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Jade Lake & Marmot Lake | Epic 20-Mile Backpacking Trip

Jake & Em standing in front of Jade Lake

Jade Lake is one of the most majestic lakes you might ever witness, but getting to it is no easy task. From the long bumpy dirt road, challenging terrain, relentless bugs, river crossings, and scree fields, hiking to Jade Lake and Marmot Lake is quite the adventure. And not to mention the small window of time when there isn’t snow on the trail.  

This trek is only recommended for experienced hikers in good shape, because the final push up to Jade Lake is a steep rocky ascent. But for those who do make the trip, it will be worth the adventure. There are several lakes along the way that are beautiful, but Jade Lake is the real show-stopper. The vibrant blue water and craggy mountains are simply breathtaking. Let’s dive into everything you need to know about backpacking to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake. 

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Permits & Pass Requirements For Jade Lake & Marmot Lake:

A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead for Jade Lake & Marmot Lake. You can order one online before traveling or pick one up from a local vendor. You DO NOT need an advanced permit to backpack to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake. But, you also need to register before hiking which is located at the beginning of the trail. We suggest just filling it out on your way.

the reflection of Jade Lake on the stunning aqua blue water
Early morning reflections at Jade Lake

Stats Of Jade & Marmot Lake:

Distance: 20.7 miles

Elevation: 4284 feet

Difficulty: Hard

Type: Out & back

Permit: No

Bathroom: At Trailhead

Dogs: Yes

Join Us On The Hike Via Our Vlog!

Join us on our vlog as we hike up this epic 20-mile backpacking trip to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake. 

Trailhead For Jade Lake & Marmot Lake:

a camper van crossing over the creek heading to the Jade Lake Trailhead
River Crossing for Jade Lake & Marmot Lake Trailhead

Getting to the trailhead for Jade Lake & Marmot Lake is an adventure in itself. 

Once you reach the town of Cle Elum, you will turn off I-90. The road begins down a paved road (Salmon La Sac Road) for 20 miles until you reach the Historic 1900’s Railroad Depot Building. Then you will turn slightly right onto NF-4330 (Cle Elum Valley Rd) and continue on this road for 12 miles. Prepare for a long, bumpy, and many potholes along this road.

There is only a small window in the middle of summer where the road is accessible to all vehicles. This being because there is a river crossing about 3 miles before reaching the trailhead. This river crossing can be impassable by passenger cars during spring and early summer. 

Earlier in the summer, depending on the water level it may be necessary to have high clearance, 4×4, and even a vehicle snorkel. But do note that there will most likely still be snow on the trails and the lake could also be frozen.

When Is The Best Time To Backpack Jade Lake?

Jake & Emily backpacking along Hyas Lake which is the first lake on the Jade Lake & Marmot Lake Hike
Backpacking the trail along Hyas Lake

Like mentioned above, there is really only a small window to backpack to Jade Lake. The best time to go is late summer (Mid-July/August), but it might be a little crowded. Even though this hike is tough, it’s growth in popularity brings more and more people to explore this trail.

If you want to avoid the crowds, late fall or early summer is probably the best time to visit. If you choose early summer, you might want to consider either adding on miles and finding a place to park the car before the river crossing. Unless you or a friend has a car that can cross the river without flooding the engine. But that also means there will be a handful of snowy and/or high-water river crossings along the trail. Sometimes these river crossings can be impassable and/or extremely dangerous. 

You will most likely encounter snowy sections along the trail, so it’s best to have micro-spiked for these sections. Be prepared and pack all the essentials for winter hiking.  

Overall, the best time to visit Jade Lake & Marmot Lake is late July & August for the best weather. But prepare for bugs, as they seem to thrive in this area in late summer.

How Many Days Should You Plan For When Backpacking Jade & Marmot Lake:

When Jake and I did this backpacking trip, we did it as an overnight out and back trip. It CAN be done in this short time, but we HIGHLY suggest making this trip at least a 3-day adventure. I would consider Jake and I in pretty great hiking shape and high endurance. But hiking 10+ miles each day with a heavy pack on will really take it out of you.  And ultimately, we wish we had more time to enjoy the lakes along the way.

So plan for at least 3 days when backpacking to Jade Lake. You can also add in a hike to Pea Soup Lake for a day hike on your middle “rest” day. (More details below)

Start Of Jade & Marmot Lake Hike:

Start of the hike to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake
Start of the hike to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake

Now it’s time to get out on the trail and hike up to Marmot Lake & Jade Lake. First, when starting on the trail you will quickly run into the registration booth. There are usually pens and paper inside the box that ask for general information. This is just to help the National Forest Service know how many people are using the trail and for safety precautions. 

Once you fill out the registration information, the trail starts off through a beautiful Douglas Fir forest with jagged peaks in the distance. Shortly, you will come to an open meadow that will have you mesmerized right from the start. 

The path from the beginning is well-maintained and easy to follow.

Hyas Lake:

View Of Hyas Lake which is the first lake on the trail to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake
Hyas Lake

About 2 miles in you will hit the first lake of the backpacking adventure, Hyas Lake. Even this lake is stunning with blue-green water, and offers views of the Cathedral Rock, Mount Daniel, and Mount Hinman. This is seriously a treat to see so early on in the hike. We stopped here for a little break, but the mosquitoes were pretty bad and we had to keep moving. 

There are a handful of camping spots along the lake here. So if you wanted to really break the backpacking trip into a longer trip, there are some great spots along the lake you could camp either on your way in or out.

Continuing Along The Trail To Jade Lake:

Emily doing the River crossing on trail for Jade Lake & Marmot Lake
River crossing on trail for Jade Lake & Marmot Lake

After viewing Hyas Lake you continue into the forest on a well-maintained trail up to Jade Lake. There are a handful of river crossings that either have a log or rocks to help you get across without getting your feet wet. 

During early summer, some of the river crossings could be much more of a challenge. You might need to get your feet wet and have either hiking poles or a hiking stick to keep your balance. If the river crossing is covered by snow, you might want to reconsider backpacking up to Jade Lake. There will be many more as you make your way up the trail. 

About 3.5 miles on the trail, the real elevation gain begins. The trail gradually climbs up switchbacks through the forest and along an easy to follow trail. 

A little shy of 6 miles is when you will descend and sadly lose some of the elevation you just climbed. But you cross a beautiful valley, and the surrounding mountains are beautiful. Around mile 7, the elevation gain continues until you reach Jade Lake. 

The trail can be a little overgrown in certain sections, but still easy to follow. Be prepared to have to climb under or over trees that have fallen. This can be especially challenging with a heavy pack.

Spur Trails To Be Aware Of:

Backpacking To Jade Lake & Marmot Lake are not the only two hikes along this trail. Another popular backpacking trip is to Tuck & Robin Lake which breaks away from the trail just after mile 4. 

There is another major intersection right before mile 5 toward Glacier Lake or Cathedral Rock. You want to follow the sign that leads toward Marmot Lake

The last spur trail you want to be aware of is Lake Clarice right after mile 8. Follow the trail that spurs off the left to continue to Marmot Lake. There will be a noticeable hairpin turn in the trail. At this point you are almost to Marmot Lake!

Marmot Lake:

view of Marmot Lake
Marmot Lake

You will reach Marmot Lake at about 8.5 miles into the trail to Jade Lake. Many people choose to camp here and save Jade Lake and/or Pea Soup Lake for the next day. You will notice a few spots to camp as you make your way toward Jade Lake. But I can’t say there are an abundance of campsites.

Please be respectful and give people space when camping at Marmot Lake. There aren’t very many spots, so if the campsites are all taken, ask if your neighbor would mind if you camped closeby. Or you can continue up to No Name Lake or Jade Lake. 

Continuing Up To Jade Lake:

Continuing along the trail to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake

The section from Marmot Lake to Jade Lake is probably the hardest section along the whole hike because it is a scramble up a scree field (rock field). This is the hardest part of the trail because you are no longer following a well-maintained dirt path, rather zig-zagging up large boulders. We highly suggest bringing trekking poles for this hike, and especially with rubber feet for this section in particular.

There are cairns to help guide you to the sections people have found “easier”. But when traveling back down the next day, we noticed there are cairns marking at least several different routes.

Our best suggestion is to just take your time and watch your footing. It’s only about 1 more mile to Jade Lake, but it took us about an hour. You will be pretty tired at this point if you are doing it all on day 1, but you just need to push through and get up to one of the most beautiful lakes you will ever see!

No Name Lake:

No Name Lake

The lake right before Jade Lake is No Name Lake. It is a small alpine lake that really does offer some stunning mountain views surrounding the lake. BUT, Jade Lake is less than ¼ mile from this spot, sooooo, it undoubtedly gets outshined. There are two campsites near this lake if the campsites by Jade Lake are taken. But since you hauled all your gear up here, you will probably want to check out Jade Lake first. 

Jade Lake:

A beautiful view of Jade Lake with a yellow tent to stand out
Jade Lake

You finally made it to Jade Lake! There is no doubt that Jade Lake is one of the most beautiful sights in Washington.  But the trail to get here is also packed with an abundance of beautiful sights along the way. 

Once you make it to Jade Lake, there are only a handful of campsites. The best sites are along the cliff edge of Jade Lake. There are really only 3 with legendary views of Jade Lake. But there are a few other spots set back a little farther away from the lake. 

So our best suggestion is to walk around to the edge (on a designated path) and see if a spot is available. There are noticeably a few other spots to choose from but the ground is not all flat or accessible without harming the protected meadows. 

Again, if you can’t find a spot, it’s best to ask other campers if they mind if you set up closeby. When Jake and I visited in late July, we had a hard time finding a place. We had to walk up and down the path a couple times before deciding to set up camp in an area that didn’t have a view of Jade Lake.

While we were saddened to not have that legendary view from our tent, the whole place up there offers absolutely breathtaking views. Plus we were just a short walk to views of Jade Lake. 

Emily swimming at Jade Lake
Swimming at Jade Lake

Pit Toilet At Jade Lake:

Right after you cross the hill to see the legendary view of Jade Lake there is a pit toilet to your right. There isn’t much privacy, but most people are occupied with the view! It might literally be the best view you ever witness while going to the bathroom! It’s not really a traditional composting toilet, rather just a wooden box with a hole.

Dip Top Gap To Pea Soup Lake: 

One adventure beyond Jade Lake is Pea Soup Lake. But it is definitely a challenge to get to because you have to climb straight up a snowfield on Dip Top Gap. Follow the trail around Jade lake till you reach the snowfield between the two peaks.  Then ascend up to the saddle and over the pass.

It’s best to pack crampons & trekking poles for this portion of the hike so you can have solid traction along the snowfield. Do be extra cautious, as the snow can be melting underneath and can be dangerous to climb upon.

The hike is about an additional 2+ miles round trip from the end of Jade Lake and 1200 feet elevation gain. 

We really only suggest adding this portion of the hike if you plan to do this as a 3-day backpacking trip. 

Hiking Back Down To The Jade Lake Trailhead:

A view of Marmot Lake leaving Jade Lake
A view of Marmot Lake leaving Jade Lake

The hike back down to the trailhead requires you to retrace your steps on this out & back trail. Just keep note that there are a few spur trails as we listed above. There will be signs directing you back to the parking lot to help.

Bear Safety At Jade Lake & Marmot Lake:

Jade Lake & Marmot Lake are in bear country, so there are a few important tips to know. You should carry bear spray with you and have it easily accessible. For all food and scented items, you should have either a Bear Canister or a bear proof bag to hang out of reach of a bear.

We always recommend a bear canister, because the trees at high elevations are rarely ever adequate for a proper bear hang.

Learn more about Bear Safety and hiking in bear country.

 What To Pack For Jade Lake & Marmot Lake:

Packing for a 20-mile backpacking trip takes some advanced planning. One must-pack item on this backpacking adventure to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake are bug nets. I’ve never had such a horrid experience with bugs. It honestly almost ruined the experience all together for us, because the mosquitoes and flies were relentless. So absolutely pack a face bug net, and consider even packing some netted jacket & pants

For the best backpacking essentials guide, check out our backpacking checklist

Leave No Trace At Jade Lake & Marmot Lake:

Beautiful Rock Wall At Jade Lake

It’s extremely important to know the rules out in nature. Those who venture into the backcountry have the responsibility to understand and follow Leave No Trace principles.

It’s all about leaving nature better than we found it and protecting it from further damage. Please follow the pack it in, pack it out rules. Even consider erasing a trace by picking up trash along the trail if you see any. Anything you bring needs to make it back to your vehicle with you. 

As mentioned above, there is a toilet up at Jade Lake. Please use it for going #2. If you need to use the restroom for #2 anywhere other than Jade Lake, dig a hole 6 inches deep, and make sure it is at least 200 feet away from any water source and hiking trail. Please bury any used toilet paper or pack it out with you. 

Also no fires are allowed above 4,000 feet which means no fires are allowed at Jade Lake & Marmot Lake. 

Where To Refill Water

You probably won’t be able to carry all the water you need. So we recommend carrying a water filter for filtering water from the streams or lakes. Our go-to water filter is the Platypus Gravityworks Water Filter System.

You should have no problem finding a place to refill water. There is practically flowing water every 5 minutes along the trail.  And there are tons of little streams feeding into the lakes.

We both hiked in with about 2 liters on the way up to Jade Lake. On a hot summer day, this was just enough to keep us hydrated up to Jade Lake.

Once we made camp, we had no problem finding a nearby stream to filter water for that night and the next day’s hike out.

Takeaway | Epic 20-Mile Backpacking Trip:

Backpacking to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake is one of the most stunning backpacking trips we’ve ever been on. Although it does take some effort to get to this beautiful Washington sight, the adventure out there will be worth it. There are so many beautiful sights to see along the trail which makes it one of my favorites.

But I must absolutely say, BRING BUG NETS! We came unprepared and the bugs kind of ruined the experience for us. If we had a little better protection from mosquitos, then we could have enjoyed the lakes a bit more. I hope this guide helps you learn everything you need to know about backpacking to Jade Lake & Marmot Lake.

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Ultimate Washington Road Trip Guide | 2-Week Itinerary - tworoamingsouls

Saturday 30th of April 2022

[…] The main reason we leave this backpacking trip out from this Washington Road Trip Guide is because it will take up about 3+ days of your road trip. And there is just so many amazing stops along this trip that we don’t want you to miss out on. We did the backpacking trip as a 2 day trip, but we would most definitely suggest doing it as a 3 day trip if possible. (AND BRING BUG NETS). We were absolutely exhausted when we got back, so we had a whole rest day before moving on to the next adventure. But with that being said, it is absolutely one of the most stunning aqua blue lakes we have ever witnessed. So if you crave an absolute adventure, then check out our Jake Lake & Marmot Lake Backpacking Guide. […]