Backpacking to Tuck, Robin, and Marmot Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
24.1 miles roundtrip, 4700′ elevation gain
September 3rd-5th, 2015
Day 1: Trailhead to Robin Lakes (7 miles, 2800′ elevation gain)
We decided to take a couple days off work and do a multi-day backpacking trip in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness towards the beginning of Labor Day weekend. We had been wanting to get up to Tuck and Robin lakes for a while now. Given it’s popularity we figured this would be a great destination for a mid-week trip and we were correct! We slept in Thursday morning and left Seattle around 9 am. We made it to the trailhead at the end of the Cle Elum River around 11:30 am. The drive to the trailhead was gorgeous and we were surprised at the number of cabins deep in the woods off this forest road. The road was suitable for all vehicles but does include a creek crossing. The creek crossing was dry for us on the way in and out, but we can see how it could be raging during spring snow-melt. We were the sixth car in the parking lot and we got started down the trail at 11:45 am.
The beginning of the Deception Pass Trail follows the shores of Hyas Lake up the valley, but it never is really right along the lake. The views of Cathedral Rock are quite stunning as you walk along this part of the trail. We only saw a couple of horseback riders along this part of the trail and it was peaceful. The cool and slightly moist weather was also a relief after such a hot summer. Once the trail makes it past Little Hyas Lake, it starts to gradually switchback up towards Deception Pass. We got our first glimpse of the glaciers on Mount Daniel at this point and the views would only get better. We saw one solo hiker on his way down from Robin Lakes and he was reporting some snow from the night before. This got us excited! We turned off at the junction for Robin and Tuck Lakes at 2 pm.
The trail up to Tuck Lake was rough and tough with lots of steep roots and rocks. The increasingly spectacular views of Mount Daniel and the promise of beautiful Alpine Lakes kept us going. We reached Tuck Lake an hour and twenty minutes and 1.1 miles later. We stopped here for a break and enjoyed the incredible lake and started layering up for the first time. To continue to Robin Lakes from Tuck, just go to the right around Tuck Lake. When you hit the shore, cross the logjam, then starting heading up following Cairns along the way. This part of the hike was a lot of fun for us. There were a lot of cairns to follow and if the hike ever starts to feel like too much of a scramble then you are probably off-route. Just pause for a minute until you see another cairn. After about an hour and fifteen minutes of cairn-following, we finally crested the ridge and got our first glimpse of Lower Robin Lake.
The lake was absolutely spectacular! We scoped out the area between the lower and the upper camp to set up our tent. There was only one other group of four and a solo hiker that we had to share the entire area with for the night. I’m fairly confident that we ended up with the best campsite in the whole area. We had Upper Robin Lake out our front door and Lower Robin at the rear end of our tent along with Mount Daniel, Cathedral Rock, and Mount Rainier even made an appearance. We even had a plethora of smooth rocks to sprawl out on while we cooked. This may be the most stunning place we have ever pitched our tent!
It was past five at this point and starting to get cold. Once we had the tent pitched, Maggie had to spend some time warming up in her sleeping bag before going about the usual evening backpacking routine. The rest of the evening was spent admiring the spectacular scenery, staying warm, and eating. We threw in some extra layers and we were glad we did as it dipped into the 30’s at night and there were even some snow flurries.
Although we hung most of our food, we were woken by what we thought were mountain goats messing with our packs. I peaked my head out the tent to check it out and saw nothing, but the noise by our packs persisted. I hit them with a hiking pole and a little mouse scurried away. We had left a few snacks in our packs because we were too cold to re-hang our bag and that must have attracted the critter. I moved the packs into the vestibule and we didn’t have any problems the rest of the night. We found out from our neighbor the next morning that a critter had stolen one of his candy bars at night. This was a good reminder why we hang our food.
Day 2: Robin Lakes to Marmot Lake (7.6 miles, 1200′ elevation gain)
We awoke to a cold, but clear morning with the morning light highlighting the glaciers on Mount Daniel. As we were cooking breakfast and chatting with our neighbor, a couple families of Goats decided to make an appearance. Two adult goats and four babies came strutting down from the ridge above and meandered within ten feet of our camp. Compared to the baby goats at Lake Ingalls that we saw a few weeks back, these babies had definitely grown to be bigger. It was fun to watch them go about their morning routine. Before breaking camp, we hiked up the ridge above Upper Robin Lakes to get a glance at the Granite Mountain Potholes. They were very pretty and the views stretched a ways to the north as we could see all the way into the Glacier Peak Wilderness. There were a few nice, flat campsites up this way as well that would be good spots on a busy weekend.
We got back to camp, packed up and started down towards Tuck Lake. Our legs and knees felt the descent down to Tuck Lake and we arrived there at noon. As we took a break for lunch, the clouds started to roll in with some light rain. We began to run into a good number of people that were out for the long weekend as we made our way down the rough and tumble trail back to the Deception Pass Trail. We were pleasantly surprised that all of the logs had been cleared that morning by a WTA crew on the trail, making the ascent way easier for all the people hiking the opposite direction of us. We would have liked these logs to be cleared on the way up, but nevertheless we greatly appreciate the work of the WTA trail crew!
We hit the intersection with the Deception Pass Trail and turned right to continue our journey. We passed Deception Pass at 2 pm and continued on the trail towards Marmot Lake. After the long descent from Robin Lakes we were really feeling our heavy packs at this point and began to question if we would be able to make it to our planned destination of Jade Lake for the night.
The trail from Deception Pass towards Marmot Lake was beautiful and we felt like we were really out in the wilderness. We hiked through a number of very large avalanche paths and marveled at the size of some of the trees that had been sheared off at their bases due to the snow. The creeks we hiked over were also amazingly clear, reinforcing our feeling of wilderness. We reached Marmot Lake at 4:30 pm and decided it would be our destination for the night. There was already a tent pitched at the main campsite and we knew the group of four from Robin Lakes was just behind us, so we continued down the lake to see if we could find a more secluded site. There were a few sites, but they weren’t very flat. We ended up back near the main camping area, but still had a nice, secluded spot. It sprinkled rain a little bit in the evening, but otherwise was nice and cold. We enjoyed dinner on the shore of the lake and slept well at night. The knees were not feeling great and we decided it would be best to hike out the next day.
Day 3: Marmot Lake to Trailhead (9.5 miles, 700′ elevation gain)
We got an early start hiking out and the trail was very peaceful in the morning. We began running into weekend hikers headed out towards Marmot and Jade Lakes about halfway down the trail to Deception Pass. We hadn’t seen much wildlife on this trail besides chipmunks until we ran into a large deer. We made it back to the Deception Pass Trail and began to be greeted by the hordes of people out for the weekend. It made us really happy that we were out there before the weekend! We passed a lot of families along the trail to Hyas Lake. This would make a great hike for kids. We made it back to the car at 2 pm. There were a crazy number of cars at the trailhead: probably over 100!
Although the mileage doesn’t suggest it, this was a tough trip. We always find that the trails in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness can be a little deceptive when it comes to mileage and elevation gain compared to the easier trails of the National Parks. That being said, Robin Lakes was one of the most spectacular places we have ever been. Our campsite between the two lakes was incredible and definitely worth a few days away from work for a midweek visit.