50 Wilderness Sites Across America
Prusik Peak overlooking Leprechaun Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, (Colin Brynn)
Sunrise over Prusik Peak and Upper Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness (© Karen Crowe/All Canada Photos/Corbis)
Subalpine Larch (Larix lyallii) trees in fall, Alpine Lakes Wilderness (Kevin Schafer)
Sunrise at Gnome Tarn, Alpine Lakes Wilderness (© Michael Wheatley/All Canada Photos/Corbis)

Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Diverse forests, outstanding rock-climbing and scenic lakes

smithsonian.com

Location: Washington
Size: 391,988 acres
Year Designated: 1984
Fast Fact: Home to some of the best rock climbing sites in the Western United States.

As its name suggests, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a land of vast alpine lakes, left over from glaciers that once covered the area. The wilderness area is home to more than 700 mountain lakes and ponds—and is just a short drive from the bustling Pacific Northwest city of Seattle, making it a prime location for visitors. Its accessibility is a blessing for wilderness lovers, but can be a curse for the area itself—with more than 100,000 visitors each year, the area is at times the victim of misuse that threatens its pristine environment.

The rugged landscape of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is blanketed by forests of Douglas fir, cedar and Western hemlock. Beneath these larger trees, salal and a diversity of berries grow at lower elevations. At times, the forests give way to vast alpine meadows. The area within the wilderness known as Cashmere Crags is said to have some of the best rock climbing in the Western United States, though its summits come with daunting names such as Bloody Tower and Crocodile Fang.

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