a color explosion | chiwaukum (lake ethel backpack)

17 miles . 5500 ft gain . 6100 ft high

Let it be known, my love for color. Specifically autumn colors in the mountains! It’s always been a dream of mine to go backpacking in the fall and having the time this year, Cleo and I decided to check out the Chiwaukum area in search of larches. Since we were planning on a chill, shorter overnight trip, we started hiking late afternoon. It was pretty cool to hike through a deforested section of land. The whole hike in, there were no larches to be seen, though a random few yellow trees would pop out here and there. But the rest of the plants! Reds and oranges were popping out like no other, so we definitely got the fall feel.

Lake Ethel

Surprised by how tired we got, we decided to stop at the first lake and set up camp there. We found several flat camp spots around the lake and randomly chose one not too far from the trail. When we took a little break over to check out the lake, ooh wow, the opposite side was brimming with colors! But in my chill state of mind, I honestly didn’t take too many pictures and just enjoyed it with my eyes in the present.

In the morning, it was too cloudy to properly enjoy a sunrise, so we took a lazy time to get going. We decided to wander over to the other lakes and find where more of the larches were. After all, this was supposed to be a larch backpacking trip! The few larches near our camp site just weren’t quite enough to wow us. As we descended down to the second lake, we found a few more backpackers and began our larch immersion.

Loch Eileen
Larch Madness

This area of the Chiwaukum was starkly different than the larch growth area in the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness. Fall colors were more abundant (as were blueberries), and the larches grown here are more spread apart. Initially, I wanted to get to the top of the ridge, but the closer we got, the more I got enthralled by the beauty of fall colors. This stream that led into the third lake was flowing through the most glorious colors. So much that I decided not to continue up the ridge and just wander along the stream. We set our packs down and started feasting on the largest mountain blueberries I’ve had. I couldn’t believe that they were still ripe this late in the season!

Lake Donald
Fall colors

Cleo started reading her book again as I walked around, taking pictures everywhere. I think I was too overwhelmed by the colors to take proper pictures. To really get a feel for this, a video or 3D IMAX would be the only way to convey this without being there in person. Anywhere I turned, I had a whole array of colors. Looking up, looking down, looking around, just wow. I wandered back down to the lake and up further to where the stream starts burrowing under the ground and then back to where Cleo was sitting.

We eventually packed up again, took a detour to a 4th lake and headed back to our camp. We had a few more miles to head down. And we wanted to get back home by dinner, we needed to get going. Surprisingly packing up camp took no more than 15 minutes and we were back at the car in 30% less time than it took going up. It was a nice change in pace and effort!


  • Very easy to follow the trail systems here and when scrambling around, there’s also cairns to follow to get around without trampling plants!
  • We camped by Lake Ethel and there’s many camp spots and big enough for some large groups too.
  • It’s not particularly scenic of a hike till you get to the lakes, but well worth it.

Photos shot on Canon 5D Mark IV, 50 mm

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