By Jessi Loerch
If you like berries, you should plan a trip out on the Mountain Loop Highway soon.
Over the weekend, I hiked the Ashland Lakes Trail with a friend and my 3-year-old daughter. It was a quick hike, only slowed down by our constant munching on berries. Some of the berries were still a smidge tart, so I’ll bet they’ll be even better soon.
The trail is about 5.5 miles long, round trip, with about 800 feet of gain. The trail starts out wide and very smooth on an old logging road. After a while, it thins down to a standard trail, much of it on boardwalks.
There are a few forks on the trail, but they are well marked, so it’s easy to find your way.
Once you reach the lake, head to the right. Follow along the boardwalks and after a short walk, you’ll reach a few camping spots that make an easy lunch spot. The habitat around the lake is delicate, so hikers are asked to stay on the boardwalk. A few side spurs offer a nice view of the lake.
The camps have fire pits and this would make a very easy, quick backpack trip. And since the trail is so short and easy, you could pack in some pretty fancy food. I’m envisioning a meal of steak over a fire and a glass of wine.
Once you’ve finished your lunch — and planning a menu for a potential backpack trip — you can continue on to the end of the lake. The outlet to the lake is barely a stream right now, more of a muddy trickle. If you’d like, you can continue on for a loop around the entire lake. However, that side the lake is overgrown and the boardwalks are broken in a few places. It’s certainly passable, though. I hiked it with my daughter on my back and it was fine.
The trails have had a lot of good maintenance, but crews clearly haven’t had time or resources to get to this side of the lake yet.
You could also continue to Lower Ashland Lake. It’s about a quarter of a mile, one way. I was dealing with a tired kid, so we opted to skip it.
Either on the way up or down the trail, the very short side trip to Beaver Plant Lake is worth it. There is a nice platform with a bench at the lake side. This would also make a great lunch spot. Be sure to follow the boardwalk along the shore’s edge. Watch carefully in the water. When we were there, the area was absolutely teeming with tadpoles and tiny frogs.
This trail would be great for new or young hikers. While it is uneven in a few places, the grade is mild and it’s pleasingly short. Kids will probably love the boardwalks and have fun looking for frogs from the boardwalks. The lakes aren’t good for swimming, however. The shoreline is delicate and the bottom looks pretty mucky.
When you’re done, if you still need more berries, follow the road past the parking area. It’s not suitable for cars, but it’s got plenty of berries to pick.
How to get there
Follow the Mountain Loop Highway from Granite Falls. About 4.5 miles beyond the Verlot Public Service Center, turn right on Forest Road 4020. The sign says Ashland Lakes, as well as other hikes. Continue to a junction with Forest Road 4021 and head right. In about 1.5 miles, turn left on Forest Road spur 016. From here, the road is pretty rough but it’s only 0.2 miles. I was able to navigate it just fine, if slowly, in a passenger car.
Park just beyond the privy. You’ll need a Discover Pass.
To find the trail, head back down the road the way you came up. It’ll be on your left about 30 feet past the privy.