Backpacking on the West Fork Foss Trail - Central Cascades

By Jarrett Retz -August 23rd, 2019

This will just be a brief trip report about a recent backpacking trip with some friends and family into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the West Fork Foss Trail. This area offers many campsites on a variety of lakes, and we spent two nights at Copper Lake. Below are some quick stats, information, notables, and pictures.

  • Two nights (August 17-19, 2019)
  • Total Mileage: 16 miles
  • Trailhead: West Fork Foss Trail (Northwest Forest Pass Required)
  • Permits/Fees: No backcountry fees. Fill out permit at trailhead.
  • Other:
    • Each of us had a bear vault, even though, they were not required. No bear wire or poles were available.
    • Pretty big parking lot. However, when we arrived midday on Saturday it was at capacity.
    • Found a campsite very quickly at Copper Lake. The sites seemed fairly spread out (not clustered in one area). This was apparent at Copper, Little, and Big Heart.
    • Parks Service Ranger checked our permit Saturday evening, and reminded us about trying to use the backcountry toilets, avoiding impact, and picking up micro-trash.
    • Filtering water was easy. Streams flowed out all the lakes so we never went without.
    • Toilets were spread out nicely. There is one at the trailhead, one on the northeast end of Copper (I do not know if there was one at Little Heart I did not see campsite area), and two at Big Heart.

Day 1: West Fork Foss Trailhead - Copper Lake

  • 4.2 miles total
  • Elevation: +2,900 ft. -500 ft.
  • Humid & Overcast for the majority of the day. Clouds seemed to roll in-and-out, but the majority of the sky was covered.
  • Trail is in good shape. No downed trees to maneuver around. One bridge was a little slanted. Some mud and slick areas. Noticed a decent amount of 'step-ups'.
  • Camped at Copper Lake in a big site (plenty of room for three tents and a hammock), about a 20-second walk after toilet trail. There is a site up next to the toilet actually (not right next to it but off same trail).
    • No campfires
    • No bear wire/poles
    • Privy at north end of lake
  • Bugs were out. We knew it was going to be bad so we brought head nets. They were not as bad as people had said, but very noticeable.
  • It was a little difficult to find hammock spot where we were, but there are plenty of trees in most spots.

Day 2: Copper Lake - Atrium Peak

  • 7.47 miles out-and-back. We didn't break down camp the second night—camped in the same spot—so this was more a day hike. The ups-and-downs of the trail are spread out fairly consistently as one hikes from lake-to-lake.
  • Elevation: +4,200 ft. -4,200 ft.
  • Sunny, great day to hike. Had no trouble seeing Glacier Peak, Malachite Peak, and peaks to the south in the cascades (that I did not know the names of).
  • Atrium Peak is the highpoint on the ridge between Angeline & Big Heart. I believe the peak's elevation is about 5,200 ft.
  • Trail was in great conditionuntil we passed Big Heart Lake. There is an incline past the Big Heart outlet that is fine, but soon after the trail gets rough. More attention needs to be paid to splitter trails, and some branches get in the way. I will note, this part of the trail was more difficult than I imagined it would be.
  • More trail conditions. It also became muddy and steep in some areas after Big Heart. If we had our packs (glad we didn't!) it would have been slow hiking.
  • The outlet from Big Heart Lake is a great spot to filter water, and there are two backcountry toilets in the area. One on the downhill approaching Big Heart, and another on the other side of the outlet.

Day 3: Copper Lake - West Fork Foss Trailhead

  • 4.2 miles total
  • Elevation: +500 ft. -2900 ft.
  • Foggy & Overcast. It was nice to have some cloud coverage.
  • Uneventful hike out. The trail is wet and muddy in some areas, and we took extra precaution. It caused the descent to take a little longer than it normally would, but we'll take that tradeoff for increased safety.

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