Mt. Rainier is behind Cathedral Peak as we took in the view to the west from about 6,500 feet above sea level in the Central Washington Cascades in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area.
For more than a decade now, I have been expanding my hiking adventures throughout Western Washington. My latest trip took me up the Cle Elum River towards Deception Pass in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area. As with any person that looks for greener grass, I have found that the grass is pretty green close to home.
During this recent trip my 16-year-old son and I hiked for four days. After years of backpacking together, we have come to expect amazing things from our campsites. We love waking up and realizing a grand view of a mountain range, a deep valley or a beautiful lake right in front of us. As it turns out, those locations were few and far between or, went undiscovered until long after camp was prepared for the night.
Another concept that we have learned about this area is that the great scenery is a lot of work to get to. One prime example is the hike to Tuck Lake, just 1.6 miles from the Pacific Crest Trail at Deception Pass.
That 1.6 miles took us nearly four hours up 1,500 vertical feet with our full packs as we tried to traverse a goat trail up the side of a ridge. When we arrived, a couple of young ladies from Portland encouraged us to continue an additional 2.1 miles up another 1200 feet to Robins Lakes. I felt ambushed by the most recent trail (plus a previous 10 miles to Marmot Lake and back) and was done for the day.
The following morning, I felt like not going to the upper lakes would leave a void in the trip. This trail was easier though it required considerable hand over hand boulder climbing on granite rock.
I was absolutely correct about the void. Robins Lakes were outstanding. The two lakes hung among a group of granite crags 6,300 feet above sea level. Mountain Goats dotted the landscape and kept this photographer moving with their curiosity and possible aggression. We dipped our feet in the pure, teal water and wished the cold water wouldn't suffocate us as we dove in for a refreshingly, uncomfortable swim.
Unfortunately, this one find, on the third of four days of our backpack trip made me yearn for the easy access scenery closer to home.
I look across the valley to the west at Daniels Peak, which stands 7,800 feet above sea level in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Central Washington.
Lewis County has three locations of near equal beauty, quality overall scenery and easy access. These are great locations to hike to in late August and especially September as the alpine plants begin to change colors for the fall season. Two of the locations will provide snacks in the form of huckleberries for the next few weeks in addition to their beauty.
Tatoosh Lake is located just north of Packwood is located in a small wilderness area and can be accessed From the east end of Packwood. A multiple day stay in the Tatoosh Wilderness can yield amazing mountain views, waterfalls, flower meadows and alpine lakes. To access the lake, turn north on Slate Creek Road and go 4 miles, crossing the Cowlitz River, to an unmarked but main junction with FR 2170 and turn right. Drive another 5 miles (now on gravel) to a Y with a little used gravel track and go right. Travel for 1.5 miles more to the well-marked trailhead on your right. Look out for significant washouts on this last road section. Unfortunately, maintenance for this road is definitely sub-standard but passenger vehicles are currently able to make the trip.
Snowgrass and Goat Lakes-This has become one of the most popular wilderness destinations in all of Washington and often the wilderness concept is lost in the vast number of hikers to visit the area on late summer sojourns. The hike features a 14-mile loop of outstanding scenery, but there are limited campsites available in the middle six miles. The views include mountain peaks, waterfalls, summer flower blooms and plenty of wildlife. To get to the trailheads, heard toward Packwood, on U.S. Highway 12. Two miles short of Packwood, turn right (south) onto Forest Road 21 (Johnson Creek Road). Continue about 15.5 miles on the sometimes/almost always-rough gravel road before turning left (east) onto FR 2150, signed Chambers Lake Campground. In 3 miles, turn right onto Spur Road 2150-040 and, shortly, right again on Spur 2150-405. Drive to the trailhead (signed Berry Patch or Snowgrass) at the road's end, about 20 miles from Highway 12.
Cora/Granite Lakes-Two beautiful low-elevation lakes in the Sawtooth Range just south of Mt. Rainier National Park. These lakes offer limited camping, but the short easy distance from trailhead to outstanding scenery allows even young children to experience the wilderness like few other places in Washington. Both lakes take on the illusion that you are high in the mountains and surrounded by intimidating peaks as glaciers have cut out the troughs for both bodies of water. Cora 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 passed 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).
There are still several weeks of great northwest weather available for a great hiking adventure. Get out and enjoy the wild side of walking!
The shimmering blue of Tuck Lake from about 700 feet above. After camping at Tuck Lake, we hiked/climber an additional 1200 feet to Robins Lakes.