Lake Ann might be one of the best hikes in the Mount Baker National Forest and it is not because of the lake at the end of the hike! This hike should be on any Pacific Northwest Hikers bucket list because the views truly are that spectacular. While the name of the trail will lead you to believe you’re completing another hike to a popular alpine lake, you’ll be blown away by the proximity to the glaciers draping Mount Shuksan.
This hike is for anyone wishing for epic views along the entirety of the trail. The landscape is tantalizing from start to finish.
Following along in this blog post as we cover accessing the trail, completing the trail, alternative day hiking options, and other fantastic hikes in the Mount Baker Wilderness. Oh yeah… and if Lake Ann should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington!
Hike Completed: July 26th, 2023
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General Trail Information
Region: North Cascades
Distance: 8.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,047 ft
Time: 4 – 5 hours
When to go: July – October
Pass/Permit?: Northwest Forest Pass
Dogs Allowed?: Yes
Map to Trailhead
Lake Ann is located on the ancestral lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Nooksack tribes. We are grateful for the stewards of this land past and present. We are honored to be and recognize that we are guests on this land.
How to Access Lake Ann
Unlike many of the beautiful Alpine Lakes in the Northwest side of Washington State, getting to the Lake Ann trail head is a breeze! It is pothole free AND no gravel roads are necessary. In this section, I will cover directions for accessing the trailhead, trailhead facilities, permits, and the best season to visit Lake Ann.
Getting to the Trailhead
The route to the trailhead is relatively straightforward as you’ll be following the Mount Baker Highway (Route 542) the entire way to the trailhead. Take Route 542 east until you reach Heather Meadows. Continue right to the Mount Baker Ski Area. After about 1.5 miles, you will reach the trailhead parking lot on the left hand side of the road.
There are roughly 20 parking spaces in the parking lot so an early start at the trailhead is better than later.
There are NO trailhead facilities at the trailhead other than a garbage can. If you need to use a restroom before your trek, there is a small visitors center about 400 yards down the road from the trail.
Keep in mind that if you need to go to the bathroom on the trail, solid human waste needs to be packed out. You cannot bury it. You will pass a trail information sign with blue bags: these are for both dog and human waste.
The trail is located in the Mount Baker Wilderness Area which is a designated National Forest…I know I was also surprised to find out it was not a National Park.
BUT you will still need a Northwest Forest Pass. Northwest Forest Passes cost $30 a year and grant access to all National Forests in Washington and Oregon for a year. You can purchase one here!
If you frequent National Parks more than THREE times a year, I would suggest purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass which grants unlimited access to National Parks AND Forests for an entire year. The cost is $80 which pays for itself in three visits to National Parks in a year. An America the Beautiful pass works in National Parks and Forests.
If you would like to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass, you can purchase one here!
Best Season to Visit Lake Ann
The season for visiting Lake Ann is extremely short. Sometimes the road to the trailhead never clears of snow because the snow is present so late in the summer and begins again in early fall.
The road to the trailhead last year was open for only 4 months.
If this trail is on your to-do list, plan on completing it in Early August. That seems to be the sweet spot for missing snow. When I completed the trail at the end of July this year(2023), there was still snow on the trail at the higher altitudes.
The best suggestion that I can give to you for preparing to hike Lake Ann is to call the ranger station to check road and trail status.
Hiking Lake Ann Trail
This trail actually has a unique elevation gain pattern in which you begin the Out-and-Back trail by losing gain to reach the valley. This is a welcomed change of pass to the immediate steep elevation gain of some of the trails in the area, as long as you’re prepared to gain that elevation loss at the end of your hike. This trail is best broken up into three distinct sections, the wooded descent, valley meander, and alpine ascent. Then of course Lake Ann.
If you have never started a hike by immediately losing elevation, you’re in for an actual treat. The feeling of getting your blood pumping and muscles engaged prior to pushing yourself, is a great feeling. I now know why some people do jumping jacks in the parking lot before they begin hiking.
The wooded descent begins with an initial elevation loss of 700 ft as you meander through old growth forests. The lush forest is a vibrant green and ferns sprout from the forest floor.
There are a few switchbacks in this section but many of them are long and low grade. Eventually you see the valley open up in front of you. It feels like magic. As you continue your descent into the valley you’ll see streams winding through the valley and spot a person or two headed in the same direction.
Before long your warm-up is over and you’re entering the Lake Ann valley.
Once the trail begins to level out, you will find yourself in the headwaters of Swift Creek. Much of the valley has branches from the stream cutting through the trail and traveling along the trail. There will definitely be sections of standing water on the trail!
This part of the trail has you traveling through beautiful meadows and rocky outcroppings all while viewing the rugged peaks surrounding you.
The flat portion of the valley is short-lived as hikers reach the intersection of the Lake Ann and Swift Creek Trail. There is supposedly a privy near the Swift Creek Trail branch, but I could not find it. That could be in part due to the massive amount of mosquitoes in this short section.
The alpine ascent is a one and a half mile section with 1,000 feet of gain. If I am being honest, I am not always a fan of gaining elevation. It is HaRd. But I truly enjoyed the elevation gain of this trail.
Splitting right off from the Swift Creek Trail, the Lake Ann Trail begins the slow ascent through alpine pines. The trail is rugged and rocky but before long, you break through the last cover of pines.
As the trail continues past partly snowy boulder fields, the valley is exposed in an all new perspective. Switchbacks continue along the slope leading up to the saddle overlooking Lake Ann. There are waterfalls that are great for filtering water and beautiful vistas make for incredible pictures. You’re surrounded by epic views of Artist Point and Ptarmigan Ridge.
Making the final push to the saddle you’re struck by the beauty of Lake Ann and Mount Shuksan.
Lake Ann and Mount Shuksan
Hike down the saddle towards Lake Ann. The subtle grade will be easy to climb on the way out, don’t worry!
As you make your way down the trail, you’ll branch left and right. Left leads towards Mount Shuksan and popular climbing routes for mountaineers. To the right are backcountry campsites and the route directly to the lake.
Take time to enjoy both the grandeur for Mount Shuksan and Curtis Glacier as well as the brilliant blue waters of Lake Ann before trekking out on the trail you came in on. Don’t forget there is elevation to gain at the end of the trail!
If you’re planning on backpacking to Lake Ann, be sure to check out the backpacking section of this blog post!
Backpacking Lake Ann
As someone who day-hiked Lake Ann, I will be back for a backpacking trip! I even sent my sister, Michelle, a video of me from Lake Ann telling her that we need to come back on a backpacking trip. She told me the video looked like I was a grandma trying to record a video because she couldn’t actually see any of the views behind me in the video. Oh well. I will be back regardless.
Where can you camp?
Camping at Lake Ann is allowed anywhere 2 miles from the trailhead. While most people opt to camp at Lake Ann, it is always good practice to stay 200 ft from water sources regardless of where you pitch your tent.
There are more established sites in the Lake Ann area which makes it easier for finding an established site that is level and minimizes impact on the fragile ecosystem.
Are there privies?
There is SAID to be a privy at the interaction of the Lake Ann and Swift Creek Trails, but I did not find one. There is NOT a privy at Lake Ann.
If you are going to the bathroom at Lake Ann or along the Lake Ann trail, make sure you’re 200ft from the nearest water source. If you are going to be going #2 (pooping) you will need to pack out your waste. You CANNOT dig a cathole and you certainly cannot let it air dry.
There are blue bags at the trailhead available for human (and dog) waste. Use these bags to pack it out along with your toilet paper or compostable wipes and deposit it in the garbage cans upon your return.
Do you need a permit for backcountry camping?
There is a sign-in book near the trailhead for you to indicate your itinerary, the number of people in your party, and when you plan on exiting the trail. This serves as your permit and lets park rangers know where you’re at and when you should be done with your adventure.
Do I need a bear can or bear protection?
YES! Pack all of your food, toiletries, and smelly items in a bear can or any other bear proof food storage system. In an alpine wilderness, I always opt for a bear can because it is the safety option for proper food storage.
If you are using a bear bag or doing a bear hang, make sure that this is actually possible. Trees are limited at the lake and there is little opportunity for a proper bear hang.
When in bear country where food storage is required, carrying bear spray is always the safest option.
If you need a bear can, I use the BearVault and love it. You can purchase that here.
If you need bear spray, I use Counter Assault. You can purchase that here.
What to Pack to Hike Lake Ann
Hiking the Lake Ann Trail is not unlike a typical alpine lake trail, but it should be noted that summer in the Mount Baker Wilderness is unlike much of Washington. At the high elevation, it can be extremely cold on a sunny day in the middle of August, weather patterns change quickly, and the alpine sun is harsh.
Here is a list of things you should absolutely bring with you on your trek:
Pack a light puffy for warmth when you’re relaxing at the lake or in the event of a cold front. A rain jacket (in my opinion) should always be in your day pack in the PNW, but especially for the high elevation Mount Baker Wilderness.
On this trip I drank over 3 Liters of water, which was only made possible because I had a filtering water bottle with me. I would suggest packing a filtering water bottle or a water filtration system. It can get extremely hot and dry in the valley and along the ascent. It is better to be safe.
Always pack more than you think you’ll need on the trail. It is challenging to know just how much food to pack on a trek like this, but I would say pack enough calories/fat/protein for a two day backpacking trip.
Here is a list of all of the essential hiking gear.
Always be prepared! It will make for a happy and safe hike.
Should Lake Ann be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
I am hiking all “100 Classic Hikes of Washington”. But the question is, Should it be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
Lake Ann should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington. I honestly want to say that this is one of my favorite hikes in Washington…but I always say that after a particularly amazing hike (I didn’t say this about hikes like Skyline Loop or Hamilton Mountain). I believe it was because I didn’t know much about the hike that I loved it so much. I was not expecting to see a massive glacier and cascading waterfalls, because the trail is called Lake Ann. It really led me to believe that Lake Ann was the highlight of the trail.
Don’t get me wrong. Lake Ann was BEAUTIFUL and when I go back for a backpacking trip I will be jumping in. But I was blown away by Mount Shusank and Curtis Glacier. This hike is the peak of day-hiking in the pacific northwest and should absolutely be on your list.
Let me know in the comments if you think Lake Ann should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington!
If you’d like to complete your own 100 Classic Hikes journey, you can purchase the book here.
Happy Hiking, Outdoor Bestie!