Owyhigh Lakes can be accessed from the north via White River Road (Sunrise Road), or the southeast via State Route 123. This describes the former trail, which is shorter, better maintained, and has less elevation gain, but requires a National Park Pass.
Owyhigh. Park rangers pronounce it "O-Y-high". Other pronunciations range from "Oh-wee-high" to "OW-E-high" with many variances. But what does it mean? The park service provides this story: “According to legend, the Owyhigh Lakes were named after Yakama Chief Owhi, who loaned horses to Theodore Winthrop (after whom the Winthrop Glacier was named), when Winthrop was on a trek across the Cascades in the mid-1850’s.”
Start out at the signed trailhead across the road from the small parking area. The trail is wide, well-graded, and pleasant to walk - a good trail for children. The thick forest means limited views, but also shade-tolerant species of trees, such as yellow cedar. Blueberries and huckleberries are plentiful.
At 0.6 mile, a bluff overlooks the Shaw Creek drainage, far broader than it needs to be, providing evidence of past flooding. Climb gently to a bridge over Tamanos Creek at 2.9 miles, 1500 feet higher than the trailhead. Just past it is Tamanos Creek Camp (permit required). There are four individual campsites, a group campsite, a bear pole, and a privy. If you are camped here in late summer and the creek is dry, you may have to use Owyhigh Lakes (quite a bit further on) as your water source.
Continue on level ground another half mile, to where the forest suddenly opens up into meadowlands. After the snow has melted, a carpet of wildflowers grabs your attention, including lupine, bistort, anemone, aster, paintbrush, columbine, groundsel, and lovage. If you can manage to look up from the blooms, you'll soon spy Buell Peak and Barrier Peak. At 3.5 miles, the trail passes 100 feet above the Owyhigh Lakes. Governors Ridge provides a jagged backdrop for the shallow but scenic lakes. This is your turnaround point.
Resist the temptation to drop straight toward the lakes, across the flowered meadow. If you want to wander the lakes basin, there is a social trail that approaches the lakes from the southwest, a quarter mile ahead. The lakes are too shallow for swimming but stay remarkably clean for their depth.
Extending your trip: The trail south of Owyhigh Lakes is narrower and less well maintained, but still easily followed. If you can arrange a car shuttle, you can complete a one-way hike to the opposite end of the Owyhigh Lakes Trail along State Route 123 (the shortest option). It’s another 4.7 miles from Owyhigh Lakes to Deer Creek, then 0.4 mile to the road (passing Deer Creek Falls), for a total of 8.6 miles one-way.
Navigation warning: Both of the listed Green Trails maps have incorrect mileages for the section north of Owyhigh Lakes.