In September, my wife Regan and I had planned a hike in the North Cascades but a spate of wildfires made that hike impossible. When the smoke cleared two days into what was to have been a five-day trip, we decided to cross a shorter hike off our bucket list and set out for a tour of Waptus, Spade, and Venus lakes.
The trail to the three lakes starts from the Salmon La Sac trailhead, about 16 miles north of the quaint town of Roslyn, and passes along the eastern shore of the expansive Cle Elum Lake. After leaving the trailhead, the only people we encountered were a dozen or so people hiking out so we were hopeful the lakes wouldn’t be crowded. We stopped along the Waptus River about five miles in and enjoyed lunch.
Shortly before arriving at Waptus Lake, there is a river crossing. This late in the year the water is shallow, and the crossing was easy, but the cold water felt good on my sore feet.
We made our way along the east side of the lake and found a perfect spot with a little private beach. We took a dip in the “refreshing” water after some considerable self-encouragement and swam around until our lips turned blue.
After our swim, we warmed ourselves with some cocoa on a log and chatted while we watched the sun set over the mountains.
We took our time getting ready Monday morning, enjoying our coffee and tea on a log on our own little private beach before packing up and making our way a short distance to the Spade Lake intersection. This section of trail was described as a “quad burner” in a trip report I had read, and we agreed with the assessment. We gained nearly 3,000 feet in about three miles of densely wooded forest before the ground evened out beneath our feet and the views opened up above our heads. From up here, the previously enormous-seeming Waptus was now just a quaint, distant sub-alpine lake and the mountain range we had been admiring the night before was now welcoming us.
We quickly set up camp and with a few hours of daylight left, decided to make a quick trip a little farther north to check out Venus Lake. The trail to Venus follows the eastern shore of Spade Lake. Once you reach the southern end of Spade you begin a quick 500+ foot ascent up a steep footpath and onto a large granite face. Walking up the rock is not difficult, though it seems apparent that if it were to start to rain, you would be riding, rather than walking, your way back down the mountain.
After gaining the top of the granite face, we crossed the small stream that pours out from Venus. Venus Lake does indeed feel like you are wandering the landscape of a barren planet.
A hiker we met on the way up to Spade told us that if we made it to Venus, we should check out the saddle along the western bank. At first, looking in that direction, all we could see was a field of loose shale but looking closer you can just make out a faint boot path. This being an unplanned side-trip, we weren’t sure what to expect. The other side of the saddle opens up to a staggering panorama featuring the valley below Hinman Mountain to the right and Bear’s Breast Mountain and the surrounding peaks to the left. After snapping some pics, we turned around and made our way back down the granite and back to camp.
Though it had been a little overcast all day, we decided to leave the rainfly mostly off the tent in case there was a chance of clear skies and starlight. The tent site was nicely protected and we both slept so warm we were soon removing layers and unzipping our bags. Around 5 am, we awoke to crystal clear night skies and stars galore.
The next morning, we got up a little before sunrise and the clouds had moved back in. The descent is yet another “quad-burner”. It rained off and on for most of the trip down, but happily by the time we reached Waptus Lake for lunch, it was warm enough for us to stop by our original campsite for a quick dip. Nothing breaks up a long hike like soaking achy muscles in frigid lake water!
Even though the hike back out is mostly flat and uneventful, by the time we were down to our last three miles our feet and legs were protesting. To drown them out, we started singing out every song we can think of that we both knew the words to. The list was surprisingly short, but the singing was effective in getting us back to the car.
Spade Lake is one of those rare gems in Washington that is both well-known but not over-traveled. The trail between Spade Lake and Venus Lake can even be a bit of a bushwhack. Because of its distance from the trailhead, few people attempt the entire trip in a day, especially in the early fall. And because the trail from Waptus Lake to Spade Lake is so steep, most people prefer to leave their overnight packs at camp in Waptus and see Spade and Venus Lakes as a day hike. If you’re willing to get an early start and make a long day of it or, better yet, have time to spend an evening at beautiful Waptus Lake before schlepping your overnight pack up to Spade Lake, you can enjoy one of Washington’s most beautiful destinations to yourself.
When visiting these pristine lakes, please be respectful of the land and recreate responsibly so we can all continue to enjoy the area!