Hikes that seemed daunting in summer become more approachable in the crisp autumn. Lake of the Angels is perhaps one of the most difficult and challenging day hikes in the Olympics for the seasoned hiker, but the rewards make it worth the effort.
Don’t let the seemingly modest 3.5 miles to the lake fool you; this is a relentless climb that never lets up for the entire 3,358 feet of elevation it gains. It takes most people four hours to make the trek, and almost four more hours coming back down. You’ll want to get an early start and allow yourself plenty of time to catch your breath and rest your legs.
The journey begins on the USFS Putvin trail No. 813. It’s named for Carl Putvin, who was a 21-year-old trapper who died in the snow while searching for food. He lived in a cabin near the lake with his wife and toddler son. A modest grave marker can be found along the start of the trail near where his body was found.
The trail begins in a lush forest where large moss- covered boulders and tall trees line the gentle path. The 900 feet of elevation gained in the first 1.3 miles are spread out and don’t seem excessive. Use this time to hydrate and make sure that your muscles are stretched out, because it is only going to get tougher.
Things get more challenging during the next mile, where the trail gains 1,000 feet and can be slippery and rocky in spots. You’ll find brief respites and lovely meadows where you can stop and admire the majestic views of Mount Washington and other Olympic Mountain peaks.
Soon you’ll be pulling yourself up the rocky trail with your hands, grasping roots of ancient trees and rock ledges to help propel yourself upward. This is when you realize that you are climbing the “headwall.” It’s not a massive wall, which one suddenly encounters and prepares to ascend as the name implies, and does not require technical climbing skills, but rather a place you find yourself and suddenly realize, “This is it!” as you gaze at the rock face that you didn’t notice until you were upon it. More reaches and pulls will propel you above it.
You’ve conquered the headwall and are entering the Valley of Heaven, where a flat trail winds through lush meadows and a panoramic view of the Olympics and Cascades as well as the Hamma Hamma River Valley leading to Hood Canal. This area is home to wildlife, including bears, deer, fox, marmots, and a variety of birds.
Game trails and streams cross the lush meadows. When you come to the Pond of the False Prophet, you’ll need to be certain to trek to the left and continue northwest to follow the main trail. Soon you will see a sign that marks the entry into Olympic National Park. You’ll begin the final ascent, a mere 338 feet up a series of steep switchbacks, before the trail meanders along a gentle path. In the fall, this section of the trail is lined with juicy huckleberries.
When you round the final bend, you’ll see what you worked so hard for — Lake of the Angels sparkles beneath the towering backdrop of Mount Skykomish. Small waterfalls surround it, as do lush greenery and rocky crags where you may see mountain goats.
The challenging trek to Lake of the Angels will leave you feeling accomplished, exhausted, and amazed. And then you have quite the hike down.
About those goats
Seeing a mountain goat in the wild is exciting, and best experienced through binoculars or a zoom lens on your camera. Encounters with goats have injurious and sometimes fatal consequences for both humans and goats. For this reason, it is important to avoid contact and/or close encounters with them. Always stay at least 50 yards (half the length of a football field) away from goats.
Goats are attracted to salt. It is very important to urinate away from the trail and overlooks where humans congregate. It is also important that you don’t leave sweaty backpacks unattended. Never feed goats or let them lick you or your equipment. Goats are aggressive during their breeding season (rut) in fall. Extra caution is advised. Report goat encounters to the nearest ranger station.
Good to Know:
Round trip: 7 miles
Elevation: 3,358 feet
Map: Green Trails The Brothers No. 169 and Mount Steel N 167, or Custom Correct Mount Skokomish-Lake Cushman
How to Get There: From Hoodsport, travel U.S. 101 north for 14 miles. At milepost 318 turn left (west) onto the Hamma Hamma River Road (Forest Road 25). Continue for 12 miles (the first 7.5 miles of which is paved) to the trailhead.