a picture of rampart lakes at sunset

Expert Guide: Hiking and Backpacking Rachel and Rampart Lakes!

Even as a Washington local, you still get surprised at how stunning our backyard is. I’d heard about this place, but once I saw it with my own eyes, I was in love! Hiking or backpacking Rampart Lakes is an unbelievable experience and one of the best destinations in the Snoqualmie Pass area. Less than two hours from Seattle, the Rachel and Rampart Lakes hike is plenty doable for hikers looking for a great day in nature.

For backpackers, the many campsites throughout the Rampart Lakes basin offer amazing places to camp with dazzling views.

This article will cover everything you need about an upcoming trip!

A Guide to the Stunning Rachel Lake and Rampart Lakes

two hikers walk on the trail in front of a big mountain
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

1-Minute Guide to Rampart Lakes

  • Distance: AllTrails says 9 miles, but my Garmin hiking watch said closer to 11.
  • Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet (1,800 is over 1.5 miles going up to Rachel Lake and then above it toward Rampart Lakes.)
  • Difficulty: With a backpacking pack and a warm day, I would say this is between moderate and strenuous. The first 2.5 miles are easy, and then it’s uphill until you reach the Rampart Lakes junction. If you’re day hiking and it’s not too hot out, it’s just moderate.
  • Water Sources: Accessible water is available for almost the entire hike. For much of the flat portion, you’ll hike next to or near Box Canyon Creek. The only part without great access is the switchbacks from the 2.9-mile mark until you arrive at Rachel Lake at 3.5 miles in.
  • Estimated Hiking Time: If day hiking, I’d anticipate this taking 5+ hours. Luckily, Seattle’s summer daylight spans from 6am to 9pm, so you’ll have plenty of time to adventure.

What to know before starting your trip in the Washington Cascades

How to get to Rachel Lake and Rampart Lakes Trailhead

This is the standard trailhead for this hike. From Seattle, you’ll take I-90 toward Snoqualmie Pass. With no traffic, the drive is only 90 minutes, making it one of the quickest hiking destinations for Seattle residents.

Take exit 62 and turn left onto Kachess Lake Road. Travel for 9 miles until you reach Rachel Lake Trailhead. (It’ll be obvious when you get there.) We drove this route in September 2023, and the dirt road was in fantastic shape. During the summer months, all vehicles can access the Rachel Lake Trailhead.

If you’re looking for the Rampart Ridge Backdoor route, go to the FAQ section below.

Rampart Lakes is in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Because Rachel and Rampart Lakes are inside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, this is a No Drone Zone. No drones are allowed at these lakes. Additionally, you’ll need to get a “permit,” which helps the Forest Service monitor how many people visit.

You do this right as you start on the trail, but there are no limits or prior reservations needed.

How to pack for the Rampart Lakes hike

You’ll want your standard hiking gear. We saw a lot of people totally unprepared for this hike, and it was a bit disturbing. If your goal is to reach Rachel Lake or Rampart Lakes, it is not a leisurely walk in the park.

  • Mid-size hiking pack
  • Hiking Poles (optional)
  • Hat and Sunglasses
  • Sunblock
  • Wool hiking socks
  • Hiking shoes/Trail Runners
  • 2L of water and a water filter
  • Snacks/Lunch
  • Light jacket if starting early/coming back late
  • Small first aid kit
two tents sit under trees in the morning light
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

If you want my backpacking guide, get it here.

What you need for backpacking Rampart Lakes

In addition to the above, I brought this for backpacking Rampart Lakes.

  • 55L-65L backpacking pack
  • 2-3P Tent (depending on your party size)
  • Extra socks and sleeping attire
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Headlamp
  • Lightweight Backpacking Chair
  • Puffy Jacket
  • JetBoil or other stove and fuel
  • Backpacking Meals or other dinner
  • Breakfast (oatmeal, bars, dehydrated meal)
  • Canon R5, 25-105 f/4 lens, and tripod

What Pass Do I need for this hike?

You’ll need the America the Beautiful Pass or the Northwest Forest Pass when hiking on federal land like the Rachel and Rampart Lakes trail.

Other Great Washington Backpacking Trips
Mt. Daniel Summit
Yellow Aster Butte
Wing Lake
Summit Lake
Lake of the Angels
Top Washington Fire Lookouts
Cutthroat Pass

Trail Report From Backpacking Rampart Lakes

We got a little bit later of a start to our backpacking trip than we’d expected. The gang, Jaimie, Jeremy, and I didn’t arrive until about 1pm at the Rachel Lake trailhead. After putting the final touches on our gear, we loaded up and began the hike in.

I remember the first part clearly: It was warm with almost no airflow, and it was a bit ‘blah.’ Thankfully, it’s mostly flat and a pretty easy walk. 30 minutes or so into the hike, the temperatures got better (maybe more wind or being by the water), but it was less muggy.

We stopped a couple of times to enjoy the stream views, knowing the uphill was coming.

a hiker walks on rocks in front of a water fall
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Heading up to Rachel Lake

Then, at the 2.5-mile mark, our uphill began. We’d only climbed 600 feet over those two-plus miles, so the back half of the hike has almost all of the 2,500 feet of gain. And we sure felt it.

It’s not a terrible climb by any means, but it’s consistent and unyielding. To make matters worse, I was only seven months post-bone marrow transplant, so I was still in recovery mode. Yet, we all pushed on and finally reached Rachel Lake.

It’s a decent-sized alpine lake with a big rock wall to the back left. (You climb to the top to access the Rampart Lakes basin.) After resting up and getting some food, we strapped our packs back on for the half mile or so uphill above the lake.

Looking down on Rachel Lake from above.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Towards Rampart Lakes

Every switchback has a beautiful view, so there’s no need to stop at every one. Once you reach the Rampart Lakes junction, our threesome headed left, which is also slightly downhill. (A nice chance for our legs to relax.)

We poked around for 10-15 minutes, looking for a site before finding a great one with a large enough space for two tents. Once the decision had been made, we dumped our packs gratefully and set up camp.

Shooting Sunset

But Jeremy and I weren’t done. We headed towards Rampart Ridge and found a perfect spot to photograph the sunset from above Rampart Lakes. While we only walked about half a mile from our camp, I was exhausted going up the steep side trail.

A note for photographers: We found that sunset and sunrise occurred really fast. I’m not sure if it’s the position of the basin, but it seemed to be done in a snap of a finger.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Milky Way Attempts

Back at camp, we enjoyed dinner and talked about the day and whatever else was on our mind. Jaimie headed to bed a bit early, and Jeremey and I did a little night photography. Our campsite wasn’t a great place to shoot the Milky Way, but I’m sure we could have made it better if we had wanted to explore more.

Sill, Rampart Lakes isn’t ideal for Milky Way.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

A morning at Rampart Lakes

By September, sunrise starts to creep later and later – thankfully. This allowed us to sleep in a bit and still catch the sunrise. We didn’t do anything too crazy, though. We kept it easy and shot the lakes right by our campsite.

After breakfast and packing up, we all jumped into the small lake, gasping at the chilly temperatures. Yet it was a magical feeling and so refreshing. Getting to do this was one of the highlights of backpacking Rampart Lakes.

Back to the trailhead

Once we began heading down, it was pretty uneventful. We took photos above Rachel Lake, but there wasn’t much to do once we passed that lake. By the last mile, we all felt tired and hungry.

Thankfully, it was a fantastic overnight backpacking trip, and everyone completed it without problems. That’s always a win in my book!

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

FAQ: Rachel and Rampart Lakes hike

What’s a good place to get food around the hike?

There are many spots at Snoqualmie Pass for food and drinks. However, we went to Mountain High Hamburgers. It is out of the way to go back to Seattle, but we figured why not try a new spot? I remember it being only a 10-minute detour.

What else is there to see around Rampart Lakes?

Once you trek above Rachel Lake, you’re mostly done with your elevation gain for the trip. If you go left at the junction, it’ll take you slightly down to Rampart Lakes. But if you go right, it will take you to Lila Lake and the route to Alta Mountain (6,152 feet).

I haven’t done this, so I can’t speak too much about it. But there is a doable trail to the summit if you’re down for peak bagging.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Should I hike over Rampart Ridge or go via Rachel Lake Trailhead?

Great question. Hiking over Rampart Ridge is a steeper but shorter hike. Furthermore, the trailhead is closer to Seattle; you’ll exit at Snoqualmie Pass.

If you go this route, it’s an estimated 6-7 mile hike with 2,400 feet of gain.

The trailhead for this Rampart Ridge Route is known as the Rampart Ridge Backdoor. (See map location.) This article has a good breakdown of the route.

Can you swim in Rachel Lake?

Yes, you can. Although it might be a bit chilly in early summer, it’ll feel so good to swim in Rachel Lake by July, August, and September! Just be respectful of other visitors.

Can you swim in Rampart Lakes?

Oh yes! We jumped into the lake the morning before we left. It was CHILLY, but it felt so good. I’ve been making it a priority to jump into lakes when I can. It is something you’ll never regret!

Is there dispersed camping around Rachel and Rampart Lakes Trailhead?

On Kachess Lake Road, there are many dispersed camping spots that look fantastic. I recommend this place if you’re looking for a great place to camp out for the weekend. All vehicles can drive on this road, so there are no limitations.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

How are the campsites near Rachel Lake?

There are a couple of sites that I saw, but I also didn’t look too hard. I don’t think many people end up sleeping at Rachel Lake because it’s relatively close to the Rampart Lakes Basin.

How many campsites are at Rampart Lakes?

There are probably two dozen campsites at Rampart Lakes. We camped on a Saturday night and saw at least eight other groups, if not more. If you hike toward the furthest lake, there are a few back there as well, which are more isolated.

How are the fall colors at Rampart Lakes?

This area has classic Washington fall colors with deep red bushes. We were there for the beginning of it, so I’m sure it got better a couple of weeks afterward. However, it does not contain any larches.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Final thoughts on backpacking Rampart Lakes

Backpacking Rampart Lakes in Washington offers outdoor enthusiasts an exhilarating and picturesque adventure.

The stunning alpine landscapes, crystal-clear lakes, and challenging terrain provide an unmatched authentic wilderness experience. Whether you seek solitude or camaraderie with fellow hikers, this trail has something for everyone. It is essential to be well-prepared and knowledgeable about the area before embarking on this journey, as the ruggedness of the trail demands physical fitness and proper gear.

However, the rewards of immersing yourself in nature’s beauty far outweigh any challenges you may encounter. So, lace up your boots, pack your backpacks, and get ready to embark on a memorable backpacking trip through Rachel and Rampart Lakes in Washington State.

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 ExploreWithAlec.com. 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