The Lake Ingalls hike has been on my list for a while after seeing stunning photos from this incredible Alpine Lakes area. I wanted to do it earlier in 2023, but my cancer recovery delayed things a bit. But by the time Fall 2023 came around, I was ready!
And oh boy, was it beautiful. However, I did cut it pretty close with daylight and only got a chance to spend 20 minutes at the lake before heading down.
Before I dive into more granular details, let me say that this is a fantastic hike that you should 100% do. It’s a relatively gradual uphill, even if you do gain a lot of feet overall. Spending sunset here was idyllic (even with clouds and chilly conditions).
But, the stretch between the lake and Lake Ingalls Pass can be a bit tricky to navigate in the dark. So, having maps downloaded and a bright headlamp can help keep you on track.
Otherwise, it’s a damn-good hike, and you’ll have a great time!
Lake Ingalls Hiking and Backpacking Guide
Giving you everything you need to know for a great hike. (PS: Follow Alec for hikes and adventures on Instagram. )
What you need to know before the Lake Ingalls hike
One-Minute Lake Ingalls Hiking Brief
Here are the most essential points you need for hiking Lake Ingalls in Washington.
Length of Hike: 9.5 miles, 4.5 hours
Difficulty of Hike: Hard, but doable
Lake Ingalls Elevation Gain: 3,200 per my Garmin
Drive time from Seattle: 2.5-3 hours, 120 miles
How Popular: Extremely
Parking Availability: There’s a parking lot and roadside parking – but it’ll be crowded on weekends, especially in the fall
Wilderness Area: You enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at Lake Ingalls Pass. No drones are allowed here.
How to get to Lake Ingalls?
Lake Ingalls sits on the southern end of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a gorgeous section of the Washington Cascades that offers some of the best landscapes in the country.
The drive to Lake Ingalls, at least from Seattle, is not short. You’ll head east over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90, pass through Cle Elum and Teanaway, and head north no Teanaway Rd for a long while.
After a while, it’ll turn into a dirt road, and you’ll pass numerous campgrounds or dispersed camping sites, which would be a great place to call home for a night or two if you’re attempting this hike.
Once on Forest Road 9737, stay on it. The dirt road (which is in great condition, minus some short sections of washboard) ends at the Lake Ingalls parking lot. Without a car in front of you, you can easily go 40mph on it.
When is the best time to do the Lake Ingalls hike?
This is a beautiful summer and fall hike. But with an elevation near 6,500 feet, winter stays a while into the summer months and shows up early in fall. Due to this, July, August, and September are your best bets. June and October can be okay but know that you may encounter snow and a somewhat frozen lake.
And then there are fall colors. Lake Ingalls is one of the best fall hikes in Washington, with a gorgeous larch grove right below the Lake Ingalls Pass. Do note, though, that there are no larches at the lake.
What is the Lake Ingalls weather like?
As I mentioned above, highs and lows will be much chillier because it sits at a higher elevation. A good guesstimate for the temperature near the lake is 12-15 degrees cooler than in Cle Elum.
What are the backpacking rules for Lake Ingalls?
There is camping on the Lake Ingalls hike, but you cannot camp at the lake. Once you reach the Lake Ingalls Pass, there’s a split to go left or right (down). Choosing down will give you access to the basin, which has a lot of camping options.
There are some options on the higher route (left), but I hiked this part back in the dark, so I couldn’t give you a great lay of the land. Some streams (as shown on the map below) offered water.
Can I bring my dog to Lake Ingalls?
Dogs are not allowed at Lake Ingalls because it sits in a federally designated wilderness zone. If you only plan to go to Lake Ingalls Pass (which is 0.75 miles before the lake), you can, as that first part is outside of the wilderness area.
On the Trail: Getting to Lake Ingalls
The way up
The trail is a constant uphill for just over three miles, gaining you 2,300 feet of gain over that period. In my head, looking at the top-line number beforehand, I thought it would be worse.
But on the trail, you start off in the forest, and you’ll be with plenty of people – it’s a popular hike, remember? It’s never too steep but also never level.
Just a constant up, up, and up.
After you go left at the Longs Pass Junction (remember, stay on the Ingalls Way Trail the entire way), the trail does have some narrow points, but there is nothing to worry about. Just below Ingalls Pass are a couple of switchbacks. Once you reach these, you know the hardest part of the trail is almost done.
Entering into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Now, when you reach the pass, the views skyrocket. You’ll have Mount Stuart in front of you and a sea of larches below. (If you go in the fall, it’s magnificent.) I was totally blown away (and my view was half covered in clouds, so imagine what it would be like on a sunny day!)
At this point, choose between the high route (left) or the low route (right). I had no idea of a high route, probably because I wasn’t paying attention and just started going down with the assumption the lake was below. I was a bit wrong.
The trails connect, but you must regain some elevation, which was a little tiresome.
The trails merge with a quarter mile left.
Getting to the Lake
I’ll be honest; this is where I got a bit lost for a few minutes. The route on All Trails shows two paths up to the lake. I checked out the “green route,” but I couldn’t quite make out how to get into the second gully. Being alone and with darkness coming, I didn’t want to press my luck.
I retreated and chose to take the first gully up (highlighted below). Navigating in was not too shabby, and there were some cairns. Just be careful if it’s wet, as it can be pretty slippery.
Once I reached Lake Ingalls, I was surprised by its size. I thought it would have been a bigger lake. (Oh, well!) Even so, it was immaculate! And I was the only person up and watching the “sunset.” After 20 minutes, I packed up and headed back out, trying to get to the pass as quickly as possible.
The way down was less than noteworthy. From Lake Ingalls to the car took me 1 hour and 43 minutes (unsure if this included me stopping to take photos or not.)
Map of Lake Ingalls Trail
What to Bring on Your Hike
- Mid-sized hiking pack
- Hiking Poles
- Hat and sunglasses
- Sturdy shoes (maybe even waterproof if going during wetter times)
- An extra layer for at the top
- 2L of water (and or bring a filter)
- Snacks and lunch
You can find all of these at REI.com
FAQ: Lake Ingalls
What pass do I need for the Lake Ingalls hike?
You will need the Northwest Forest Service Pass or America the Beautiful Pass. This hike is on federal lands, so you need a federal lands pass.
Do you need a permit to camp at Lake Ingalls?
No permit is necessary to backpack the Lake Ingalls trail. However, there are limited spots, so weekends can fill up fast. To ensure you get a site, start your hike early. Remember, no camping at the lake is allowed.
Is Lake Ingalls a hard hike?
I would say it is challenging – but not overly difficult. It’s a constant uphill to the pass, and then it mellows out as you approach the lake. However, you can fly up it (if you want to) thanks to the trail being in fantastic condition.
The hardest part is the first three miles.
Wrapping Up – Lake Ingalls Hike
That’s all, folks. Thanks for taking the time to read my Lake Ingalls hiking guide, and I hope it prepares you for your upcoming hike!
Stay safe and be prepared.
Until next time adventurers, be safe out there.