One of my favorite hikes in Washington happens to be Lake Ingalls. After hiking to Lake Ingalls during peak larch season, this hike is forever imprinted on my brain as the most breathtaking, spectacular, and fun hike in the Pacific Northwest.
Located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness which is known for gorgeous hiking, inspiring peaks, and glacier blue lakes, Lake Ingalls is the poster child for the area.
In this blog post, I will walk you through how to access the trailhead, best times of year for hiking to Lake Ingalls, tips on hiking Lake Ingalls, and of course if Lake Ingalls should be considered a 100 Classic Hike of Washington.
Hike Completed: July 4th, 2023
Table of Contents
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Map of Trailhead
Lake Ingalls is located on the ancestral lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, Yakama, and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. 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 Ingalls
Accessing the trailhead is relatively straightforward but if I can give you any advice, it would be to keep your GPS on until you get to the trailhead. There are a number of forest roads that split off along the way, making it extremely easy to go the wrong direction and deep into the wilderness, it is unlikely you’ll get service after a wrong turn is made.
Getting to the Trailhead
Most of the drive will be along I-90 until reaching Exit 85, at least if you’re coming from Seattle. Once exited you’ll turn right onto Highway 970 and follow the road for 7 miles before reaching Teanaway Road. Turn left.
The road will become North Fork Teanaway Road. Follow for another 6.0 miles. The road will eventually turn into an unpaved road which is easy to manage with any car. This is where it gets tricky.
Take the fork towards Forest Road 9737 and stay to the left until reaching the fork with the sign for “Trail 1394”. After another 2.0 miles you’ll reach the trailhead.
This trailhead gets especially busy during fall when the larches are a vibrant yellow. If the parking is full (which it will be by 6am), park on the west side of the road. There will be signs!
The trailhead has a single pit toilet, garbage can and a couple picnic benches along the river!
Before leaving your car at the trailhead, be sure to put your Northwest Forest Service pass on the windshield. The Northwest Forest Pass allows recreation in all Washington and Oregon National Forests.
An America the Beautiful Pass also works for Northwest Forest Passes are accepted. If you’re a frequent National Park visitor, an America the Beautiful Pass is for you!
Season to Visit Lake Ingalls
As previously mentioned, Lake Ingalls is a popular hike to do during the Larch Season which occurs in October. This is the time when the trailhead will be busiest as people from all over try to capture the beauty of the larches.
It is only recommended to complete this hike during the summer and fall months. While road access is a huge contributor to the accessibility of this trail, snow along this trail becomes a huge risk with various Avalanche Shoots and landslide areas along the route.
Hiking to Lake Ingalls
There are a couple distinct sections of the trail, Teanaway Valley, Ingalls Pass, Alpine Section, and Boulder to Lake. For the entirety of the trail, you’ll be blown away by the beauty of the area.
The Teanaway Valley is a magical section of trail following Teanaway Creek until the fork for Ingalls Way and Esmeralda Basin (Another 100 Classic Hike of Washington). Taking the fork right to Ingalls Way, you slowly become encased with beautiful wildflowers and pine.
This section contains most of the switchbacks of the trail. At a relatively shallow grade the gradual accent to Ingalls Pass feels like a breeze. The woods open up to beautiful fields where the trail splits between Longs Pass and Ingalls Peak. Continue left where the trail becomes rockier and views of the surrounding mountains begin to peak over the valley.
The route to Ingalls Pass is a breathtaking section of trail. Hugging the mountain, the trail winds along the mountain. This does make it tricky to navigate with large groups of people since the trail is so narrow.
After a short distance on the trail, you’ll see the outline of Mount Rainier in the backdrop.
Continue the climb and you’ll eventually see the pass you’re climbing to! There are a number of rocky sections but the trail is still relatively flat and easy to navigate. Eventually reaching the pass you’re standing on the ridgeline of the mountain. Views of the Esmeralda Peaks to your back and Mount Stuart in front.
Not sure what to bring hiking? Read Here Next: 10 Hiking Essentials
There are two trail options to get to Lake Ingalls from Ingalls Pass: Headlight Basin to the right or the Alpine Basin section to the left. If you are planning on backpacking, you’ll need to set up your camp in the Headlights Basin since camping is not allowed at the lake.
Alpine Basin Route
The route to the left is a more direct route to the lake with much less elevation loss and gain. If you are navigating with AllTrails, you will be taken through Headlight Basin. You can still see the Alpine Basin Route on the app, it just isn’t the default option.
This Alpine Basin Route is easy to follow with many offshoots to take in the grandeur of the valley. Along this section of trail we were greeted by three mountain goats enjoying some salt licks on the rocks.
There are a number of stream crossings where people were filling their water bottles. I would highly suggest filtering water even if the water is coming from such a high altitude. I’ve been enjoying my filtering water bottle, HydraPak Flux+, on hikes so if I am running low on water I can refill it and not have to worry about any unwanted toxins.
This section is relatively flat, until you come to the boulder field.
Boulder to Lake Ingalls
The last 0.5mile to the lake, which is where the trail from Headlight Basin meets back up with the route, is a boulder field section. The climb will likely require you to use both your hands and feet to complete the almost vertical climb to the lake.
There are a collection of cairns to mark the way, but it is relatively evident that most people choose a route of their own. Hiking through the last shoot, you’ll be blown away by the lake’s vibrant blue backdropped by Mount Stuart.
Take the short climb back down to the lake and enjoy your time resting and enjoying the magnificent views.
Should Lake Ingalls be a 100 Classic Hike of WA?
I am hiking all “100 Classic Hikes of Washington”. But the question is, Should it be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
Lake Ingalls should absolutely be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington. As one of the most popular Alpine Lake Wilderness trails, it is as well loved as it is beautiful. It is worth the hike in summer or fall, so if you don’t want to be one of 200 people there on any given larch day, the summer is just as beautiful.
Let me know in the comments if YOU think Lake Ingalls 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.
Questions about the trail? Leave me a comment in the section below.