Location: Mountain Loop Highway
Land Agency: National Forest Service
Roundtrip: 5.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 800 feet
Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway no. 111SX
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker- Snoqualmie National Forest
Access: From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east to the Verlot Visitors Center. Proceed for 4.6 more miles turning right onto FR 4020. Follow this rough gravel road for 2.7 miles bearing right onto FR 4021. Continue 1.4 bumpy miles, turning left onto Spur 016 reaching the trailhead in 0.2 mile.
Notes: Discover Pass required.
Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, backpacking possibilities, solitude
With extremely popular Lake 22 and Heather Lake nearby, the forested Ashland Lakes are oft overlooked by area hikers. While not as dramatic as Heather and 22, the Ashland Lakes are not nearly as crowded, offering a much more serene and wild destination. And the Ashlands often remain snow free longer in the season, allowing hikers an opportunity to journey deep into the backcountry well into autumn.
Nestled in primeval forest within the shadows of Mount Pilchuck, the Ashland Lakes are part of a 9,600-acre Natural Resource Conservation Area administered by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Due to lying within a major convergence zone, the Morning Star NRCA is among the wettest regions in the Cascades, receiving between 100 and 180 inches of annual precipitation. Consequently, because of heavy snowfall the area supports an abundance of plants and ecological zones more common to surrounding areas at higher elevations.
Start by hiking along on an old logging road. Traverse bog and former ancient forest and after about a half mile, cross a tannic creek on a sturdy bridge. At about 1.2 miles, leave the old road for real trail and enter old forest. Now utilizing boardwalks, puncheon, and circular cedar cross-cuts (use caution when wet), the trail winds through a saturated forest floor. While the trail has been constructed well, care should be taken on all planking. In rainy weather they can be slippery. After gently ascending a low ridge take some time to admire the surrounding old growth giants.
At 1.7 miles reach a junction. The trail left heads .1 mile to little Beaver Plant Lake, a wetland of sphagnum and peat bog. While appreciating this intricate ecosystem, contemplate what a Beaver Plant is (a factory that builds rodents or a tree that blossoms them?).
A quarter mile beyond the Beaver Plant spur, crest a 3,000-foot divide and reach another junction. The unmaintained and difficult to follow trail left heads to Bald Mountain. Head right instead for a gentle .25 mile to Upper Ashland Lake and yet another junction. The trail left loops around the lake meeting the main path at the outlet. It tends to be brushy, so stay right on nice boardwalks offering great shoreline viewing. A couple of tent platforms along the way make nice sunny napping and lunch spots.
Where the Upper Ashland Loop reconnects, the main trail continues right to the Lower Lake, losing 200 feet of elevation in .25 mile. It is less-visited than the upper lake, but deserves a visit. Flanked by cliffs and talus, the lower lake sits in a more rugged setting than the upper lake. And while the upper lake is usually a quiet place to while away the afternoon, the lower lake guarantees even more solitude.
For information on lodging and other attractions near the Ashland Lakes, visit www.snohomish.org.
For more detailed information on this and many other hikes along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best-selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books).