The Cascade hiker’s autumn dream:  A rockbound alpine lake, fringed by a necklace of golden larch trees and set among craggy peaks. No wonder such destinations are thronged on a fall weekend.

Not Larch Lake, set in the Chiwaukum Range between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth. It’s among the central Cascade’s most lovely destinations, especially in the fall, and you can have it nearly to yourself.

The secret?  Larch Lake is a long overnight backpack from Highway 2, but just a day hike from Scottish Lakes High Camp, a rustic, remote resort at 5,000 feet in the Chiwaukums.  Only the 40 or so people staying at High Camp get this head start.

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Larch Lake

High Camp guests park in a lot off Highway 2, and are driven 45 minutes to High Camp on private, gated roads in the camp’s 4 wheel drive rigs.  High Camp is a cluster of simple, self-catering cabins, a cozy communal lodge, campfires at night, and (dream come true here) a wood fired hot tub and sauna.

Check the maps, ask the friendly staff for any other information, and set off into your nearly-own-private wilderness. Of the many trails that branch out from High Camp, Larch Lake is a top destination. The hike takes you up and over scenic McCue Ridge to Chiwaukum Lake, then up to Larch Lake. Altogether it’s a moderate 11 miles round trip from camp.

Whether you leave from Highway 2 or begin at High Camp, this hike is a beauty. You can encounter a steep beeline to the open meadows and vistas along McCue Ridge, or a more gradual, woodsy ramble. Either way, you will hook up with Forest Service Trail 1574 where it crosses McCue Ridge.  You’ve climbed about 900 feet so far. Lose 600 of that on an easy descent through deepening forest to big, wooded Chiwaukum Lake, 3 miles from camp at elevation 5300 feet. Along the way, you’ll get tempting views of Chiwaukum Ridge to the east and south.

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Descending to Chiwaukum

At Chiwaukum Lake the trail turns right, up valley. It meanders through forest and into Ewing Basin, where you might find low-bush blueberries (the ones that taste like apples). The trail continues along a strip of sparse forest, breaks out into flat meadows, and emerges into the beautiful, rocky basin of gin-clear Larch Lake, elevation 6,100 feet.  In late summer the air itself seems purple with lupine. In fall flowers give way to golden larch. If you have time, another 20 minutes or so gets you to nearly treeless Cup Lake.  When you are ready, head back to the hot tub.

From High Camp trails lead to other Scottish Lakes: Loch Julius, Loch Eileen, Lake Donald, and Ethel Lake, all within 5 miles of your cabin. There is also fabulous ridge rambling. Or, use High Camp as a starting point for a backpack, finishing up with a night in a cabin. Nice camps at Chiwaukum and Larch; however despite what one guidebook says there are no obvious camps between these two lakes.

If you can leave a little wiggle room in your budget for a stay at High Camp, it offers one of the most unique backcountry hiking opportunities in the state.  Come back in winter for glorious backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.

Larch Lake:

Type of Hike –Day hike or backpack, out and back with different options possible for the first two miles.

Facilities at trailhead: Scottish Lakes High Camp; remote, rustic self-catered lodging. No private access, must use High Camp’s transportation.

Roundtrip Distance and Elevation gain: From High Camp, 11 miles, 1700 feet, including 600 foot loss.

Alternative access: 22.8 miles roundtrip with 3900 feet of gain, via trail 1571, from Forest Road 7908 off Highway 2

Maps: Green Trails No 177, Chiwaukum Mountains, plus area mps of trails from High Camp (these trails are not shown on the Green Trails).

Parking Permits required: None if starting from High Camp.

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Scottish Lakes High Camp
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