More than 20 lovely lakes and tarns lie alongside or just off this scenic hike into the Indian Heaven backcountry. You can visit five of the lakes clustered in the first mile on a hike that can be done even by families with small hikers. For a longer hike, ascend through the forest to a plateau dotted with Indian Heaven’s glorious huckleberry-filled meadows and lakes and tarns, to reach sapphire-hued Blue Lake.
The trail begins in a partially-logged area but soon climbs into uncut forest of western hemlock and silver fir. Reach the wilderness boundary at 0.5 mile. Soon, after 300 feet of elevation gain, the trail squeezes between Dee and Heather lakes on the left and Thomas Lake on the right. Designated campsites are on the east and west shores of Thomas Lake, the largest and most scenic lake of this group. It is stocked with brook trout.
Continue on the trail to a junction where the left fork is a short spur trail to Eunice Lake. The main trail begins to climb steeply up the ridge above Eunice Lake, which might be glimpsed through the trees. This trail was originally known as “Brader Way,” named for John Brader, an old sheepherder who grazed his flocks in the Indian Heaven high meadows until 1944.
The trail levels out and passes through the first of many meadows. The trail climbs again, passing an unmarked spur trail over the ridge to the right to Brader Lake. When you reach small Naha Lake on your right, you will know that most of the climbing is done. The trail soon leads out of the forest into heather and huckleberry meadows, with East Crater visible ahead above the trees.
At 2.1 miles, reach a well-signed, sharp right turn in the trail. Rock Lake is straight ahead through the trees, so you might want to pause here for a look.
The scenery from Rock Lake to Blue Lake is stunning, some of the finest Indian Heaven landscape. The trail proceeds southeast through a paradise of small lakes and park-like meadows. Natural earth mound gardens dot the meadows. Lake Umtux, on the right, is the largest and one of the few named lakes. There actually are 13 lakes located on or near the trail in the Umtux complex.
This landscape was created by the Indian Heaven volcanic field. Lava once flowed from the numerous volcanic cones, such as East Crater, that rise above the plateau.
At 2.7 miles, the trail descends into the forest and arrives at Sahalee Tyee Lake in 0.3 mile, losing 100 feet of elevation. This lake, more than 25 feet deep, is believed to be in the crater of an ancient volcano. This is an area where Native Americans built slow-burning fires in trenches, preserving berries for later use by drying them over the radiant heat. The lake’s name is translated loosely in Chinook Jargon as “the chief’s high, heavenly ground” and was the original name for the entire Indian Heaven country.
Descend another 0.2 mile to Blue Lake, backed by the cliffs of Gifford Peak, and in 3.3 miles, meet the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail at the southeast corner of the lake. Designated campsites are located around the lake.
If you want more hiking, check out small Tombstone Lake on a 0.3-mile spur trail off the PCT to the southeast of Blue Lake. The lake likely got its name from the rock jutting out of the small lake, which to some, resembles a tombstone you might see in an old cemetery.
Pro-Tip: Wait for the mosquitoes to diminish before visiting. In late summer and early fall, the area bursts with bountiful berries and vivid colors.