Looking down the spine of High Rock toward the south at other peaks in the Sawtooth Range of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest on a cloudy day. An amazing view of Mt. Rainier can be earned from this former Fire Lookout site on a clear day.
Sometimes we look for special places and come up a little short. After hearing about Granite Lake and several others just south of the beauty and crowds at Mt. Rainier National Park, it looked intriguing enough to investigate as a potential backpack later in the summer.
Granite Lake not only met expectations, it exceeded them.
The lake is located just two miles from a trailhead off of the 5210 road in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Ashford. To reach it, turn onto to FS 52 (Skate Creek Road) from Ashford. A little under two miles past Big Creek Campground, turn right onto FS 5210. Just short of a mile, veer right onto a well traveled, but unsigned road. Follow this road until there is a large pullout on the left (about seven miles). The road is washed out and there is ongoing repair just a few hundred feet short of the trailhead. Trucks with high clearance can reach the trailhead, but the sedan we were using was parked about 100 meters short of the trailhead.
The first quarter to half mile on the Tilly Creek Trail (Trail #251) is a gentle walk in the woods until Pothole Lake which is an adorable little body of water itself. The path rounds Pothole and starts to climb the ridge behind it. After crossing a creek under a modest set of falls, the trail continues switchbacking until reaching Bertha Mae Lake. Climbing this ridge is an economic payment for the scenery, beauty and opportunity just ahead.
At Bertha Mae, there is a tempting campsite available on the northwest side of the lake, but be brave and continue the 3/4 mile further to Granite Lake. There are two great campsites on the far side of the lake and a little spur trail that leads to a tremendous view of Mt. Rainier. The lake is pure, deep and surrounded by some of the high peaks of the Sawtooth Range.
The area is not within a designated wilderness area, but clearly, lack of access has allowed the area to be nearly untouched by humans.
One family had made their way to camp at Granite Lake from Port Orchard. When asked how they found out about the secretive location they responded by explaining their annual routine included coming with another family from Lakewood who knew about the lake until they started coming by themselves.
Just a few miles away by trail and many more by road is High Rock. With an elevation of 5,685 feet, the point was once prominent enough to build a fire lookout upon it. Using a 1.3 mile trail from FS 8440 road allows a visitor to climb 1,300 feet to the point which stands on the edge of a precipice with tremendous views of Mt. Rainier and the Nisqually Valley.
Unlike the remote lakes, High Rock sees many hikers, sometimes hundreds a day. On Friday, several family groups arrived during our lunchtime visit.
Anyone trying to find these locations are going have to have a lot of faith. Poor signage (probably due to theft or vandalism) makes the search for these special places a real adventure. Once the trailhead is found, however, the real enjoyment can begin!
High cliffs tower above Granite Lake in the Sawtooth Range between Randle and Ashford in Eastern Lewis County.