Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 5.0 miles
Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway Special Series 111SX
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east. One mile beyond the Verlot Visitors Center, turn right onto graveled FR 42 after crossing the “Blue Bridge.” Proceed for 1.3 miles to the trailhead.
Good to Know: (older) kid-friendly, dog-friendly
Heather Lake sits at a rather low elevation of 2,400 feet within a rocky cirque below craggy Mount Pilchuck. This lower elevation usually means snow-free hiking here from late May through November. But when it does receive snow–it is usually quite a bit being located right in the heart of the Puget Sound Conversion Zone. And thanks to this wet clime and a northern exposure, you’ll find mountain hemlocks growing here much lower than their usual range. You wont’ find much if any heather though; so not sure if early explorers misnamed it–or plant composition at the lake has changed over the years.
What you will see on this locally favorite hike is some pretty impressive old-growth cedars. Pretty creeks too, and some good views of Mount Pilchuck’s impressive rocky north face! Expect to meet plenty of fellow hikers along the way. One of the closest hikes to Granite Falls, this fairly short trail is also an ideal choice for late season wanderings when high country destinations become snow-covered. While parts of the trail can be rocky, rooty and wet, it’s a good destination for older children. The trail until very recently was actually rockier-rootier-and muddier. But thanks to the Washington Trails Association, a good stretch of this trail has received an upgrade. Still, prepare for some rough and uneven footing.
Starting in a damp forest of second-growth fir, you’ll pass by some colossal cedar stumps—testaments to the ancient forest that once graced these slopes. Immediately cross a creek, one of many you’ll encounter along the way. During the wetter months expect to get your boots wet crossing a few of these creeks. The trail winds its way through dark woods eventually coming to an old logging road. The way then utilizes the old road on a gentler grade before once again steadily gaining elevation.
Soon afterward enter a cool ravine that chatters with the sounds of cascading Heather Creek. Admire the old growth cedar giants lining the way—quite a contrast to the scrappy woods you first entered. Continue through the impressive woods and eventually reach the tranquil backcountry lake sitting snug in a semi-open cirque beneath Mount Pilchuck. A .8 mile loop trail circumnavigates the lake. Be sure to take it to experience the many faucets of this little lake, from its jumbled boulder fields to its marshy meadows traversed by a long boardwalk. Notice the presence of yellow cedar and mountain hemlock. These trees are more associated with higher climes, but the abundant snowfall and micro climate here favors them. Find yourself a nice lakeside rock for a lunch break. Savor the scene and plan on returning again sometime in the near future.
For information on lodging and other attractions near Heather Lake, visit www.snohomish.org
For more information on this hike and many others along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books); which consists of 125 hikes in all!
For good post and pre hike refreshments and great information and conversation-be sure to stop in at the Green Gables Country Store in Verlot
For all your camping needs and the new Green Trails Mountain Loop Highway Map 111SX, stop in at the
Mountain Loop General Store, also in Verlot