I am always a little late to the game. But I finally got the time to write a trip report for an overnight trip to Upper Palisades Lakes this past weekend (8/9 and 8/10).
Parking: My friend and I left Seattle at 6am and got to the trailhead (Sunrise Point) at around 8:15am. There was plenty of parking and no traffic entering the park through Sunrise either. Like similar recent advice, get to Sunrise early (before 9am) and you should be fine. Obviously, the road to Sunrise is all paved so the road is definitely suitable for all vehicles.
Trail: It's in really good condition. No snow at all. The first mile was wide and then it does get narrow especially when you go pass Clover Lake (1.5 mile into the trail I believe). When the trail gets narrow, I could see it being difficult to social distance as there weren't really any spots to step aside to avoid the other party even though this wasn't a problem for us at all because we really only saw maybe 3 parties when we hiked into camp. Please bring a mask as social distancing seems impossible at times and also try your best to not step on the meadow. It will be tempting but wildflowers are blooming and we most definitely want to keep it that way! At 3.5 miles, you'll get to the Upper Palisades Camp, the trail on the left leads you to camp and the trail straight ahead leads you to a small overlook of mountains and Lower Palisades Lake. Once you get to the overlook, it is also the end of the maintained trail.
The hike: I would rate this hike as moderate. You lose more elevation than you gain them on the way in. The first mile was all downhill until you hit Clover Lake. I do a fair share of hiking but I am by no means athletic but I think this hike is doable for everyone with different hiking abilities. Honestly, the steepest part of the hike was at about 2.4 miles into the hike (downhill would be tough on the knees and uphill, it's whatever). After that section, the hike is an easy stroll through forests and meadows. Worth doing just to see the wildflowers!
Camp (and Upper Palisades Lake): We took our time and it took us about 2 hours to get to camp. We also didn't make a side trip to Hidden Lake and Brown Peak. It was my friend's first backpacking trip in a few years so we took it chill and just took a leisure walk to camp. There was one other group camping but they left shortly after we set up camp. There is a bear pole in the area. We were greeted by a deer and her two babies (!). There was nobody else at the lake when we arrived. During our stay there, we saw maybe 2 or 3 groups of people hanging out at the lake. I guess everyone was just trying to tackle Brown Peak to get the views. We went back to camp to get a snack. We literally were just starting to get hungry so we started snacking. And then a bear came out from the woods right behind camp. It got pretty close but we were able to deter it by clapping and making noises (the typical stuff) and I did grab my bear spray just in case. After 10 minutes, it left us alone and we returned to camp. We opted to cook our meals far away from camp on the lake just to be safe. The bear has been spotted by several hikers so be aware! Nonetheless, it never came back to camp. The deer kept frequently our camp though but they were so cute, it didn't bother us at all.
Bugs weren't terrible but they're there - buzzing and flying around. I wouldn't say they're super annoying to a point where a bug net would be needed but make sure you apply plenty of bug juice. Lots of bees were out too as the flowers were blooming.
After 6pm, we didn't see a single soul and we had the campsite all to ourselves. We hiked back to the meadows just to see the wildflowers again as the sun was starting to set. We're not overachievers (haha) so we didn't wake up for sunrise either. We just slept. The next day, we packed up and hit the trail at 8:30am and made it back to Sunrise Point at about 10:45am. We saw more people on Monday on the hike out then the hike in. Everyone had a mask with them but not necessarily wearing them as they were hiking. But they would also put it on whenever we're passing. They're all respectful of social distancing and tried to step aside whenever possible.
This hike is nice if you want some solitude and lake views. It's no Alpine Lake but I thought it was pretty. I would also recommend this hike as a beginner backpacking trip too as the elevation gain wasn't bad and I'd consider the majority of the hike as a 'walk in the woods' really.
Stats from GAIA:
7.68 miles RT (includes hiking into camp)
Ascent: 1537 ft (-1551ft)
Total time: 4 hours