Nestled amidst the majestic Cascade Mountains of Washington, Spectacle Lake stands as a breathtaking testament to the pure beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The peninsula in the lake surrounded by mountains has spectacular campsite options for everyone. For backpackers seeking an unforgettable adventure, this alpine lake offers serenity and wonder. The crystal-clear waters surrounding Spectacle Lake begs hikers to jump into the cool water.
The Ultimate Spectacle Lake Backpacking Guide
This backpacking guide invites you to step off the beaten path and into a world where nature is the focus. I will uncover all you need to know to embark on a journey to Spectacle Lake that will leave you awe-inspired. From accessing the trail, hiking the trail, important gear, and alternative routes, this blog has it all!
Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or first-timer looking for a challenge, this pristine haven promises all you can dream of. Welcome to the Spectacle Lake Backpacking Guide.
Hike Completed: July 29th – August 1st, 2023
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Length: 22 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,620 ft
Trail Type: Out and Back
Time: Overnight or Multiday
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Where is the Spectacle Lake Trailhead?
Spectacle Lake is located on the ancestral lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Wenatchi, Yakama tribes as well as the 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.
Permits and Passes
The Spectacle Lake Trail is run by Okanogan – Wenatchee National Forest Rangers. In this section we will cover everything you need to know to hike the trail with proper permits.
Since this trail is located within the National Forest, a Northwest Forest Pass is needed to access the trail. America the Beautiful Pass also works in this area.
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!
Overnight permits in this area are self-issued. At the beginning of the trailhead there will be permits to fill out with general information about the trip. Fill out the top and bottom portions of the permits.
The top part of the permit will have a loop for securing to the outside of your backpack. The bottom half should be deposited.
General information includes: start and finish date, number of people in your party, if you have pack animals with you, a dog and the first and last names of everyone.
It is imperative that this permit gets filled out because this is one of the ways that funding is allocated to this National Forest. The more people that fill this out, the more funding this trail gets. If people are going and not filling this out, funds might not be properly allocated to support the amount of visitors.
Getting to the Trailhead
Beginning in Roslyn, a nearby city, accessible from I-90 from Seattle, take WA-903 through Roslyn and past Cle Elum Lake. Turn off of WA-903 onto FR-46. This road gets a little busy and is rather narrow so keep an eye out for oncoming cars. Turn right onto FR-4616 and continue for 2 miles to the trailhead. There will be a sign for Pete Lake, this is the beginning portion of the trail to Spectacle Lake.
Best Time to Backpack to Spectacle Lake
Spectacle Lake is usually accessible from July through October. The last of the previous winters snow melting off in early July and chance for snow beginning in the middle of October.
At the end of July the fireweed along the trail to Spectacle Lake were in full bloom. It was beautiful.
Regardless of when you complete the hike from July to October, it is likely you will need a jacket at night and in the early morning.
3-Day Itinerary for Spectacle Lake
Day 1: Trailhead to Pete Lake
Stats: 4.5 miles – 900 ft gain
The journey to spectacle lake begins at the Pete Lake trailhead. When I arrived Sunday around 1pm at the trailhead, the parking lot was almost 85% full and in the time it took for us to get our boots and packs on, there were a number of backpacking parties that were exiting the trail.
We gathered all of our things, locked the car, and hit the trail. At the beginning of the trailhead, there is a registration station for overnight backpackers. We filled out the needed portions and strapped the permit to our pack.
The trek to Pete Lake is a meandering one with subtle hills. It wasn’t long until we ran into the first group of horseback riders. Until this point, we had already walked past plenty of traces of horses. We made way for the group and continued on the way.
The trail to Pete lake had little water access for filtering but Meatball found some shallow streams to quench his thirst. Other than some muddy spots along the trail, it was in perfect condition.
After crossing a dried river bed, we were almost to Pete Lake. The first large section at the base of Pete lake is the designated backpacker camp site. It’s a large space broken up with fallen trees. There is a toilet and plenty of fire pits, though there was a fire ban when we were there.
After setting up camp, enjoying some instant potatoes, and a swim in Pete Lake, it was time for bed! Other than our group there were just two other people camping at Pete lake.
Camping Near Pete Lake
There is a designated Backpacking Area for people to set up camp. There is a pit toilet and even a sign for the pit toilet to let people know it is occupied.
Day 2: Pete Late to Spectacle Lake
Stats – 7 miles – 1,200 ft gain
After a leisurely morning at camp, it was time to hit the trail before the sun was high. From previous trail reviews, I read that the sun is killer in the exposed sections and since Meatball joined on this trip, I wanted to make sure he would be hiking in the best conditions.
The Pete Lake campsites were at the very bottom of the lake and we needed to hike to the top, so the initial 0.5 mile of trail was lovely and wooded. Eventually we approached the Cooper River. This required us to take off our boots and put on our sandals to cross because the water was up to my mid-calf.
The river was refreshing and the perfect opportunity to refill my filtering water bottle, because shortly after this portion of the hike, the trail has full sun exposure. There was a wildfire that burned through some portions of this trail. The forest is in the process of recovering and the ground cover appears healthy and blossoming.
Elevation begins in the exposed area. The switchbacks leading up to the saddle have subtle elevation gain and are long in length. The fireweed almost towers over you in different sections of the trail.
This section of the trail can definitely be a grind in the heat of the sun. The trail also connects with the PCT so we ended up seeing a lot of different PCTers hiking the trail as well.
HINT: We even ran into a park ranger who told us that Spectacle Lake is a popular stopping point for PCT hikers but they usually stay at the beginning section of the peninsula to get an earlier start in the morning. She ALSO mentioned that most of what she was doing at Spectacle Lake was burying human and dog waste. There is no toilet up there and people are requested to pack out their waste. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like many people were doing that.
We took a longer break in a shaded area to eat some snacks and take a break from the sun. Everyone appreciated it!
After our break, we quickly reached a bridge and waterfall. Some people were stopped here before making the final push to the top. We continued on and after about roughly 30 minutes we reached the saddle looking over Spectacle Lake. There are two routes to get to the lake, left or right. Left leads you to the peninsula and the right has campsites surrounding the lake but not on the peninsula.
We found a large enough space for the three tents we had and before long we were all jumping into Spectacle Lake by 1:30 PM. We spent the remainder of the day relaxing, swimming, napping, and playing cards.
A number of people spent multiple days up at the lake which would be so amazing especially if you brought a book and hammock.
Day 3: Spectacle Lake to Trailhead
Stats – 11.5 miles – 200 ft gain
After spending the early morning contemplating if we wanted to jump into the lake or not for a morning cold plunge, we opted against it since we didn’t have the time to warm back up again. So we made a warm camp breakfast, packed our bags, and hit the trail.
The climb out of the basin was surprisingly easier than I expected it to be. Once you hit the saddle it is all downhill from there! Starting at the top, the hike down was relatively quick as gravity kept the momentum down the mountain stable.
It was go-go-go until we reached the river crossing and again needed to remove our boots and wade across the water. It was the perfect time to refill my water bottle for the remaining 5 miles out to the trailhead.
We took a longer 10 minute break at the top of Pete Lake, knowing that we wouldn’t want to stop again until we were back at the car. Since the trail levels out from Pete Lake to the Trailhead, it took a bit longer to finish those last five miles.
The view of the car was glorious and we quickly packed up our bags, changed into our post-hike clothes, and drove to Dru Bru for much needed refreshments. There were actually quite a bit of PCT hikers there as well!
Backpacking Gear to Spectacle Lake
This list is based on the 2 night, 3 day trip backpacking to Spectacle Lake. Curate this list accordingly depending on how long you’re taking to complete this trail, the time of year, and your needs.
Any asterisked items (*) are optional but recommended.
Toothbrush + Toothpaste
Trowel + TP
Athletic Shorts, Leggings, or Pants
Pairs of Socks
Should Spectacle Lake 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?
Spectacle Lake ABSOLUTELY should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington. Considering the trail is relatively accessible for people of all backpacking experiences AND that it overlaps with one of the most well known thru-hikes in the world, it truly is a phenomenal hike. Whether you’re completing this hike for 2, 3, or 4 days every minute will be magical. Even seeing the new growth from the burned forest was breathtaking. It was a hopeful sight seeing the beauty that arose from the destruction. Be sure to plan a backpacking trip to Spectacle Lake when you get the chance!