Photo by Forrest

Rainbow Lake

  • Region: North Washington Cascades
  • Length: 13 miles one_way
  • Min Elev: 3200 ft
  • Max Elev: 6240 ft
  • Season: Summer/Fall

Scenery: 4

Difficulty: 3

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The trail begins near milepost 159 on Washington State Route 20 (The North Cascades Highway). This is just over one mile east of Rainy Pass. Parking is on the north side of the road, the trail begins on the south side of the road.

Trail Description

This is a great hike, which leads over Bowman Pass and down to Rainbow Lake.

Mile 0
The trail leaves Highway 20 on the south side of the road.

Mile 0.8
Trail splits, stay right on the PCT. The trail soon crosses the creek. There is a nice small campsite just across the bridge.

Mile 3.5
Side trail to the left which leads to Fireweed Camp.

Mile 5.7
Side trail to Hideaway camp. There are nice views up and across the valley through this stretch of trail.

Mile 7.2
The trail forks, take the left fork as it descends towards the creek. This area is great bear habitat, we sent one running as he was enjoying the berries in a bush adjacent to the trail.

Mile 7.5
The trail enters the South Fork Camp. There are several nice campsites along the creek. The trail continues through the creek (ankle to mid-calf deep and pretty mellow).

Mile 7.6
After the creek crossing, the trail begins climbing up the South Fork Valley.

Mile 9
Dan's Camp - We didn't investigate this campsite too much. There is of course at least one campsite, a bear wire, and a pit toilet.

Mile 9.1
Trail enters the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The trail steepens just after the boundary, and there are some very nice views to the west towards McGregor Mountain and the Sandales Glacier.

Mile 10.7
The trail enters a nice park-like area below Bowman Mountain. There is a campsite as the trail enters this area (and additional areas to camp can probably be found in this basin). The trail soon crosses the creek, and begins it's ascent up towards Rainbow Pass.

Mile 12.5
The trail reaches Bowman Pass. The hike up isn't too steep, and the views are nice to the north. The pass is actually pretty flat with good views. While we were there (late August), there was a good snow patch with a sizable meltwater pool alongside the trail. There is also some flat areas that could work as campsites if needed.

Mile 13.1
After descending on an open, south-facing slope, the trail reaches Rainbow Lake. There are numerous campsites at the lake, as well as a pit-toilet. There are a couple of additional small lakes just up the valley. You can return the way you came, or combine this trail with the McAlester Pass trail to form a nice loop trip.


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