Blanca Lake is stunning alpine lake about 2 hours from Seattle, Washington. The lake is glacier-fed, and the water is a surreal shade of turquoise. Getting to the lake is quite a trek though—the hike is takes several hours and full of switchbacks. The views are well worth it, though!
I hiked to Blanca Lake on my trip to Seattle last year, but I never wrote about the experience. While it’s not currently safe to travel, I hope this guide will help any future hikers, whether you’re local or visiting.
Overview of the Blanca Lake Hike
Elevation gain: 3600ft (1100m)
Time: 4-5 hours (longer with breaks)
Distance: 10 miles (16km)
I tracked the hike on my Garmin, but my watch unfortunately died towards the end, and had trouble picking up GPS signal for the very beginning. It tracked 9 miles, but I suspect that we actually hiked around 10. The elapsed time was 6 hours and 49 minutes (we took a LOT of breaks for photos haha), but our moving time was only 3 hours and 21 minutes. Tack on half an hour to account for the missed tracking, and you get a 4-7 hour hike.
Many hiking websites will tell you that the hike is only 7.5 miles, so be prepared for a longer walk. They also say that the elevation gain is 3300ft, but my watch tracked 3488ft (tacked on ~100ft extra because of the missed tracking for 3600ft). The hike is not easy by any means. You should be in good shape to attempt it; I’m a distance runner and I found it challenging.
There’s no camping along the hike, but it appears that fishing and swimming are allowed at the lake. You can bring dogs, but they must be leashed.
What You Need to Hike Blanca Lake
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Before you go, there’s some important gear you’ll need for the hike.
- Parking pass: many hikes require a parking pass to cover the trail servicing fees. Blanca Lake is covered by the Northwest Forest Pass, which is $30 for the year. This may or may not be required this year, as some trip reports say that the trail isn’t being serviced (and signs say there’s no need for the pass). Please double-check beforehand.
- Hiking boots: I wouldn’t try to attempt this with regular old tennis shoes. The hike can be steep, muddy, rocky, snowy, and icy. You’ll want a good pair of waterproof boots. There’s this budget pair on Amazon, but consider shopping at a more ethical retailer like REI if you have the extra money.
- Hiking poles: This hike is steep and can be slippery in some parts. Having good poles can be really helpful. I personally use these poles, but there are cheaper ones that work too.
- Traction: There is some snow at higher elevations, so traction can help you stay steady on your feet. I use Yaktrax Run traction, but you can get their traditional traction as well.
- Hydration vest: You’re going to need plenty of water along this hike. I’ve had this hydration vest for a couple years, and love how it holds up to 10L of stuff (including a 2L water bladder), has a phone pocket, and comes with an emergency blanket and whistle. There’s also elastic to hold your poles.
- Winter layers: If you’re hiking in the winter, you’ll want some moisture-wicking base layers and a warm jacket. Lined softshell pants are also great to keep you warm and dry. Gloves and a hat are also a must.
- Toilet paper and hand sanitizer: There are a couple primitive toilets, but they’re spread out. If you need to go when there are no toilets, you’ll need the tools for that. It’s now best practice to pack your TP out instead of burying it, so bring a plastic bag for that.
- The 10 essentials: navigation, headlamp, sun protection, first aid, knife, matches, emergency shelter, extra food, extra water, extra clothes.
I recognize that a lot of this gear can be expensive! Luckily, you can find a lot of these items secondhand for cheaper. REI also has a “Garage Sale” section of returned/used items at a huge discount (for co-op members only). You also don’t necessarily *need* fancy gear. I would recommend good hiking shoes and the 10 essentials for sure, but you can probably get away with wearing clothing you already own, as long as it allows you to move freely and keeps you warm.
Directions to the Blanca Lake Trailhead
You’ll need to take US-2 E through Skykomish before turning left on Beckler Road. Then, take NF-65 (leftmost road) and turn onto NF-63, which will take you up to the trailhead.
There are tons of potholes, so be ready for a bumpy ride. In the winter months, the roads may be snowed out, so check conditions before setting out.
This can be a popular hike, but weekdays tend to be quieter. If you’re worried about parking, try to head up earlier in the day.
My Blanca Lake Trip Report (November 2019)
I went on this hike with a complete stranger who ended up becoming a friend. I was in the area for an interview, and didn’t have a car, so I found a hiking buddy in a Seattle hiking Facebook group. This sounds like the beginning to a horror movie, but I made sure to chat with my potential hiking buddy extensively beforehand.
It’s really easy to get the conversation going if you just acknowledge that it’s a risk for both of you. I think I said something like: “Could we get to know each other a bit by messaging, so both of us can be reassured that we’re not axe murderers?” (I’m so subtle, I know haha). It turned out that neither of us seemed to be axe murderers, so we made plans to hike together. (Thanks for taking a chance on me, Jeff! And for the photos of me in this post :))
We arrived at the trailhead just after 8am in mid-November. The weather was cold (probably slightly above freezing), but not too bad. I wore a moisture-wicking base layer, fleece jacket, and light puffy jacket. I also wore fleece-lined leggings and brought softshell pants as an extra layer. If you don’t want the water in your hydration pack to freeze, you can fill it up with warm water. My hiking buddy did this, and it’s a great trick!
The trailhead bathroom was unfortunately locked at the parking lot, so we had to do our business in the woods. The bathroom is apparently frequently locked, so be prepared for this. There are primitive toilets at the halfway point (Virgin Lake) and Blanca Lake, but nothing in-between.
The first few miles of the hike are brutal switchbacks. You cover about 3000ft of gain in 3 miles. It’s very woodsy and kind of boring for a while, but there are some pretty cool mushrooms and tall evergreens.
After those initial miles, you’ll start to see the surrounding mountaintops through the trees. The ground will also become snowy and icy if you’re hiking in the winter. Around 4 miles in, the scene became really snowy. We reached an icy creek that we had to hike next to, and a few snow-covered ponds. This eventually led us to Virgin Lake, which was really more of a pond. It’s surrounded by tall evergreens, and is completely frozen over in the winter.
Me overlooking Virgin Lake
There’s a lot of sunlight in this area, so I started to get sweaty here, especially after all those switchbacks. It was the only time that I needed to remove layers.
From there, your hike actually descends to Blanca Lake. This part was a little muddy and rocky, and is mostly in the woods. We arrived at the lake around noon. The scenery was stunning, but the lighting was unfortunately a little harsh for photos (you can see the dark shadows and midday sun). If you want the best lighting, I think a sunrise hike would probably be ideal, as would a hike on an overcast day.
It was quite chilly at the lake because the area was covered in shade. I’d recommend extra layers, as I didn’t feel that mine were enough. We also spent quite a bit of time snapping photos and eating lunch, so that’s probably why. You’ll probably stay warm if you don’t stop for too long.
The hike back is the same path, so that’s really all there is to it (that I can remember—please read more recent trip reports too!).
I will say, however, that if you have dietary restrictions, you may want to bring extra food for after your hike. The restaurants in the area don’t have a lot of options (as expected haha), and you’ll basically find pizza and burgers.
Leave No Trace Tips
It’s important to respect nature to preserve these beautiful places. Be sure to keep these guidelines in mind:
- Try to disturb the area as minimally as possible. This means no wildflower picking, staying on the trails as much as possible, no leaving painted rocks. Foraging is allowed in some places, but only take what you can consume yourself.
- Carry out your waste. This includes “organic” waste like apple cores and orange peels. These are not natural to the area and can cause digestive issues for wildlife.
- Wash your boots. If you’re not local, always wash your boots before going hiking. Invasive plant species can actually be spread from things like hiking boots, car tires, and bike tires. This one is really easy to forget, and I’m trying to be better about it!
Hope you have a lovely and safe hike! Contrary to popular belief it is possible to go on cool Seattle area hikes without a car—and you don’t necessarily need to befriend a stranger with a car haha. I have a whole post on hiking around Seattle via public transport if you want to learn more.
If you need a place to stay, I’d recommend staying in Seattle, as the mountains are more remote, and the food options are limited. Here’s a list of top hotels in Seattle, plus some private apartment rentals.