The United States Congress designated the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (map
) in 1976 and it now has a total of 391,988 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Washington
and is managed by the Forest Service.
More than 700 lakes and mountain ponds fill practically every low spot in the glacier-carved terrain of this Wilderness. Valleys thick with trees give way to rocky ridges and rugged peaks along the crest of the Cascades, some slopes permanently cloaked with snowfields. Diverse is the word that best describes the Alpine Lakes: from wet forests of Douglas fir, cedar, and western hemlock understoried with salal and berries at lower elevations on the western side; to true firs and mountain hemlock opened by extensive meadows matted with low growth; to the crest and 180 inches of precipitation per year (largely as snow); countered by spruce, whitebark pine, and larch on the eastern side; and ending farther down with a dry forestland of ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine understoried by grasses and dampened by as little as 10 inches of annual precipitation.
Prior to designation, aggressive mining and logging operations punched numerous access roads into the area, creating a wildly irregular boundary to this very popular (read: overcrowded) area, but one still deserving of its Wilderness classification.
The Enchantment Lakes region of the southeast portion boasts the Cashmere Crags, which rate among the best rock-climbing sites in the western United States. Dozens of solid granite spires offer routes from the low Class 5s to 5.11, from faces as long as one lead (the length of the rope used for climbing) to 1,500 feet. Some of the names may cause you to think twice before heading up: Bloody Tower, Cruel Thumb, Cynical Pinnacle, and Crocodile Fang.
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) enters from Stevens Pass on the north to follow the crest south, with a long westward bend to Snoqualmie Pass, a distance of 67 trail miles. Hordes of people take advantage of the PCT's 450 miles or so of excellent trails. Subsequent use and abuse of the area has resulted in a permit system, which is applied to some regions of the Wilderness between June 15 and October 15. No dogs are permitted, and campfires are banned above 5,000 feet.