This relatively easy hike (4.6 miles round trip and elevation gain of 1,034 feet) is the closest and easiest alpine lake hike on the Mountain Loop Highway east of Everett, Washington. Which of course makes it very popular, especially on weekends.
Last time I hiked Heather Lake in late May 2011, we scrambled over snow the last stretch of trail. On my recent hike, over a month earlier, the trail was already snow-free up to an alpine setting that resembles mid-summer instead of spring. Check out the comparison photos below.
|May 29, 2011|
|April 20, 2015|
Needless to say, this latest April hike was very different. While the trail is now snow-free, it's still muddy in some spots.
After starting at the well-signed trailhead just 1.4 mile up the gravel road to Mt. Pilchuck (which was surprisingly quite rough, with some hefty potholes), we pass remnants of former giant trees along the lower trail.
About a half mile along, we come to what looks like a switchback, with the gravel trail continuing down and a messy, branch-covered trail continuing upward. Resist the temptation to take the switchback up and stay on the well-graded trail that drops down a bit.
Soon enough, we cross a small stream, traverse some board-covered trail, and emerge into lush, gorgeous old-growth forest. Now this is what used to predominate our region.
As you can see, the trail becomes quite rough in places, sometimes crossing intricate networks of roots and rocks.
Because my knee has been tweaky lately, hiking poles were helpful in these rougher stretches of trail (thanks to Susie for my ad-lib poles:).
Arriving at the lake, we plop on a big boulder and lounge for a while in the sun, soaking in the rays and the ahhh-worthy view of the lake and cliffs beyond. This is technically on the northeast flank of Mt. Pilchuck.
Although this is my fourth trip to Heather Lake, I've never before circumnavigated the lake on the well-established trail. Go for it to get different views and add a bit of mileage.
On the way back down, I can't resist snapping more shots of the gorgeous green forest. Despite the logging last century, the forest has come back vigorously in the lower, second growth portion of the trail. And now, thankfully, it's protected around the trail at least.
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