The Hiker Mama

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Sheep Lake Backpack

hiking with kids, backpacking with children, chinook pass hiking
QA at Sheep Lake

With my son off to teen camp this week, I wanted to do something special with my 8-year-old daughter (she has picked the trail name Queen Alacorn, or QA).  She really wanted to go backpacking with me, and was super excited for a Girls’ Trip.  But we couldn’t find anyone to come with us.  Then the day before we were going to leave, we were chatting with my friend Sarah, and made plans to overnight at Sunrise on Mt Rainier with her and her 3 boys.  Unfortunately, the Sunrise road was closed that day due to SAR activity.  We met at White River to try to make another plan, but it wasn’t going to happen, so I went back to Plan A.

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At the Trailhead

We said goodbye to Sarah (she went and had her own adventure) and we drove up to Chinook Pass to hike in to Sheep Lake.  I had been on this trail several years before, and knew it would be attainable and a good place to stay.  Sarah had given me some beta on where to find the best sites and water there, so we felt good about our day.  I sent my husband a text telling him of our change of plans.  We slathered on our sunscreen, hefted our heavy packs, and started up the trail.

Sheep Lake Trail, backpacking with children, washington hiking, chinook pass
Off we Go!

It was about 85 degrees in the parking lot at noon on Tuesday.  The sun was glaring and there was little breeze.  The first mile of the trail parallels Hwy 410, and doesn’t have much shade.  We could feel the heat radiating off the rocks.  Queen Alacorn needed to stop for a break about every 20-30 minutes. I felt for her – she had never carried such a heavy pack, and the trail was alternately dusty and rocky.

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Queen Alacorn Through the Beargrass

We kept drinking and snacking, and eventually made it around the bend where the trail heads into the lake basin.  There was a tiny patch of snow left there, and a bit more down below, but that was all the snow we encountered on the hike. From there the trail climbs steadily but gently to the lake, and hikers will enjoy the frequent shade and boulder gardens.

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Rock Garden with Purple Penstemon

The flowers were in full display from the beginning.

Washington wildflowers, sheep lake trail
Bracted lousewort
Washington Wildflowers, sheep lake trail
Pink Heather
Washington wildflowers, sheep lake trail
Washington wildflowers
Tiger Lily
Washington wildflowers, Sheep Lake Trail

Some lingering snow near the parking lot is receding, and the earliest flowers are just popping out at the margins.

Washington wildflowers, sheep lake trail
Yellow Avalanche-lily

The bloom sequence is farther along as you hike the more exposed sections.  We felt like we were walking through a garden of delights, full of new scents and blooms at every turn.  In the lake basin were even more flowers, some uncommon, and we just enjoyed them all.

Washington wildflowers, sheep lake
Green on green – Alaska rein orchid
Washington wildflowers, yellow, sheep lake
Cinquefoil sp.
Washington wildflowers, sheep lake
Elephanthead Lousewort
Washington wildflowers, sheep lake trail
Kalmia microphylla
Washington wildflowers, sheep lake
Brilliant red paintbrush


Reaching the lake, we felt victorious, and continued on over the outlet stream, to the back of the lake, where we found a secluded campsite we could have to ourselves.

tent, backpacking with children, Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3
Room With A View

There was shade and a flat spot for our tent, privacy to do our business, a little stream nearby to play in and get our water, and we would be away from the main trail traffic.  We set the tent up, put in our sleeping bags and mats, and rested for awhile, trying to cool down a bit.

backpacking with children, Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3

We explored in the afternoon, marveling at the wildflowers, checking for the promised frogs (we never saw or heard any), wading in the stream, swimming in the lake, and just enjoying a restful afternoon.

sheep lake basin, kids in nature
Nature’s Playground

We enjoyed the birds, found a raptor pellet of some sort, played with butterflies that were flitting everywhere, and looked at beetles.

sheep lake trail, hiking with children
Cool Beetle

It was so warm and pleasant.  Well, except for the mosquitoes.  They were horrific.  Queen Alacorn and I both hate bug spray, but we had to use it, because we were getting so many bites.  They were eating through our clothes and we were so itchy.

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Camp Kitchen

We cooked dinner in the evening, and were ready to sleep by 7 pm.  We had to wait, though, until it got a bit darker, so we read, cleaned up camp, took another exploration walk, and just tried to kill time in general.  I think we were in our sleeping bags by 8:30, a record for me, and I read for a little longer before laying down my head.  It was still very warm, and I could have left the tent fly off, but put it on before bed for privacy.  There were two other parties camped at the lake, so we didn’t feel lonely.

We both woke up at midnight to heed the call of nature, and enjoyed looking at the stars, as well as the moon rising over the peaks.  But neither of us felt like staying out in the dark, so we went quickly back to bed.  We slept in later than I had anticipated, ate a leisurely breakfast with coffee and cocoa, filtered our water for the day, and packed up our gear.

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Going Wading One Last Time

We watched a marmot over on the far side of the lake, heard picas calling from the talus fields, and watched a deer graze on the steep slopes of the lake basin. Queen Alacorn had mixed feelings about leaving – she wished for more time to play and explore, but she was itchy from bug bites and wanted some cream to rub on her bites, as well as the comfort of her own bed.  She said we should come back next week and stay two nights.

sheep lake, hiking with children
It’s a Beautiful Place

We chatted with one of the other guys who had camped there, and found out he was there with his grandson, who used to go to our school.  The grandfather had caught some fish, which they ate for dinner the night before. It made me happy to see other kids out camping.

sheep lake trail, PCT, hiking with children, kids backpacks
Heading Out, Around the Bend

We made a little better time on the way out, though it was just as hot on the exposed slope.  Once we turned the corner back out of the basin, we could see the parking lot, and that helped motivate us to move quickly along that section.

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We Can See the Parking Lot

I was happy we had packed a cooler with some extra water and drinks in the trunk, but all the ice had melted, so they weren’t as cold as we had hoped.  We got some ice cream and iced coffee at Wapiti Woolies in Greenwater to celebrate.

I was so proud of Queen Alacorn for being strong and pushing through an uncomfortable and heavy pack. (Both the kids need new overnight packs.)  I told her I was proud of her, and that she can persevere and do hard things.  We all have to learn to focus on the positive, and this trip, like most, had a mix of positive and negative aspects.  We loved the flowers, the animals, the wilderness, the peacefulness, and the sunshine.  We loved resting and working, playing and exploring.  We really enjoyed being together, just the two of us (no sibling bickering!)  The only time I felt scared or nervous was when we woke up at night and I heard the clomping of deer hooves nearby – something about that startled me.  But this was a special outing, and I felt euphoric as we got back to the car and settled in for the long drive home.

chinook pass, hiking with children
Mt. Rainier and Tipsoo Lake

Trail stats: 4.2 miles round trip, approximately 400 feet elevation gain.  There are some exposed, cliffy sections that require care, and young children should be held or watched carefully.  In the summer, wear sun protection and bring plenty of water.  Parking requires a NW Forest Pass, and there are outhouses at the parking lot.  There is road construction going on along Highway 410, causing delays and reducing the speed limit.




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2 responses to “Sheep Lake Backpack”

  1. Valorie Grace Hallinan Avatar

    Jennifer, this is a wonderful post. Can’t wait to come to the NW for a visit again.

  2. Jennifer @ Emulsified Family Avatar

    Thinking about doing this hike with our kids tomorrow. Thanks for the write up and posting the link on the Washington Trails Association page. 🙂

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