Hike of the Week: Salmon la Sac to Spade and Venus Lakes

Hike of the Week: Salmon la Sac to Spade and Venus Lakes

Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week we aim to inspire you to get out there and explore some of the best hikes the world has to offer. From climbing one of the highest summits in America to jetting across the world to hike some of New Zealand's most remote peaks, we've got the motivation and logistics you need to plan your next great adventure!

This week's hike highlights Salmon la Sac to Spade and Venus Lakes in Washington's popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Why this Hike?

This 3-day hike in Washington's Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will take you along both moderate and difficult sections of trail with plenty of stream and river crossings in-between. You'll find great views of rapids and even some waterfalls on your ascent and be rewarded with the most stunning, mirror-like lakes around at your final destination.

  • 28 miles round trip (out and back trail)
  • 2,300 feet of elevation gain
  • Rated as difficult for the steep 4-mile climb between Waptus Lake and Spade Lake. The rest of the trail is moderate.
  • The trail is fairly straight forward without many turn-offs
  • Visit two of the most remote, pristine lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and enjoy the gorgeous scenery and sunsets mirrored in their calm waters
  • Many hiker-made/established campsites
  • Plenty of water sources along the route

Before you pack your bags, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • May-October is the best time to go, but you might stick to May, September, and October to avoid the worst of the bugs. They get bad enough during the summer months that hikers have recommended bringing a head net.
  • It is a very steep climb with few switchbacks between Waptus Lake and Spade Lake. Expect to climb 2,330 feet in 4 miles.
  • The path to Venus Lake from Spade Lake can be difficult to follow over the rocks.
  • There are many river crossings, including a 100-foot section of river that you must use the horse ford to cross due to the hikers' bridge being out. Use caution as the rocks below can be tricky to navigate and the water is extremely cold, even in the middle of summer.

How do I get there?

If you will be flying into the area, the closest airport is Seattle-Tacoma International, which is a little under a 2-hour drive to the trailhead at Salmon La Sac. You can also use Bellingham (3-hour drive) or Tri-Cities in Pasco, Washington (2 hours 45 minutes).

From Seattle, take I-90 East all the way to exit 80 in Kittitas County. Head north on WA-903 until you reach Salmon La Sac Road. If you are coming from further north in Bellingham, take I-5 south to I-90 and proceed the same way as above. From Pasco in the southeast, take I-82 W and I-90 W to Oakes Avenue in Cle Elum. Take exit 84 from I-90. Take WA-903 to Salmon La Sac Road.


The following map outlines our recommended route.

For this trip, we recommend a 3-day, 2-night hike so you have more time to really enjoy the beauty of this area.

  • Day 1: Trailhead to Waptus Lake (9 miles)
  • Day 2: Waptus Lake to Venus and Spade Lakes (4 miles
  • Day 3: Return to Salmon La Sac Trailhead (13 miles)

Trail Description

Beginning at the Salmon La Sac Trailhead (though you will actually be on the Waptus River Trail for the majority of your trip), your first day's hike is an easy one amongst the towering trees (though the trail can also be very exposed at times) and alongside the Waptus River for several miles. There is very little elevation gain. (About 700ft) You will come across a river crossing at mile 8, which has a water level around knee-high. There are plenty of campsites to choose from once you reach Waptus Lake. Watch out for wildlife that may be a little too friendly, such as mice. Bears have also been reported in the area. Don't forget to use your bear canisters!

Though it is only 4 miles to Spade Lake, Day 2 will likely be the most difficult. Make sure to filter plenty of water for use on this portion. Once you pass the Pacific Trail Crest intersection a short distance from Waptus Lake, you're now on the Spade Lake trail and your climb gets rocky and steep with over 2,300ft of elevation gain straight up. Some cliff edges have been reported as “sketchy”, so make sure to exercise caution and take your time if needed. They do provide great vantage points for picture-taking, though. Once you reach the magnificent views of Spade Lake, take a much-needed break, set up camp (no fires here or anywhere above 5,000ft elevation in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness), and go exploring the even more remote Venus Lake. 

Near the back right side of Spade Lake, there will be an obscure path that leads to Venus Lake. As you follow it, make sure to stay to the right of the stream that flows down from above. You'll find a lot of rock scrambling along this portion of the trail. It is suggested to plan for a few hours from Spade to Venus Lake to account for hiking and exploring time.

On your third day of hiking, you will be retracing your steps back to the Salmon La Sac Trailhead. Depending on your usual hiking pace and whether you want to further explore some areas on the way back, you might consider getting an early start this day as it is a 13-mile trip back.

What will I need?

It gets pretty chilly at night year-round, so make sure you bring an appropriate sleeping bag or quilt for the average summer lows of 25-35°F! Of course, having a quality, but comfortable, sleeping pad always helps keep heat from leeching at night as well. 

A Thermodown 15 quilt and ReCharge XL sleeping pad are perfect for the cooler shoulder season in the Cascades.

On the other hand, if you're planning your trip during the summer “bug season”, a lightweight mesh bivy and tarp may the best choice for shelter.

For the rocky, narrow edges of the trail, lightweight trekking poles can be a lifesaver. 

It goes without saying that you won't want to forget your bear canisters or bug spray at home for this trip either!

For a comprehensive list of what to pack for your trip, be sure to check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!

Do I need a permit?

Alpine Lakes Wilderness permits are required. However, they are free and available at the trailhead, where you can register for one yourself.


Salmon La Sac Trailhead Permit Information
Photos, Reviews, Trail Information, Etc
Alpine Lakes Wilderness Info


The trail to Spade and Venus Lakes is a great mixture of easy and challenging hiking, making it the perfect hike for any intermediate or experienced hiker. Between the length and numerous campsites to take advantage of, you can easily shorten this trip as well if you have time constraints ... but why would you want to with the remote, picturesque lakes all around you?!?

Have you hiked to Spade Lake via the Waptus River Trail or any other trails in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness? What other hikes would you like us to write about? Leave your comments or suggestions below!

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