backpacking lake of the angels washington pnw

A sensational backpacking trip to Lake of the Angels

Nestled in the mountains on the eastern edge of Olympic National Park, miles past the popular Lena Lake trail, is the brilliant Valley of Heaven. In the middle is Lake of the Angels, a magnificent lake with towering peaks on three sides. It’s a premier Olympic National Park backpacking location, though few people spend the night.

The lack of visitors is due to its remoteness and difficulty. The trailhead is six miles past Lena Lake, where most hikers stop for their trip. Additionally, Lake of the Angels is a four-mile, 3,300-foot soul-crushing ascent. The first mile is decent, but the next stretch includes a severe incline on less-than-ideal slippery dirt and light scrambling.

With small day packs, it’s not too bad. With overnight backpacks, the trek is slow-moving. But worth it in the end to go backpacking Lake of the Angels.

lake of the angels backpacking
backpacking lake of the angels washington pnw

Olympic National Park Backpacking – Lake of the Angels

  • Trail Details: Putvin Trail to Lake of the Angels
  • Length: 8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,300+
  • Difficulty: Challenging. Anticipate 1-2 mph up and down
  • Permit: Required by calling the Olympic National Park Wilderness office

Planning your backpacking trip to Lak of the Angels

Best time to go backpacking Lake of the Angels

The best time to do the Lake of the Angels hike is in the summer. Spanning June through October, this is a wonderful trail. Before you hike Lake of the Angels, do a quick search for the snowpack, as cooler weather in the spring could hold some snow.

Thankfully, the Olympic Peninsula doesn’t see many wildfires due to the amount of rain it sees. Due to this, you likely won’t have wildfires to contend with. Saying that, though, it can drift in from the North and East as it did for us.

Lastly, there’s always a muddy section, so keep that in mind when choosing your hiking shoes.

Where is Lake of the Angels

Lake of the Angels is in Olympic National Park, on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Driving from Seattle, it’s about a three-hour drive. You could take the ferry across, but the fastest route is on the I-5 through Olympia for backpacking Lake of the Angels.

For those coming up from Portland, it’s a 3.25-hour drive, also through Olympic on the I-5.

Gear to bring to Lake of the Angels

Trail Report: Backpacking Lake of the Angels

As mentioned above, the first 1.1 miles on the Putvin Trail are moderate, with the trail rising and falling at times. In all, you gain about 800 feet up to here.

Once you arrive at the sign showing your mileage to the lake and the Olympic National Park boundary, the ‘fun’ begins. You trek up a steep trail for the next mile with between 25 and 60 percent inclines. It’ll be slow going as the dirt is slick in places.

It’s honestly one of the worst trail sections I’ve ever been on and I’m not sure if going up or down is worse. Both ways will be incredibly slow as you either try not to fall down or try to get your breath on the way up.

Near the top of the middle section, there will be a small scramble. You’ll have to climb up two to three small rocky sections. These can be uncomfortable but shouldn’t pose any real risk. With a backpacking pack, it is a little harder to navigate, but you’ll be fine!

Overall, this section is one of the hardest I’ve ever done. Our pace slowed to a crawl which wasn’t helped by the warm day temperature.

Once you crest out of the steep ascent, it’s much easier going forward.

Next up is a mild section through a swampy area requiring you to rock and log jump if keeping your shoes dry is a desire. Then, a final quarter-mile ascent to the lake through wild blueberry bushes will increase your heart rate and appetite.

Thankfully, minutes later, you’ll be gazing longingly at Lake of the Angels and be ready to jump in! While challenging, I consider this a premier Olympic National Park backpacking location.

There’s a sign when you close in on the lake that details where you can and cannot sleep. (Meadows are a no-go.) We hiked counterclockwise around the lake (to the right) and found a campsite 10 or so feet above the trail with some tree protection.

With only one other party at the lake, we enjoyed the views and dinner before settling into our home for the night.

lake of the angels camp spot
olympic national park backpacking
putvin trail lake of the angels backpacking

What to know when embarking on an Olympic National Park backpacking trip

  • Bear canisters are required for any overnight in the park boundaries
  • Sleeping in the meadows around Lake of the Angels is prohibited. There’s a sign when you arrive telling you where you can’t and suggesting others. We found one to the right, a bit above the lake. We loved it!
  • The dirt road section is doable for all cars. However, be mindful that there are plenty of potholes, so keep an eye out and go slow.
  • This area is a sub-alpine zone, which means the growth period is short, and the vegetation is delicate. Due to this, please try to stay on the trails and not wander off.
  • When going to the bathroom, please dig a hole six inches deep to keep animals from digging it up. Also, please avoid any water sources that could run into the lake.

Photography Tips for Lake of the Angels

Due to the hike’s brutal nature, I’d limit your number of lenses here to one. I brought my 24-70; as you can see throughout this page, it captured the scenery beautifully. I also brought a tripod to help with the lowlight shooting before and after sunset/sunrise.

Additionally, walking around to the back left corner of the lake (as you approach) provides some stunning images of the towering peaks behind Lake of the Angels. I did find that 24mm was not as wide as I would have liked, but if you have a newer phone, you can use your wide angle to snag the shot or video.

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best olympic national park backpacking trails

FAQ: Lake of the Angels

Where to stop for food on the way out

We stopped at El Puerto de Angeles on the way out for decent burritos and margaritas. It was a nice way to fill the belly after an exhausting hike out.

Who should hike Lake of the Angels?

While anyone can, I recommend that only experienced hikers in really good shape should hike Lake of the Angels. This is one of the most brutal hikes I’ve ever done, and your muscles will be incredibly fatigued by the end.

Final thoughts on backpacking Lake of the Angels

This is a tough trail – with or without heavy packs. Keep that in mind for not only planning but also estimating your time on the trail. We took a lot longer to ascend than we expected, limiting our ability to do much else at the lake.

Still, once you arrive, you’ll love the place. It’s definitely worth it, even with a strenuous approach.

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside