Central Cascades, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
17.7 miles, roundtrip
(Based on our Total GPS track on our Garmin Fenix 6x)
Gain: 3300 ft.
Highest Point: 4900 ft.
You can't go wrong with any area within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but one area that used to be unknown and quiet was Big Heart Lake and the West Fork Foss River area. Now, however, it has become a very popular place to be if you go on the weekends during the summer.
Even though Big Heart Lake is about 7.3 miles each way, it is definitely the ultimate destination on this part of Foss River. Make sure if you plan on going, to get there as early as possible because campsites do fill up fast.
You'll start off at the West Fork Foss River trailhead. For the first 1.6 miles, you'll gradually climb about 500 feet of elevation in order to reach Trout Lake. Trout Lake is a great place to stay with young family as it isn't too far in, but still relatively nice. The rumor is that the trout are pretty decent size as well.
You'll continue around the lake, and start a grueling climb towards Copper Lake. You are about 2.6 miles away with over 1900' to climb. On hot days, you want to try to get to Copper Lake before about 11am because a good part of the upper section is exposed to the sun and gets hot quick.
In the distance, you'll see a very large waterfall that is part of the outflow of Copper Lake. You'll eventually reach a junction, where one way leads to Malachite Lake, and the other takes you to Copper Lake. Just before Copper Lake, there is a stream you'll cross over that provides a great spot to dunk your head to cool off.
Copper Lake honestly is a phenomenal lake to camp at. We have stayed at Copper Lake for the entire weekend before, and it was totally worth it. If you can snag the campsite on the island, then you have some really nice privacy with great views of the lake.
Last Couple Miles to Big Heart Lake
You'll continue on past Copper Lake, and in about 10 minutes you'll reach Little Heart Lake. There are some nice fish in this lake, but the campsites are limited. It is worth pushing on to Big Heart Lake if you have the energy.
There is about 700' left to climb over 1.1 miles before you get to the high point before Big Heart Lake. You'll be able to see views of Glacier Peak and Trout Lake from this point.
Continue on for about 0.7 miles and you'll drop 300', and you will find yourself at the outlet of Big Heart Lake. At this point you are almost there!
Once at the lake, you'll be tempted to take the very first campsite before you cross the log jam. I would set stuff down there to claim it, but look around before settling in. That area gets a lot of traffic so your campsite wouldn't be very private.
Continue across the log jam and go up the hill, there are a few good campsites up there with a toilet nearby. Further up there are some hidden sites just off the trail.
When we were here last, a giant group came in and set up camp on some fragile heather. Please if you see the trailhead is very busy, and you don't see that many campers along the way to Big Heart Lake, that means most of the people are at Big Heart!
Be very mindful of LNT principles, this is an area that I have seen a lot of damage to over the last 5 years because of popularity. If an area is busy, move along to the next area.
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