Kelcema Lake-Satisfying snowshoe trip to ancient forest flanked subalpine lake


A snowshoer explores the frozen shoreline of Kelcema Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip:  9.6 miles

Elevation gain: 1,600 feet

Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 23.5 miles to Deer Creek Parking Area.


Pretty little Kelcema Lake sits in a subalpine basin surrounded by ancient forest beneath pointy Bald Mountain. Reached by an easy half mile trail, the 23-acre lake is a pretty popular place during the summer months. But when winter casts its snowy shroud on the surrounding mountains, Kelcema is transformed into a much quieter place. With the access road buried in snow, the trip is much longer substantially cutting the number of visitors to the lake.

But don’t let the winter distance discourage you, for the grade is gentle making the trip a great snowshoe or cross-country adventure. From the SnoPark at Deer Creek, follow FR 4052 northward. While a low snowpack often means you can drive this road a little farther—why? The idea is to get some exercise in and this forest road is quite pleasurable to hike. Most of the way is through attractive forest and along Deer Creek. There are some good views too of Bald Mountain and Devils Peak guarding the way.


Old growth giants flank Kelcema Lake.

At about 2.7 miles you’ll cross a creek that may require some tricky maneuvering when not frozen. Deer Creek is crossed too—twice—but via bridges. At about 3.8 miles the way makes a sharp turn between open slopes on Bald Mountain’s east face. This spot may be prone to avalanches, so assess it for a safe passage and turn around if avalanche potential exists. Otherwise continue onward, snowshoeing another half mile to the well-signed trailhead.

Now head left into luxuriant old growth forest following alongside Deer Creek. The way enters the Boulder River Wilderness, a large swath of wild country that includes prominent peaks Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain. Stop to admire some massive cedars before reaching the lake. An open spot near its outlet once housed a Boy Scout Camp. One of its campers was prominent senator and conservationist Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson of Everett. The camp is long gone as well as numerous mines and mining operations in the surrounding ridges and valleys. A century ago, the area was bustling with activity. Today however, except for the sunniest of weekends, Kelcema Lake is a pretty quiet place.


For more detailed information on other great hikes off of the Mountain Loop Highway and throughout the region, get a copy of my Brand New (Coming in June 2020) Day Hiking North Cascades 2nd Edition. You’ll find 136 hikes in all and plenty of new and expanded hikes from the first edition. Pre-order your copy now!

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