Blanca Lake

The cold weather had set in this week but the forecast for the weekend looked clear. There was new snow in the mountains and I wanted to take advantage of it to visit a really popular where the conditions might deter the normal crowds. Blanca Lake is an absolute PNW classic and it’s really easy to see why. The glacial feed lake has beautiful turquoise colors reminiscent of Lake Louise in Banff but unlike the Canadian counterpart, it’s a bit more of a challenge to get to.



elevation gain

3,300 ft


Wild Sky Wilderness

drive time from Seattle

2 hr

useful gear

Poles, microspikes


NW Forest Pass

With the days being so short this time of year I left Seattle not long after 6 am to drive to the trailhead. Highway 2 was a beautiful drive, watching the sunrise on the freshly snowy peaks. The road to this trailhead is washed out so it adds an extra 2 miles to the hike each way. Parking is along the side of the forest road next to the road closure sign. It appears the forest service isn’t planning on fixing the washed-out areas anytime soon and have put up a trail information sign behind the road closure.

The 2 miles along the road were pretty unexciting. Luckily it doesn’t have too much elevation gain and its only at the very end that you reach the washout areas. When the regular trail begins it starts climbing pretty much straight away. I enjoyed seeing the light making beams through the thick forest as the low clouds from the morning begun to lift. The trail gains about 3000 ft in 3 miles and I started hitting snow on the trail at about the 2-mile mark. I’m not sure what it was, whether it was carrying the additional weight of snowshoes or not used to the cool air but I felt pretty awful on the ascent and took it a bit slower than I normally would.

The 3-mile point of the trail starts heading up a ridgeline. Here there was a lot more snow and I put on my snowshoes to avoid slipping. As I was out early the snow hadn’t been packed down properly yet so it was harder going than I was expecting. After a short descent, I passed the frozen Virgin Lake, which would be better named as a pond. From here you drop 600 ft to the cirque that contains Blanca Lake.

I couldn’t be happier when I reached the lake, the turquoise waters were beautiful and the peaks surrounding were dusted with snow. I was able to eat lunch sitting on a log on the lake shore and take photos from the top of a snow-covered rock pile. With the amount of snow covering the ground, it was difficult to do any exploring so I didn’t hang around too long. I also got pretty cold because the side of the lake the trail reaches was shaded.

The hike back to the car was completely uneventful, I didn’t need to put my snowshoes on for the way back as more people had compacted the trail. The way back also reminded me how dull the trail is. Apart from a view of Glacier peak along the ridge near Virgin lake its just a steep trail through a thick forest which brings you back to the 2-mile road walk back to the car. Despite the boring trail the views of the lake were definitely worth it. Looking back at the photos it really is hard to believe it is Washington and not Canada!

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