Image: Craig Romano
March for larch: The yellow trees are worth the climb.

Scatter Lake

Difficulty: Difficult

Distance: 8.5 miles

The east slope of the Cascades is renowned for its larch hikes. Come mid-October, the delicate needles of this deciduous conifer streak the hills and mountains in gold. Scatter Lake ranks among the best larch hikes in the state, but it’s not an easy journey up a steep trail to just beneath the 8,321-foot Abernathy Peak.

Start on the Twisp River Trail, then soon veer off onto the Scatter Lake Trail. Enjoy a fairly easy first mile gradually climbing out of the Twisp River Valley. Upon reaching Scatter Creek, the trail changes moods to head straight-up a narrow canyon entering the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Area. The switchbacks grow tighter. The trail gets steeper. But the surrounding forest begins to open allowing good viewing of the rugged surroundings.

Cross Scatter Creek and tackle one more grueling section of trail. At about 3.5 miles, reach a delightful meadow in a small basin—you're almost to the lake! You're between steep slopes lined with blueberry bushes and white-bark pines, subalpine fir, and larch trees.

Past a small cascade, the trail enters a cirque more than 7,000 feet in elevation that holds a shallow, larch-ringed tarn; Scatter Lake is just a little farther. Golden larches reflect off of the waters, and a half-mile path circles the lake. 

Watch For: Old mines and mining relics

Getting There: Drive I-5 north to Burlington. Follow State Route 20 (North Cascades Highway) east to Twisp, then drive Twisp River Road (Forest Service Road 44) for 21.8 miles to trailhead.

Note: Northwest Forest Pass required

Craig Romano is the author of nine Washington hiking books, including Day Hiking North Cascades.

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