Our Hiking Time: 5h 40m round trip to Echo
Total Ascent: 500ft to Greenwater, 1900ft (1600ft in and 300ft out) to Echo
Highest Point: 3000ft to Greenwater, 4100ft to Echo
Total Distance: 4 miles round trip to Greenwater, 13.0 miles round trip to Echo
Location: N 47° 5.2500, W 121° 26.8740
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Difficulty: Easy to Greenwater, Moderate to Echo
This week we headed out toward Crystal Mountain and Highway 410 to explore the Greenwater Lakes Trail out to Echo Lake. Because this area is extremely popular for both hiking and camping during the summer, we planned an early start to try and get the jump on the crowds on a sunny weekend. We managed our early start, but not avoiding the crowds – the parking lot was already packed by the time we geared up.
The Greenwater River is your constant companion on this hike, and it begins near Naches Pass in the Norse Peak Wilderness, flows down into Hidden Lake, drains out to Echo Lake and then down Greenwater Lakes before eventually merging with the White River near the town of Greenwater. Naches Pass has long been a route though the Cascades, with the earliest recorded crossing following Native American trails in 1841. Since that time the desire to build a more permanent road over the pass has been nearly constant. A series of attempts to build a road resulted in a short-lived wagon route completed in 1853 that was almost immediately abandoned for Snoqualmie Pass. Still, the dream did not die. Proposed plans for a route over the pass were actually codified into Washington law in the 1970s, making the non-existent State Route 168 officially part of the state highway system. Today, the highway would run right through the Norse Peak Wilderness – over 50,000 acres of wildness set aside in 1984.
From the trailhead the hike begins on a very wide, gentle trail. The first two miles to Greenwater Lakes is almost entirely flat, helping to quickly pull you deeper into the forest. Expect to cross half-a-dozen bridges along the way, as the trail follows the path of least resistance up the river valley. Before long, you’ll find yourself at the first of the Greenwater Lakes, which tends to feel a little more like a widening in the river than a true lake. A few campsites can be found here if you follow small side trails around the lake.
Continue a few tenths of a mile to upper Greenwater Lake and beyond the Norse Peak Wilderness boundary. Here the trail temporarily leaves the banks of the river, the forest transitions away from alders and vine maples toward old growth firs and cedars while the crowds begin to thin. The trail becomes a little rockier and steeper, though it is still very well-maintained. Past the boundary the trail hits a junction with the Lost Lake Trail #1185, heading up to the right. Continue to the left for Echo Lake. Now the grade becomes more challenging as the trail climbs a ridge above the Greenwater River. Near the top of the rise the Maggie Creek Trail #1186 splits off to the left. Keep climbing to the top and down the other side to Echo Lake. The forested shores of the lake do not offer huge views, but there are plenty of campsites along the lake. From here, if you’re looking for a longer, more challenging day, you can continue onward to Noble Knob and Corral Pass.
Rushing rivers, placid lakes, and wild forests continue to bring hikers out to the Greenwater Lakes trail. The hike out to Greenwater Lakes is very approachable for any almost anyone. This makes it a great option for young campers on their first overnight or backpacking experience. Beyond the lakes the trail does become more difficult, gaining a fair amount of elevation, so be prepared for more of a workout. Those looking to get away from the crowds will want to avoid this approach to Echo Lake, which can also be accessed via the Corral Pass trailhead. Still, we definitely recommended this hike for getting the whole family on the trail or getting those reluctant friends out on a hike.
To get there, take I-5 south to Highway 18 Exit 142A. Follow Highway 18 into Auburn and take the SR 164 exit. Head left on SR 164 through Enumclaw to SR 410. Turn left onto SR 410 and drive about 20 miles through the town of Greenwater, past the fire station to FR 70 on the left. Follow FR 70 a little over nine miles to FR 7033. Take a right and follow the road to the trailhead. -Nathan
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