Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
5,030.00 ft (1,533.14 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
30.00 mi (48.28 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Lake Ingalls is an extremely popular destination but is almost always accessed via Esmeralda Basin and Ingalls Pass. Hiking up to Lake Ingalls via Ingalls Creek is longer and has more gain, but it's also a lot more remote, and it's unlikely you'll see many people in this area once you get more than a few miles out. You'll also get to see the smooth transition from the lower elevation eastern Cascade forests to the alpine splendor of Stuart Pass and Lake Ingalls. From the higher portion of this climb, you'll get huge views of Mount Stuart's heavily gullied south face, as well as larch forests and waterfalls.

This trip, if done in several days, is a good trip for a moderately-experienced backpacker who is ready to try a slightly more rugged trail. And the benefit of an out and back trail is that you can go as far as you want to before turning back!

 

Notes

  • Seasonality: Depending on whether you're planning to get all the way up to Lake Ingalls or to just enjoy the lower Ingalls Creek, you'll need to be thinking about snow cover. The snow melts out relatively early in the lower river corridor, but you'll almost certainly find snow above 5,500 feet until at least early July. Once the snow melts out, the trails generally stay clear until around early October, when conditions get a lot colder and snow is more likely.
  • Gear: If you wait until the snow melts, all you'll need is your standard Pacific Northwest backpacking gear, with layers to keep you warm between 30 and 90 degrees (it gets hot on the east side of the Cascades in the summer!)
  • Camping: Keep in mind, camping is forbidden at Lake Ingalls itself, so you'll need to camp before you get to the lake.
  • Number of Days: There are no permits here, so feel free to do it in as many days as you'd like! Many will choose to do the hike in around three days, hiking in around 10 miles and setting up camp, then using their middle day as a day hike (without their overnight pack) to get up to Lake Ingalls before returning to the same camp for their second night, though you can do it however you'd like!
  • Navigation: Due to the 2003 Crystal Fire, there's a section of trail that goes through a burn zone (between 6 and 8 miles from the trailhead). Make sure you bring a GPS track to help you get through this section, otherwise the trail can be very hard to follow as it's obscured by many fallen trees.
  • LNT: Lake Ingalls gets a ton of traffic, so be sure to follow leave no trace protocol by cleaning up after yourself and other visitors. This is an extremely special area, and we want to make sure that we don't damage it!

 

The Trip

You'll begin at the Ingalls Creek Trailhead, just off Highway 97, and the trail immediately starts gradually climbing alongside Ingalls Creek. If you're hiking earlier in the season (late June, early July), you should begin finding wildflowers along the trail pretty quickly. There are many campsites scattered along the riverside, so you can camp within only a few miles of the trailhead if you're trying to keep your first day chill.

As you hike up the trail, you'll see numerous waterfalls cascading off the cliffs to your right. These waterfalls are fed by snowmelt high above you, on the south faces of the peaks that line the famous "Enchantments". Only a few miles north of you, there are hordes of people competing for limited permits, but you'll almost certainly experience solitude after you've made your way in a few miles.

Be aware, the trail goes along the southern edge of a burn zone (between miles 6 and 8 away from the trailhead), so you'll find a lot of deadfall in this area, and you won't find many good campsites in this area. Once you've scrambled over and around much of the However, as you continue past mile 8, the trail will get better again!

As you climb, the trees will get more and more spaced out, and you'll pass through several bands of alder, which often mark where avalanches happen in the winter! Soon, you'll be beneath Mount Stuart's complex gully-covered southern face. You may even see climbers descending the Cascadian Couloir - one of the standard descent routes for the many technical routes on the mountain.

After 13 miles from the trailhead, you'll reach a large basin with great camping. This is where you'll want to camp (if you haven't already). From here, you'll be perfectly positioned to climb up to Lake Ingalls for a day hike.

On your climb up to Lake Ingalls, enjoy watching the forest recede and the alpine meadows and rock slabs begin. You'll get almost all the way up to Stuart Pass (at 6,400 feet) before turning sharply left and following a thin trail over to Lake Ingalls. Enjoy the basin, and go for a swim if the weather is warm! If you're a scrambler, you can consider doing some scrambling up toward the peaks to the west of the peak, though do your research before you do, because some are only climbable with ropes!

Once you've enjoyed Lake Ingalls, head back down to your camp in the Ingalls Creek drainage, and then make your way back down the trail whenever you're ready to leave!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

NW Forest Pass

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Solitude. Summer wildflowers.

Cons

Downed trees.

Trailhead Elevation

1,950.00 ft (594.36 m)

Highest point

6,500.00 ft (1,981.20 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Big vistas
Wildlife
Waterfalls
Backcountry camping
Wildflowers

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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