Backpack - Golden Lakes Loop


Backpack - Golden Lakes Loop

Experience high lakes and ridges draped in golden larches on this classic North Cascades loop. Preference to Tacoma Branch Introduction to Backpacking Students. Trip will open to all Mountaineers on May 1.

  • Moderate/Strenuous
  • Moderate
  • Mileage: 22.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 4,750 ft
  • Pace: 1.5 mph

Crater Creek Trailhead 9am. Northwest Forest Pass required for drivers. Drive time from Tacoma is about 5 hours one way.  Participants may opt to stay some place local the night before the trip to reduce the drive time. Leaders will be staying the night before at Howards Lakeshore Inn in Pateros, about an hour drive from the trailhead. Consider the drive time and distance from your location to the meeting place before requesting leader's permission.

Preference to Tacoma Branch Introduction to Backpacking Students. Trip will open to all Mountaineers on May 1.

Also known as the Sawtooth Lakes Loop or Angels Staircase Loop, this loop has it all: alpine lakes, rolling vistas, stunning scenery, and larches. We'll do our best to deliver on the larch viewing, however, each season is different and our experience on this counter clockwise lollipop loop may vary. 

Day 1: We anticipate starting early to beat the crowds and get a good campsite for Friday night where we'll camp amongst the larches at Upper Eagle Lake. We may have enough time for an optional side trip to Horsehead Pass which will add another 3 miles and 800 feet gain/loss to our day. Distance and gain to Upper Eagle Lake is about 6 miles and 2500 feet, not including the optional side trip. 

Day 2: Upper Eagle Lake to Cooney Lake. No side trips are planned for the day because the scenery will keep you in awe. We'll look down on  Boiling Lake encircled with larches, hike beside it's shore, and then through a larch-filled basin up to Angels Staircase, our high point, before dropping down to our home for the night at Cooney Lake. The lake campsites here will also be amongst larches. Total distance and gain are anticipated to be 7.6 miles, 2250 feet gain, 2000 feet loss.

Day 3: Cooney Lake to Crater Creek Trailhead. No side trips are expected because we'll have a longer hike out, a ford, and a long drive home. Total distance and gain are anticipated to be 8.25 miles and 500 feet gain, 3000 feet loss.       

hiking & Travel Considerations

Hiking in the fall can be beautiful when you are prepared for the conditions. Prior to requesting leader's permission, be sure you are comfortable with the following conditions expected to be encountered on this trip:

  • Daylight will be shorter than the summer. Sunrise will be around 7am and sunset will be around 6:40pm.
  • Your fall gear will be heavier than your summer gear so fitness for carrying a heavier load will be important. Participants are encouraged to complete other backpack trips leading up to this one for training. 
  • It is not uncommon for the nights to be cold to below freezing temperatures and sometimes windy for the area.
  • There will be a creek ford that may require removing your footwear to cross safely.
  • Trip will be canceled if the weather forecast calls for heavy or sustained rain, wind, or snow.

This trip requires the leader's permission before you  register

Prospective participants should reach out to the leader to set up a time to discuss their experience and training plan on a call with the leader prior  acceptance on the roster. This includes prospective participants for the waitlist. Leader will remove participants from the roster  or waitlist that do not request permission before registering.


Participants will be expected to join a mandatory Zoom call with the leaders shortly after registration closes to cover trip details.

My style: I prefer a more social experience and enjoy the company of others on trips. When I’m not socializing you will probably catch me gazing at the beauty of the backcountry or taking pictures of it. I’ve been known to swim in alpine lakes, stand underneath waterfalls, and soak my feet in cold water after a hard day hiking. In the evenings I like to sit around the campfire or communal area and drink my tea to wind down for the night and I’m usually up early in the mornings sometimes to watch the sunrise with a warm drink. If these sound like experiences you would enjoy, I’d love your company!

Map (not for navigation):


Golden Lakes Loop

Required Equipment

Required Equipment

To be discussed at lecture for Introduction to Backpacking course students.

The Ten Essentials plus overnight gear which may include:

  • Tent with footprint/ground tarp
  • Stove and fuel
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water filter
  • Bear canister or Ursack 
  • Cooking pot/pan with plate and utensils
  • Toilet paper and shovel or blue bag to deal with waste
Trip Reports