The trail to Rachel Lake is a 3.5 mile trail that gets increasingly steep and rugged as you get closer to the lake. The gain to Rachel on paper is moderate; 1600 feet in over 3 miles. However it gains 1200 of those feet in one of those miles, making the approach a little strenuous at times. There are some waterfalls along the way to distract you from the trail, but the ratio of scenery to effort is low on this early section of the trail. It's a haul up to Rachel Lake, but once there, you'll be happy you took the time to do it.
The trail starts off heading uphill before you cross into the wilderness boundary. Some roots and rocks will be present, but it's just enough to get you warmed up. Once you cross the boundary into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the trail grade eases. You will cross numerous small feeder streams as you wind your way up Box Canyon. The trail alternates between sections of old-growth, primarily douglas fir and hemlock, and brushy avalanche meadows, where the trail is crowded by salmonberry, sword ferns and devil's club. If you hike this section after an overnight rain or a dewy morning, prepare to get your legs more than a little damp.
Two and three quarters of a mile in, the trail changes character. Cross Canyon Creek, the main stream you have been following up the valley and begin the earnest climb up to Rachel Lake. This section of trail is heavily rooted and rocky, with many large step-ups -- to call it a trail is being generous. Though you travel only a mile, you'll gain 1,200 vertical feet in this section. As you climb, you'll find distractions as you cross under a beautiful rock wall where one of the many small streams cascades down. Halfway up, you'll start getting great views down Box Canyon. There are a number of false trails along the way, most of which have been blocked off with crossed sticks. Consult your map often and take heart; it will all be worth it when you top out at Rachel Lake.
There are a number of campsites at the lake. Bearing right, the trail skirts the lake and then heads up an additional 600 vertical feet to Rampart Ridge. By comparison to what you just hiked, this section is in excellent shape--well constructed with switchbacks and no big step ups. There are fabulous views from the trail down to Rachel Lake. Half a mile gets you to the ridge where you can go left 1 mile to Rampart Lakes or right three-quarters of a mile to Lila Lakes and Alta Peak. There is a sign post (but missing the actual sign) at this junction. If you only have time for one add on, go to Rampart Lakes. Rampart Ridge is in the huckleberry zone, so there will be lots of good snacking in August and beautiful colors in mid-September.
This trail involves a moderate amount of route finding, and is very steep for a short section. In early season expect it to be snow covered, and during the melt you will be hiking through numerous creeks-- so bring water proof shoes. All this to say, use judgement when bringing children. I wouldn't recommend anyone under 8 years old