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11 Best Lakes in Washington

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 4, 2021

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Water defines many of the wonders of Washington state. Stunning lakes stand out among the glaciated mountains and dense green forests of the Pacific Northwest. From glacier-carved shorelines to aquamarine waters, the best lakes in Washington have a distinct look and natural appeal.

Popular activities on and around Washington's best lakes include boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, and exploring the postcard settings. A valid Washington fishing license is required for all anglers age 15 and older. Using any state park boat launch requires a fee. The Washington State Park Boating Program page has more information about boating in state parks.

Plan your freshwater fun this summer with our list of the best lakes in Washington.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Lake Crescent

Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park
Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park

Lake Crescent is one of many stunning natural features on the Olympic Peninsula within Olympic National Park. This incredibly clear and glacially carved lake is 18 miles west of Port Angeles near the Strait of Juan de Fuca shoreline. Several hiking trails and park facilities surround Lake Crescent, offering plenty for a day trip or overnight visit.

Hiking is a popular activity around the lake. One of Olympic's best hiking trails starts near the southern shore and traverses to Marymere Falls. A strenuous 2.2-mile hike up to Mount Storm King also begins on the south side of the lake, climbing more than 2,000 feet up. Both hikes start near the Storm King Ranger Station, where more information about the area is available.

Near the Storm King Ranger Station, the Lake Crescent Lodge offers a memorable place to stay at the water's edge. This historic log cabin resort, built in 1915, provides a timeless ambience of adventure and the outdoors. Other places to stay near Lake Crescent include the Fairholme Campground, with 87 sites available.

Read More: Top Things to Do in Port Angeles, WA

2. Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan
Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan is a spectacular 50.5-mile-long lake extending into the eastern flank of the North Cascades. This glacier-fed body of water attracts visitors and boaters from across the state. The tourist-friendly city of Chelan sits at the lake's southern end. It is an excellent basecamp for getting on the water.

The lake caters to all types of floating vessels, from stand up paddleboards to powerboats. Waterskiing and wakeboarding are often a go-to activity on the water. Several watercraft and boat rental companies surround the southern end near Chelan. Several marinas, public boat launches, and day-use parks also line this part of the lake.

The tiny mountain town of Stehekin is on the northern end of the lake, serving as an entrance to the North Cascades National Park Complex. No roads lead to Stehekin, and the community is only accessible by boat or seaplane. The incredible Lady of the Lake ferry offers daily service across the lake between May and October.

3. Lake Wenatchee

Lake Wenatchee at sunrise
Lake Wenatchee at sunrise

Lake Wenatchee is on the eastern flank of the central Cascade Mountains, 16 miles west of Leavenworth on Highway 2. This glacier-fed lake is five miles long and backdropped by beautiful mountains. Much of the recreation at Lake Wenatchee centers around Lake Wenatchee State Park - one of Washington's best parks.

Lake Wenatchee State Park has a public boat launch to access the water. The lake is over 200 feet deep in some areas, and the water is incredibly frigid. The most common aquatic activities include fishing and windsurfing. Sometimes the occasional Jet Ski makes an appearance. The state park offers stand up paddleboard and kayak rentals throughout the summer.

Onshore activities are also popular at Lake Wenatchee State Park. The view from the state park beach, looking across the lake toward the big mountains behind, is worth the visit alone. Several miles of hiking trails meander throughout the area, as do groomed cross-country ski routes come winter.

The state park has nearly 200 campsites split between a North and South Campground. Winter camping is also available with heated restrooms and hot showers nearby. The U.S. Forest Service operates an alternative campground, Glacier View Campground, farther west on the southern shore.

Read More: Top Things to Do in Leavenworth

4. Lake Washington

Mount Rainier rising above Lake Washington
Mount Rainier rising above Lake Washington

Lake Washington sits between Seattle and Bellevue and is the largest lake in King County. City streets surround all sides of this approximately 15-mile-long lake. Lakefront property is a valuable asset around Lake Washington, but public access points line the shore. These free-to-visit parklands include a few of the best beaches in the Seattle area.

Madrona Park, Denny Blaine Park, and Madison Beach are all fun places to experience the shoreline on Seattle's northside. And Seward Park, one of the largest public parks bordering the water, is on the lake's south end. This sprawling 300-acre park features boat launches and a beautiful shoreline beach.

These lakeshore parks are the most popular way to enjoy Lake Washington. The body of water has a long history tied to the city's development. An interesting spot to learn more is Chittenden Locks, also known as Ballard Locks. This ingenious engineering prevents the lake's freshwater from mixing with the Sound's saltwater. Interpretive information is available on-site.

5. Ross Lake & Diablo Lake

Ross Lake Overlook
Ross Lake Overlook

Ross Lake is a prominent stop on Highway 20, better known as the North Cascades Scenic Byway. This approximately 23-mile-long lake is the centerpiece of Ross Lake National Recreation Area. And it is part of the much larger North Cascades National Park Complex.

The aquamarine waters of this massive reservoir easily catch the eye from the Ross Lake Overlook on Highway 20. This scenic vantage point is approximately 60 miles west of Winthrop. Nearby, equally impressive views of Diablo Lake also vie for attention. Standing above these two lakes and admiring the significant mountain backgrounds is one of the most popular ways to enjoy the environment.

Ross Lake has minimal entry points for boaters. Boaters looking to access the south end of Ross Lake first need to launch into Diablo Lake at the Colonial Creek Campground (one of the North Cascade's best campgrounds). From here, it's a five-mile paddle and a mile-long portage to connect with Ross Lake.

Ross Lake Resort sits on the southwest shore and is only accessible by boat or hiking trail. The lake is also lined with boat-in camping spots where permits are required. A hiking trail extends along the entire east bank of Ross Lake and connects many of these overnight places to pitch a tent.

6. Pearrygin Lake

Pearrygin Lake
Pearrygin Lake | Eli Duke / photo modified

Visiting Pearrygin Lake, in the sunny Methow Valley on the east side of the North Cascades, is one of many things to do in Winthrop, Washington. Pearrygin Lake State Park borders the northern shore of this approximately 200-acre reservoir. The park's campground provides several opportunities to enjoy the water.

A boat launch in the East Campground opens for the season on the first Friday of April. All boats take advantage of the boat launch, including powerboats, Jet Skis, and fishing rigs. A valid boat launch permit is required for anyone looking to get onto the water.

The park also accommodates other activities, like swimming and shoreline fishing with a sandy beach and 60-foot dock. Lakeside camping is also catered for, with nearly 170 campsites in proximity to the water. The state park also features two cabins and a vacation house available for overnight trips.

7. Mowich Lake

Mowich Lake
Mowich Lake

Mowich Lake is in the less visited but still popular northwest region of Mount Rainier National Park. It's accessible via State Highway 165, of which the last six miles are rough and rocky and should be taken slowly. Make the dusty drive, though, and enjoy the largest lake in Mount Rainier National Park.

One of Mount Rainier's best campgrounds, Mowich Lake Campground, sits at the end of State Highway 165 next to the shoreline. This first-come, first-served primitive campground enables several days of exploring the lake and mountain activities nearby.

Mowich Lake, fed mostly by snowmelt, is incredibly cold. These icy temperatures make swimming a brief activity at best. However, brave souls still take quick dips from the shoreline hiking trail. Like all lakes in the park, only non-motorized boats are allowed on Mowich. Those with fishing licenses enjoy angling from the shoreline or personal water vessels.

A few of Rainier's best hiking trails also stem from the lake and campground. The hike up to the Tolmie Peak Lookout starts from Mowich Lake and ends with a view of Eunice Lake backdropped by Mount Rainier. The circumnavigating Wonderland Trail also skirts by the lake, and other hiking destinations like Spray Falls extend from the campground.

8. Colchuck Lake

Colchuck Lake
Colchuck Lake

This inspiring backcountry lake is within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The lake is accessible from the Stuart Lake Trailhead off Icicle Road from Leavenworth. It's a strenuous four-mile climb to reach, with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Still, the views along the shoreline are worth the uphill effort.

Behind Colchuck Lake, Dragontail and Aasgard Peaks cut into the sky past the southern shoreline. Here, hikers can see the challenging Aasgard Pass that leads into the Core Enchantment area of the wilderness. Several mesmerizing high alpine lakes and one of Washington's best hiking trails lace this central section of pure mountain beauty.

Permits are required to camp within the Enchantments or at Colchuck Lake. Many hikers make the eight-mile roundtrip to Colchuck Lake in a day. The Stuart Lake Trailhead also leads to another impressive lake, Lake Stuart, with a nine-mile roundtrip.

9. Banks Lake

Banks Lake and the walls of Grand Coulee in Steamboat Rock State Park
Banks Lake and the walls of Grand Coulee in Steamboat Rock State Park

Banks Lake is a massive human-made reservoir stretching from Coulee City to Electric City in Eastern Washington. This unique lake is part of the much larger Columbia Basin Project, which provides irrigation and energy across this region.

Banks Lake is also a popular recreational outlet in Eastern Washington. The central spot for things to do is Steamboat Rock State Park near the lake's north shore. The park is named for a hard-to-miss rock monolith jutting 800 feet above the water. This prominent plateau spans over 600 acres.

A strenuous but popular hiking trail leads to the top of Steamboat Rock for an excellent view of the water. The state park also features over 50,000 feet of freshwater shoreline. This access to Banks Lake includes seven boat launches spread across three areas.

10. Baker Lake

Mount Baker reflected in Baker Lake in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Mount Baker reflected in Baker Lake in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Baker Lake is accessible from the west side of the North Cascades Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 20. It is a popular recreation lake within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Several campsites, hiking trails, and general forest attractions surround this nine-mile-long and skinny lake.

Within a two-hour drive from Seattle, and even closer to Bellingham, Baker Lake is a popular place throughout the summer. However, the immense size and facilities at the lake tend to keep things pretty well spread out. The west side of the lake is the developed side, with several campgrounds lining the shore.

The east side of the lake is less developed. The 14-mile Baker Lake Trail extends along this shoreline and offers views of the natural environment. The entirety of the route is popular for backpackers looking to camp in solitude near the lake. The beginning of the trail is also popular for day hikes.

11. Kachess Lake

Kachess Lake
Kachess Lake

Kachess Lake, within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, is a deep-water reservoir used to irrigate south-central Washington. Situated 70 miles east of Seattle off Interstate 90, this immense body of water is also used for all types of recreation.

The main point of access is the Kachess Campground on the northwest shore. This Forest Service campground features a surplus of lakeside campsites for both tents and RVs. The campground also features two boat launches, a picnic area, and a beautiful sandy beach primed for swimming. These campground fixtures are open to the public and not just overnight guests.

Fishing is one of the most popular boating activities at the lake. Anglers often cast for the abundant rainbow and cutthroat trout swimming in the water, among many other species. Launching a kayak or canoe into the water is also popular at the campground.

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