Creek and starts climbing uphill. The trail is easy to follow as you climb higher away from Lake Chelan. The creek drainage brings you across a ridge as the views give way to wildflowers, old-growth and glacial peaks. The path continues to climb and follow the drainage up to the height of Purple Pass. After winding through tall trees that are dwarfed by the surrounding peaks you will eventually come to the top of Purple Pass at 6,884 feet. From there, if you are still feeling energized and excited, you can climb to nearby Boulder Butte at 7,400 feet. If you want to head down to camp for the night, follow the main trail down to Juanita Lake. The shallow lake is surrounded by larches, and separate hiker and stock camps can be found on opposite sides of the lake. Campfires are not allowed at the lake, and snow can be found on the trail as early as July, which could make the trail more difficult to follow.
The following morning the route climbs up from the lake along the Summit Trail, which makes a gradual traverse south from the basin. As the route follows open meadows and white bark pines it begins to rise more steeply to a pass at 7,300 feet and head into Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness. At 2.4 miles the trail crosses the Recreation Area/National Forest boundary. From there you can drop down to Fish Creek and take the Lakeshore Trail back to Stehekin. From the boundary it is 3 miles to Fish Creek and an additional 6.9 miles from there down to Moore Point where you can spend a second night on Lake Chelan. The decent is gradual through thick forests, and it eventually opens up to some open fields with some burned trees giving way to lake views.
Day three is spent walking along the Lakeshore Trail back to Stehekin. In early summer a variety of wildflowers can be spotted along the trail. While this section is not totally flat, it climbs and descends on low hills over the course of 6.9 miles and rarely reaches 500 feet above the lake.
The entire Purple Pass Loop is 27 miles and boasts incredible views of Lake Chelan, plenty of water, and remote solitude at the base of the Northern Cascades. Note that while the trail is very well marked and clear, unexpected snowfall can make navigation a bit more challenging.