Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hiking Larrabee State Park: Fragrance Lake

I don't know that Fragrance Lake is particularly fragrant, but the hike there above Chuckanut Drive in northwest Washington is rich with scenic beauty: a serene forest-fringed lake, lush evergreen forest, and a sweeping panoramic viewpoint full of sea and sky.

This is my first time hiking in the Chuckanut Mountains, the only place where a branch of the Cascade Mountains stretches far enough west to meet the sea. It's a pleasant, mild late winter February day, perfect for a lowland hike. 

I'm here with the new Alpine Trails Book Club, organized by Ashley of Alpine Lily via her excellent Northwest-focused blog. While I'm the elder of the group by a long shot, when we're on the trail all equally enthralled by this beautiful forest, age doesn't matter.

We get a fairly early start on a Saturday, which is good because this is a very popular trail, just south of outdoorsy-minded Bellingham. I'd say this qualifies as what I call a Northwest "Greatest Hits" hike.

After parking at the main Larrabee State Park lot, we cross Chuckanut Drive, and start up the trail that plunges immediately into healthy forest, with some remnant old growth.

After hiking upward on gentle switchbacks for about 30-40 minutes, we take a quick water break. Ruby (one of the two dogs on our hike today; they didn't have to read the book :) flops over and lets us know she'd like to stay put for a while.

But she's a trooper and rallies as we continue through this beautiful forest on up to the lake.

In a flash of whimsy, I envision forest faeries inhabiting this stretch of woods, perhaps sleeping by day inside trees like the lovely old western red cedar pictured above. Maybe I'm influenced by the enchanting book we read (The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey), which has hints of magic realism.

Soon enough we arrive at the lake and stop at a clearing below some of the exposed Chuckanut Formation sandstone rock walls along the shore, where we discuss the book and nibble snacks. (Thanks to Ashley for her delicious chocolate bark.)

While the weak February sun warms us a bit, the temperature drops to chilly as we hike around the lake into the shady side. It's still winter.

Circumnavigating the lake, we cross numerous wooden walkways and little bridges over muddy areas. The Washington Trails Association gives this trail a lot of attention due to its popularity, and we actually pass a WTA crew doing trail work on our way down.
Lucca on the trail around Fragrance Lake.
On the way down we take the short (0.2-mile) cut-off to a splendid viewpoint over the Salish Sea and the San Juan Islands beyond.  Although it was overcast when we started hiking, the sky has cleared up nicely for us.

From there we've only about a mile back down, and I can't resist stopping to hug at least one of the huge old cedars (my totem tree).

After using the restrooms at the parking lot post-hike, we drop down the short trail to the beach. Who doesn't love the combination of freshwater mountain lake and saltwater beach on the same outing?

There on the shoreline is the same Chuckanut Formation we saw up at the lake (the big rocks on the right). See more shots of this formation out on Sucia Island.

Ruby wants to stay put at the beach, too.

After Hike Eats
We're done hiking just after noon and decide to stop in the charming Skagit flats village of Edison for lunch. It's on our way back to Seattle, just a short detour west.   

This area (Bow-Edison) has become a hotbed for artisan food and artists, with a creamery making cheese nearby, a marvelous bakery, and several little cafes in the one-block town. We decide on Slough Food, a cozy little deli-cafe where we get excellent sandwiches, salads, and soup.

Overall it's a stellar day, with a lovely morning hike, great company, and tasty local food. If you make your way up (or down) there, be sure and savor the day. And let me know if you discern the fragrance.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

When You Go
The Fragrance Lake trailhead is directly across the road from the main Larrabee State Park entrance. We left Seattle about 7:10 and arrived there around 8:30 a.m., with not much traffic early on a weekend morning. You need a Discover Pass to park. Dogs are permitted on leash. According to the WTA website, it's a 5.5-mile roundtrip to the lake and back; I'm not sure if that includes the .6-mile loop around the lake and the .4 mile to the viewpoint and back. But it's not a difficult hike, with an elevation gain of just under 1,000 feet.

Fellow blogger Lainey of A Day Without Rain also blogged about our hike from her perspective. I always enjoy her lyrical writing. 



John said...

Beautiful photographs, Jill

Lainey Piland said...

Yay, what a fun day! Your photos are so gorgeous, Jill. You capture that elusive depth and forest atmosphere in all its green glory so well!

jill said...

John and Lainey, thanks so much for you feedback on my photos! I think my blog is as much about the photos as the prose these days...although that's hard to admit as a writer.

Ron Mitchell said...

Love those dogs, and can smell that fresh forest!