Image: Craig Romano
Heather Lake: Really, really too cold for a swim.

Heather Lake

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 4.6 miles round trip

As one of the first hikes off of the Mountain Loop Highway, this fairly short and easy trail is an ideal choice for early season snowline probing. Heather Lake’s scenic payoff isn’t too bad either—it's tucked beneath Mount Pilchuck’s craggy cliffs and ringed by old cedars.

Start in a crowded forest of second-growth fir and pass a handful of colossal cedar stumps along the way. The trail winds its way through dark woods, eventually coming to an old skid road. After some easy walking on the old road, the trail breaks away from it and steadily climbs.

Enter a cool ravine with cascading Heather Creek. The loggers who once worked the forest below didn’t make it this far. You'll reach a grove of old-growth cedars before reaching tranquil Heather Lake set in a semi-open cirque beneath Mount Pilchuck. Follow a 0.6-mile trail that circumnavigates the subalpine lake through boulder fields and meadows.

There are clumps of yellow cedar and mountain hemlock flanking the basin; these trees are more associated with higher climes but thrive here in a convergence zone with its abundant winter snowfall and cooler, wetter micro-climate. It won’t be long before this basin is completely blanketed in snow and becomes a good snowshoe trip; when that happens, be sure to admire Pilchuck’s jagged north face well away from the avalanche zones.

Watch For: Springboard notches left by early 20th-century loggers in the giant stumps

Getting There: Follow I-5 north to Everett. Then drive Highway 2 2.5 miles to State Route 204 to Lake Stevens. When it ends, take a left onto State Route 9 and then a right onto State Route 92 to Granite Falls. In Granite Falls, take a left onto the Mountain Loop Highway East and right onto Forest Road 42 after crossing the “Blue Bridge.” Reach the trailhead in 1.3 miles.

Note: Northwest Forest Pass required

Craig Romano is the author of 9 Washington state hiking books including Day Hiking North Cascades.

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