“One of the greatest, steepest and most majestic destinations in all of Olympic National Park.
— Doug Scott
Fall Colors · Lake · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Lake of the Angels is located on the eastern side of Olympic National Park, most easily accessed by taking the Carl Putvin Trail along the Hamma Hamma River. Just a few miles along a well-maintained dirt road past the Lena Lake
Trail, this area is comparatively empty. Starting out in the Olympic National Forest, the trail steeply climbs along Whitehorse Creek, eventually entering the Mount Skokomish Wilderness, one of six wilderness areas on the Olympic Peninsula. Gaining 3,358 feet in elevation over nearly four miles of trail, the Carl Putvin/Lake of the Angeles Trail is one of the steepest, and most rewarding day trips in the State of Washington.
Winter months make the trail extremely difficult to locate and/or navigate.
Need to Know
Past the Pond of the False Prophet, the trail can be a bit tough to find, due to numerous boot paths and animal trails. The true path heads NW, eventually leading you to a marker for ONP.
The trail starts out steep, but not in hindsight. During the first 1.3 miles, the path gains nearly 900 feet, crossing over three drainage areas that, when wet, can be tough. With incredible views of the Hamma Hamma River Valley and Mount Pershing, this first section in the forest is scenic and rewarding in its own way. While many will take their time up this first section of the trail, I test myself and see how well I feel. Know that though the trail feels steep at first, there are more strenuous sections to come!
At 1.3 miles, the trail meets an old forest service road, now grown over. Heading downhill along this path, the trail soon meets the main trail to Lake of the Angels.
Over the course of the next 1.5 miles, the trail gains 1,630 feet in elevation, mostly through wooded areas, up a ridge, eventually leading to a headwall. The headwall is the reason most never make it to this lake, but that is because of misleading trip reports making it seem like a death defying scramble. Instead, the sections of the trail right before and the actual headwall itself are manageable, if you trust yourself and are safe. The headwall has a bad reputation, but it is underserved. Every single time I have taken this trail, the headwall is always a sign that I am almost done with serious elevation gain for awhile. Climbing up the sturdy roots and juggy rocks is easily done, as long as you are patient and smart. The headwall can be done by most visitors of moderate ability, especially after the serious steepness and loose dirt/rock trail leading toward it.
Past the headwall, the trail levels of a bit in comparison to the craziness of the last section, leading through a small valley and over another ridge before arriving in the Valley of Heaven. The Valley of Heaven can be confusing to those unfamiliar with the area, and route finding skills are needed during the majority of the year. However, before the trail gets a bit hard to follow, take some time and enjoy the view of the Pond of the False Prophet. With clear waters that often reflect the snow peak in the distance, stopping here for pictures, a drink or two and a snack is something I highly recommend.
As the trail weaves through the muddiness of the valley, keep an eye out for trail markers and the path. Most trails do lead to the right area, but the general rule of thumb is to continue Northwest, where the final climb will take place. Before the last elevation gain, the trail finally enters Olympic National Park, as marked by a sign. Past the sign, you must gain another 338 feet of elevation over 7/10ths of a mile, something many weary legs will not want to do. While your thighs, quads, lungs and brain may be screaming at you, the view as you round the final corner and see the Lake of the Angels will reenergize you and make it all worthwhile.
Lake of the Angels isn’t big, taking around 10 minutes to circumnavigate, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in stunning beauty. Home to mountain goats, marmots, and stunning views of Mount Skokomish and Mount Stone reflecting off the clear water, the area around Lake of the Angels gets more breathtaking with each trip, and each new view to discover. As your stamina and familiarity with the trail increases, take some time and do what I do
Flora & Fauna
Wildflowers make this an amazing place to be in the late spring, while mountain goats and marmots are commonly seen at the lake.
History & Background
Carl Putvin perished on the trail in 1913 during a nasty snow storm, living forever being the namesake for the route to the Lake of the Angels.