Lake Ingalls
Sep 25, 2022
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After attending a Jack Johnson concert at the Gorge, Elena and I wanted to stretch our legs on the way back home to Seattle. After some debate, we settled on the Lake Ingalls trail. While it is quite a way off of I90, the views get rated as excellent, and we thought it might be a good candidate for a trail run / fast walk.

The first section of the trail is steep as it winds up the hill to the junction with Long’s pass trail. There is some tree cover to ease the daytime heat and, right now, a few dots of fall colors. Once out of the trees, the view of Esmerelda peak’s east face is spectacular.

fall colors on the lower trail
fall colors
lower section of trail to lake
lower section of trail
esmerelda peak from the trail
esmerelda peak

After the junction with Long’s pass trail, the Ingalls lake trail gets much narrower. While we had wanted to keep up a good trail run pace, we slowed a fair amount, still keeping a brisk walking pace, while passing a slough of other hikers and even a few horses.

If you want to take this on as a trail run, I would suggest leaving the parking lot early and being ready for some steep rocky areas where you might need to slow down to keep the journey safe.

steep section of trail
steep section along trail
mount rainier from the upper part of ingalls lake trail
mount rainier from the trail

Once you crest the first hill, the trail heads into headlight basin and drops a few hundred feet. There are a few sections of scrambling and large boulders littered with cairns. More than once we lost the trail and saw other hikers going in multiple directions, seemingly as lost and confused as us.

On the way out, we even encountered one group that had taken the alternate route through the lower basin and then looped with the upper trail because they could not find the correct route. Watch on the way through headlight basin to make sure you keep moving towards the lake.

first view of mount stuart
first view of stuart
trail through headlight basin
headlight basin
fall colors in headlight basin
fall colors in headlight basin

Once you reach Lake Ingalls, the view is outstanding. Stuart looks massive. Lake Ingalls glows alpine blue. We didn’t get very far before grabbing a nice rock chair and taking in the scenery.

lake ingalls and mount stuart
lake ingalls and mount stuart
elena next to lake ingalls with stuart in background
elena and lake ingalls

The most eventful part of the day came while we were sitting on the rock. A very curious chipmunk kept creeping closer and closer to us. At one point, I noticed it about an inch from my hand. It slowly approached, and I could feel its breath while it sniffed my fingers. I moved, and it took off, But within a few minutes, it was back.

At this point, Elena’s story and mine diverge. She claims I provoked the chipmunk, but I maintain that I did nothing. Either way, the chipmunk quickly bit my finger and took off when I recoiled. It didn’t break the skin, luckily. But it did stand behind me, staring, like it was going to come back for round two.

This is why no one should feed wildlife. There is no reason a chipmunk would get that close if it isn’t habituated to people giving it food, presumably out of their hands.

shifty chipmunk testing our boundaries
chipmunk testing our boundaries
chipmunk after it bit me plotting to do it again
chipmunk staring me down after bite

While running had taken a back set on the way up, we did run almost the entire trail on the way back down. It was quick and only took us around an hour to get back to the parking lot where we rinsed off in the nearby waterfall.

Whether you decide to run it, hike it, or backpack it the view at Lake Ingalls is worth the time for any hiker in the state.

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