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Elle Ossello | 06.21.2016

Washington is home to over 8,000 lakes. Thanks to glacier melt, snow melt, and a complex and seemingly endless network of freezing-and-thawing underground lava tubes, that number is constantly in flux. Naturally, this list below is far from exhaustive, and those with a wild hair and an affinity for hiking in the high alpine will likely discover small lakes that can’t even be spotted on a map.

From drive-in lakeside campsites to remote sub-alpine fly fishing havens, Washington State serves up something for each type of adventurer. Pack in your camera, pack absolutely everything out, and get started on ticking some of the Pacific Northwest’s best lakes off of your list. (For a more complete list, see the “Featured Adventure” section below). 

Western Olympic Peninsula

Ozette Lake – Boasting the title of largest unaltered lake in Washington, this lake is renowned for its excellent flatwater kayaking and seemingly endless opportunities to explore tucked-away bays and rivers. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the banks of one of its three islands.

Lake Crescent – A day spent at Fairholme Beach is a day well spent on Lake Crescent. Enjoy the enclosed swimming area and break out into the immense 11 mile-long lake with a kayak rented on site. Feel like staying the night? Fairholme Campground is just around the corner.

Seattle/Tacoma Area

Lake Easton – Quick respite from the city is best achieved at Lake Easton. In the summertime, this park—woven with bike and hiking trails—is full of Seattleites. It’s better for lakeside recreation than paddling or motorized boating because there are many stumps that sit close to the surface.

Mount Baker Area

Mount Baker from Baker Lake. Photo by Tyler Yates.

Baker Lake – The prolific population of kokanee and the views enjoyed from this tucked-away lake makes it an excellent spot to spend a few days at one of the many campgrounds on its shores. Have a huge group? One of Baker Lake’s group campsites is your best bet for comfortable, lakeside accommodation.

Lake Shannon – This is Baker Lake’s more secluded downriver neighbor. Kayaking is a fun challenge, as the Lower Baker Dam pumps out some swift current, and those willing to pack their camp gear on their kayak earn access to pristine backcountry campsites.

Silver Lake – Nestled among the Cascade foothills, Silver Lake makes for an excellent setting to a camping/fishing/paddling weekend. The lodge at Silver Lake Park rents an array of non-motorized watercraft, and the lake itself is stocked with rainbow trout in the spring and cutthroat in the fall, enticing anglers.

Lake Ann – Those brave enough to negotiate the challenging trail enjoy staggeringly beautiful views of Mount Shuksan, Table Mountain, and Mount Baker from the banks of Lake Ann. Surrounded by glaciers, wildflowers, and jagged peaks, the intrepid visitors that make it to Lake Ann are surely rewarded for their efforts.

North Cascades

Lake Wenatchee – The dynamic mountains and exciting topography that surrounds Lake Wenatchee is a constant reminder of its tumultuous natural history. There’s hardly a spot to be found on or around the lake that doesn’t boast breathtaking views of the North Cascades. Leisurely activities like kayaking, fishing, and clamming abound while water skiing and windsurfing are also popular.

Ross Lake – Though a visit to Diablo Lake is an adventure in itself, many choose to embark on the 3.5-mile paddle to the Ross Dam Powerhouse. From here, arrange with the Ross Lake Resort to have a vehicle portage your watercraft above the dam. Ross Lake is privy to a seemingly endless number of scenic, remote backcountry campgrounds. 

Lake Ann – Only accessible by way of a 1.75-mile well-maintained trail, this pristine lake is ruggedly scenic and extremely protected. Camping is prohibited within a quarter of a mile to protect its fragile environment. Accessibility from North Cascades Highway makes it an excellent stop on a road trip through the area.

Anderson + Watson Lakes – These tucked-away subalpine lakes are scenic gems along the backcountry trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Overnight backpackers have it best, meandering alongside gentle streams, and finally ending at Watson Lake, which sits triumphantly beneath Bacon Peak.

Blue Lake – Pro tip: visit in the fall. Just over two miles and 1,000 feet of elevation earns hikers views of open meadows, small meandering streams, and finally, the picturesque Blue Lake. Pack a picnic and enjoy it atop a large easy-to-spot boulder underneath the towering Liberty Bell Group.

Heather Lake – Earn trailside huckleberries and excellent views of Labyrinth Mountain along the 3.6-mile like to Heather Lake in the late summertime. Don’t forget to pack your flyrod—the lake is home to a prolific population of rainbow and cutthroat trout, and there’s hardly a more scenic location in which to cast a line.

Minotaur Lake – Though the hike into Monitaur Lake is just 2-miles long, the rocky trail climbs over 1,000 feet of elevation in the first mile. After that, treat your weary legs to gentle green meadows bursting with wildflowers in the springtime and excellent views of Labyrinth Mountain year-round. Stay overnight at a backcountry campsite on the lake, and wake yourself up with a dip in the frigid water in the morning.

Eastern Cascades

Hidden Lake. Photo by Hannah Wahl.

Lake Chelan – One of if not the best way to get a non-beachfront experience of Lake Chelan is by way of Purple Pass Hiking Loop. This two-night experience serves up continual breathtaking views of the lake and the jagged North Cascades. Spend a bit of time poking about Stehekin, Washington—from where your route leaves. It’s incredibly isolated and has great charm.

Hidden Lake – Hike the short 0.6-miles into Hidden Lake in the springtime and you’ll be rewarded with the sound of a number of small waterfalls tumbling off of Nason Ridge. This lake is excellent for late afternoon lounging—it’s along the Great Washington State Birding Trail, so you’ll invariably be serenaded by a wide array of songbirds.

Lake Pateros – Formed in the 1960s with the construction of Wells Dam on the Columbia River, this reservoir makes for excellent and remote exploring. Paddling north can feel like a slog as you’ll be fighting a river current, but stick around the small islands adjacent to Chief Joseph State Park and you’ll be able to use the current to your advantage.

Patterson Lake – There’s hardly a more beautiful place in Washington than the Methow Valley in the summertime or early fall. Patterson Lake is a hub for boaters, kayakers, and those looking for a tranquil walk around the scenic nature trail. The ample fly fishing excites anglers with a healthy population of large kokanee and yellow perch.

Mount Rainier Area

Alder Lake – Don’t forget to rent a kayak when you visit Alder Lake—the views of Mount Rainier are uncontested from the water. There are plenty of fingers, bays, hidden nooks, and small tributaries to poke around on the lake, all of which are made brighter and more beautiful by the astoundingly turquoise water.

Mount Adams Area

Walupt Lake. Photo by Tyson Gillard.

Disappearing Lake – Arrive to this lake too late in the summer and you’ll understand why it gets its name. This unique lake forms in the spring with a depth from 6 to 8 feet in places during the springtime, and as the weather heats up, it disappears, leaving behind an area known as South Prairie. It’s best enjoyed by kayak: paddle under huge cottonwood trees, amid lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, and stark white aspen.

Walupt Lake – Though the water is often choppy and there are no real views of the cascade peaks, this high alpine lake is one of the larger lakes in Goat Rocks Wilderness. It’s incredibly clear and provides an excellent basecamp for hikers on the PCT or those looking to tackle Nannie Peak.

Keep in mind that if you're going to camp in a national forest of wilderness area, you'll need to camp at least 100 feet from any water source, and always remember to Leave No Trace.

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