Lake West and Lake Helen – Seldom visited lakes within the shadows of Mount Rainier

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Tranquil and rarely visited Lake West.

Quick Facts:

Location: Glacier View Wilderness

Land Agency: Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Roundtrip: 8.4 miles

Elevation gain: 1,600 feet

Green Trails Map: Mount Rainier West, WA no. 269

Contact: Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station (Randle), Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Notes: FR 59 is rough in spots but is passable for passenger cars. Wilderness regulations apply. Free day permit required—sign in at trailhead

Access: From Elbe, follow SR 706 east (passing through Ashford) for 11 miles. Turn left (north) onto graveled Copper Creek Road (FR 59) and follow for 8.6 miles to road’s end and trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, Glacier View Wilderness; backpacking possible

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Flowered slopes on the way to lakes Helen and West.

Hike to two tiny and remote lakes close to Mount Rainier, but far from the crowds. And despite having an uphill return, the hike to Lake Helen and Lake West isn’t too long or too difficult. Set deep within old-growth timber on a high ridge above the crashing glacier-fed Puyallup River—the lakes are as wild as any area within the adjacent national park. But unlike most of the lakes within the park, you’ll probably be sharing these little bodies of water with no other hikers. Deer, elk, and bear however may pay you a visit.

This hike starts from the main trailhead leading into the Glacier View Wilderness, a small (3,080-acre) but significant tract of virgin timber, small rugged peaks, and several subalpine lakes. In the heyday of logging in this region in the 1970s and early 80s, this area was threatened with being completely clear cut. The 1984 Washington Wilderness Act with its strong bipartisan support afforded permanent protection to this ecologically rich tract along with many of other prime wildlands across the state.

Sign in at the kiosk and immediately enter old forest.  Pass a small wetland, enter the Glacier View Wilderness and come to a junction. The trail right leads to Mount Beljica, Goat Lake and Gobblers Knob within Mount Rainier National Park. You want to turn left and follow the Glacier View Trail steadily climbing along the saw-tooth like ridge making up the western boundary of the wilderness. Skirt a pointy knoll, one of many along the ridge crest. Then descend slightly before steadily climbing again reaching a small gap. Now dart across a wildflower-bursting slope beneath the rocky summit of a 5507-foot unnamed summit, the highest peak in the wilderness area.

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The view of Rainier from Glacier View is breathtaking.

Traverse more steep slopes before reaching at 1.8 miles the ridge crest and a junction. The trail left leads 0.3 mile to 5450-foot Glacier View, the site of an old fire lookout. The views of Mount Rainier from it are breathtaking. Definitely consider making a side trip here now or on your return from the lakes. Now continue straight on a trail that gets considerably less use and maintenance. There are a few brushy spots and a couple of trees to climb over, but it’s in fairly decent shape and route finding is not an issue. Through gorgeous old-growth forest, the way switchbacks down from the ridge coming to a junction at 2.4 miles.

For Lake West bear right and head west 0.5 mile descending to a creek crossing before briefly climbing to Lake West (el. 4582 feet). The lake is set in a deep bowl completely surrounded by thick old timber. There are some nice camps if you want to spend the night. Mosquitoes can be a little troublesome the first half of summer.

For Lake Helen, head left on an even less trodden but still decent trail. Leave the wilderness and enter the 890-acre Deer Creek Roadless Area. Conservationists would like to see this tract of old-growth forest embracing Lake Helen permanently protected by adding it to the Glacier View Wilderness. The trail passes through a small marsh before slowly descending through attractive forest reaching pretty little Lake Helen (el. 4612 feet) in 1.3 miles. From the lake’s south shore there are good views of 5,404-foot Puyallup Point rising above the lake. Near the lake’s outlet (a tributary of Deer Creek) are some small camps. A handful of impressive old Alaska yellow cedars grace the lake’s shores too adding to the beauty of this setting.

Cherish the solitude and when you must leave, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

 

For more information on this hike and many others in and around Mount Rainier National Park, check out VisitRainier.com. For some excellent overnight hiking suggestions in Mount Rainier National Park and throughout the state, consult my bestselling Backpacking Washington Book.

Backpacking Book cover

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