lake valhalla at the bottom of the photo in washington

Hiking Guide to Washington’s Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland

Hiking to Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland is one of the top trails near Seattle, and it is suitable for all skill levels. I had heard about this trail and lake for a while, and once I finally crossed it off my list, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner.

Lake Valhalla’s scenic views make it a must-do summer and fall hike. Keep reading for my full trail guide and photos from the trek.

Trail Report: Hiking to Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland

Hiking Stats

  • Distance: 6.3 miles roundtrip (to Lake Valhalla, 7.5 if you add in the summit). OR 12 miles from Steven’s Pass
  • Elevation Gain: 1,500 to 1,800, depending on destination
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Somewhat Hard
  • Time on Trail: 3-5 hours
lake valhalla at the bottom of the photo in washington
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

One of my final fall hikes in 2023 was hiking to Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland. While I knew the fall colors would be past their prime, I still wanted to see the views and catch some of the last nice weather before the dark days hit.

From the start, the trail was in great shape. I quickly heated up, thanks to the switchbacks that brought me up to the PCT. At the junction, there was a sign warning you to keep left due to a beehive on the trail. (That’s one way to ruin a hike real fast!)

But from here to the lake, the trail was a gradual incline, and I breezed through it. For this portion of the trail to Lake Valhalla, there’s not much to look at. You’re hiking in a forest – which is nice – but the trees tower over you.

the summit register at mount mccausland
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Once I got my first look at the lake, I cut right and headed up to the top of Mount McCausland. There’s a distinct yet narrow trail going up. After about 10 minutes, you start to gain serious elevation, and my gosh, was I tired! From here on, the slope consists of short and steep switchbacks. Then, you’ll crest the top and continue heading away from the lake until it’s no longer in view.

Keep following the trail and maps (if you downloaded them). You’ll have to go through a heavy tree area that momentarily drops you down before hiking back up. The summit of Mount McCausland is a large rock with a summit marker and views to the north.

If I’m being honest, the views are better looking south at the lake and toward the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area. The summit is nice, but I spent maybe three minutes before flipping around.

Once I got back to the “good side,” I spent some time taking photos where I could find fall colors before quickly getting down the slope. It’s amazing how fast you can hike when you aren’t breathing hard. I’d estimate I returned to my car in an hour and headed back to Seattle.

I loved hiking to Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland and I’m sure you will too!

mountain peaks in washington
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

What You Need to Know About the Hike

We’re covering everything you need to know about the hike to Lake Valhalla and a potential extension to the top of Mount McCausland.

Distance From Seattle

From Seattle, the drive to the Lake Valhalla trailhead is about an hour and a half. However, if traffic is heavy, it could be closer to two hours, as it can get slow near the Steven’s Pass area as vehicles wind up to the pass.

Picking a Trailhead

There are two hiking routes to Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland. The first is from Steven’s Pass along the PCT. This route is almost 12 miles and double the length of the other trailhead.

The second trailhead, which is more common, is down from the pass on the eastern side. You’ll turn off Highway 2 onto Rainy Creek Forest Road (6700) and follow it for two miles or so. There will be a parking lot on the left-hand side of the road. There’s also road parking where the road does a big U-turn.

If you park in the parking lot, you will add a quarter mile to your walk. You can also park at the U-shape and save yourself some steps. It honestly doesn’t matter too much where you park, but there are options if it’s crowded.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

How’s The Road Quality?

I did this hike in October, and the road was in great shape. It was dry, and I had no issues. I was in an AWD SUV, but any car would have been able to reach it. I will note that this road is not plowed, so at a certain point in winter, you may be unable to access the trailhead.

When Is The Best Time To Visit?

Long Summer Days

The most magical time of the year for hiking in Washington. Lake Valhalla is quite a popular trail, so you won’t be hiking in solitude. Still, it’s one that you should have on your radar, and check off the hiking list!

Fall Colors

This is one of the top fall hikes in Washington, considering its accessibility, scenery, and bang for the buck in terms of exertion. When I did it late in October, I missed the best colors by a few days, but it was still gorgeous to see.

views from mount mccausland down on lake valhalla
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch


Spring is a weird time in Washington because it’s still pretty much winter. If you want to hike this in April and May, you’ll want to check road conditions and avalanche risk. Depending on how heavy a snow year it was, this will determine if it is possible.


This shorter trailhead is not accessible during winter from the forest service route and has some avalanche risk. I wouldn’t recommend this during winter.

How Hard is Hiking to Lake Valhalla?

The trail to Lake Valhalla is a pretty easy and straightforward hike. It starts with a half dozen switchbacks that get you to the PCT. From there, it’s a gentle incline to the first view of the lake. From there, you drop down 200 feet to lake level.

I cruised on this trail, though I was breathing quite hard when I summited the peak above.

A hiker looks out at the scenery while hiking to lake valhalla

What about Mount McCausland?

To reach the top of Mount McCausland, you’ll have to dig deep within because it’s a short yet steep summit approach. Thankfully, the views are stunning, and you’ll have plenty of pretty things to look at as you catch your breath.

There are a few side trails to reach the top, so keep an eye out or have the AllTrails app out when you approach the lake. From there, you’ll wind your way up, eventually hitting the summit. The summit does not have lake views, though.

Is Mount McCausland worth it?

100% yes, it is. Now, I don’t know if you need to go to the physical summit if you aren’t hell-bent on it. The views two-thirds up the slope, with the lake below and mountain peaks in all directions, are pretty good. For most people, I would say this is all that you need, especially if you want to spend more time at the lake.

How Long Should The Hike Take?

This will vary depending on how quickly you hike, go to the summit, or hang out at the lake. But on average, I would say four hours on the trail is a good estimation. I was able to cruise on the trail, as once you’re on the PCT, it’s incredibly mellow.

Where to Stay Nearby?

If you plan to stay in the mountains, Leavenworth and Skykomish are the closest towns to the Stevens Pass area. There are plenty of hotels, camping at Lake Wenatchee, and other lodging available!

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FAQ: Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland Hike

Can I drone in this area?

No drones are allowed. You are in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, which prohibits all drones around Lake Valhalla and the surrounding region.

Can you swim in Lake Valhalla?

Heck yeah, you can swim here! There’s a decent-sized beach on the northwest side of the lake. Just know that it’s snowmelt and will stay quite chilly most of the year. However, warm afternoon temperatures after hiking will make it feel great.

Is there a restroom at the trailhead?

There is a restroom at the Steven’s Pass Trailhead. I can’t remember if there is one at the second trailhead off the forest road. But there is a backcountry toilet near the lake.

What about fishing here?

Sure, you can fish at Lake Valhalla. According to the Washington Fish and Wildlife, you could catch Cutthroat Trout and Rainbow Trout.

Can you camp/backpack at Lake Valhalla?

Yes, you can! This is a really nice intro-to-backpacking destination as the trail is casual, and there are plenty of backcountry camping locations. The area also has a pit toilet, so please use this to protect the environment.

Final Thoughts on Hiking to Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland

Hiking to Lake Valhalla is a perfect summer and fall hike with your friends and family. You’ll enjoy the scenery and trail quality, and if you enjoy an alpine swim, jump in. For those looking to get better views, take the side trail up to Mount McCausland as it’s totally worth it.

Happy Trails ya’ll!

Until next time, adventurers, stay 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