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Pyramid Lake

Ross Lake National Recreation Area

July 3rd, 2010

4.2 miles
1560 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:10

Starting elevation
1128 feet
Max elevation
2692 feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Marblemount, drive east on Highway 20 past Newhalem. About 6 miles past Newhalem, look for the Pyramid Lake trailhead sign on your right, just as the road curves left. While the trailhead sign is on the right, the parking lot is actually on your left, just after the curve.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

The hiking guide book I had referred to Pyramid Lake as a "puddle", and gave it a lowly 1 out of 5 stars. I wasn't completely sold on the book's ratings, however, and decided we would go anyway, with somewhat lowered expectations.

There's a roadside sign noting the Pyramid Lake trailhead. Note that the parking area is on the other side of the road, however. It's a busy highway with a blind turn on one end of the lot, so take care when crossing the road.

Pyramid Creek is visible from the trailhead, cascading toward a big pipe underneath the roadway. To the left of the creek, the trail begins, switchbacking up steeply on a narrow trail. Not only is the trail narrow, but it's also rocky.

Pyramid Creek at the trailhead

Once past this steep initial section, the trail continues to climb, although the trail is not quite as rocky. The creek is left behind and the only scenery is a relatively open forest of thin trees. It gets quite monotonous, and if the trail was like this the whole way, I would have to agree with the 1 star rating. Fortunately, it changes dramatically further up.

We leapfrogged several other hikers (young and old) and a dog, as we would each rest and then overtake the other. It's a pretty popular trail. After climbing about 400 feet, we encountered a couple trees tumbled over the trail. I had to take off my pack to squeeze between them.

Looking back near the top of the first forest section

Heading up the steep trail

We had a snack break at a boulder next to the trail, after which the trail levels off a bit. About halfway up, we reached a stream. The trail continues on the other side. There was no obvious crossing point, so we just walked up and down the shore before we found a suitable place. It's relatively shallow and not that wide, so you should be able to find someplace to hop across without getting wet.

Stream just before our crossing

Trail through the forest above the stream crossing

Once on the other side, we picked up the trail again, which continued its ascent. The trail parallels the stream for a bit. There's a short use trail to a viewpoint of a pretty little waterfall, which I took a photograph of. I then rejoined the trail. As we continued the ascent, I noticed two things. First, there were mushrooms everywhere, mostly growing on dead trees. Second, there were tree roots everywhere we stepped on the trail. At one point, every single step either landed on a tree root or was next to one.

Water droplets on mushrooms

Little waterfall seen via the short side trail

That being said, it's a pretty section of forest, much different (more lush) than the one near the trailhead. We stepped over (in one big step) another little stream. Eventually the forest becomes more open and the tree roots less frequent. It's still steep, however.

Finally, we reached the top of the climb and saw the lake directly in front of us. We descended to the shore, where 10 other people were already gathered along the steep dirt shore. I looked around, trying to find a good spot along the shore for lunch. I eventually spotted what looked like a good perch just above the lake to the right. We clambered over in that direction, and then I climbed up over some rocks to find the perfect picnic spot.

Pyramid Lake from above; the trail reaches the shore where those people are.

Pyramid Lake

Our lunch spot was a relatively large flat area about 20-30 feet above the lake. It actually had two levels, each flat, with the lower level about 2 feet below and in front of the other. There was an extinguished campfire on the lower level, so we definitely weren't the first ones to find this place. From here we could look down at the lake, which has logs in the water near the trail. Looking to the right of that we could see a steep talus slope leading down to the water. To the right of that, steep rock walls rose up from the water. The lake is small, more like a pond, and there aren't many good picnic spots, but if you manage to find the perch above that we did and it isn't already occupied, I think you'll like it.

Tree above Pyramid Lake

Now that we were out of the forest, we could actually see the sky. It was still mostly overcast, but we did spot a bit of blue sky here and there. It also was much warmer than it had been at the start of the hike. By the time we were done with lunch and started heading back down, there were only 2 other people by the lake. We left them behind and started our descent back the way we came. We ran into about a dozen people after we left the lake, about half headed uphill and half downhill.

Pyramid Lake from the shore

On the way back we again observed the three distinct areas of the hike. Near the top is the relatively open forest. In the the middle is the lush dense forest leading down to the stream. We stopped here for a little break, the continued down to the lower section, the least interesting of the three, the forest of skinny trees.

Heading back down the trail

Near the stream crossing

As we neared the bottom, we could start to hear the car traffic on Highway 20. Then we could see the road, and were back at the parking lot. The lot was still full when we returned. Since not that many people were still on the trail to Pyramid Lake, I'm guessing that there are other trails which you can do from this point.

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