By Jessi Loerch
It’s truly the off season for hiking now. The rain is here, the days are short and the temperatures are dropping.
Don’t let that make you stay home. The northwest forest is beautiful even in — and sometimes because of — the rain.
I squeezed in a mid-week hike to Heather Lake on the Mountain Loop Highway this week. It was wet but wonderful. And it’s an easy drive from Everett.
A friend and I hit the trail mid-morning, with a light rain falling. Before we started, we dressed my 3-year-old daughter in enough clothes to make her marshmallow shaped. (Seriously. She wore: 2 pairs of pants, wool leg warmers, wool socks, lined shoes, mittens, a long sleeved shirt, a coat, a vest and — over all of it — my rain coat. I need to get her a poncho, but she was adorable in my coat.)
The trail is, depending upon what source you believe, somewhere around 4 miles round trip. You gain about 1,100 feet. So, it’s a decent workout but not overly strenuous.
The trail itself is wet in many places although the rocky surface means you won’t have to worry about mudholes until just before you reach the lake. You’ll want a decent pair of boots for this trip — both for traction and to keep your feet dry. In a few areas the trail has some wet rocks or over-large steps you’ll need to clamber over. Nothing too bad, though. I was able to do it OK (if slowly) with my kiddo on my back.
The route winds through pretty forest. Check out the gargantuan cedar stumps. They’re impossible to miss. There were some seriously huge trees logged here at some point. Watch for one next to the trail that has a tree growing on it with a root snaking across the top. Once you get higher up the trail, some of the giants are still there. We stopped to hug one such mammoth along the trail.
The lake is a sweet little spot, tucked in a cirque below Mount Pilchuck — or I assume Pilchuck is up there. It was hiding in the clouds. There are several nice places to stop for lunch. The last of the fall color is gone, but the mist makes a nicely dramatic setting.
If you go
Heather Lake is easy to get to. Follow the Mountain Loop Highway for about a mile past the Verlot Public Service Center. Turn right on Pilchuck Access road, just past a bridge. The trailhead is 1.3 miles up the road. There is a privy and it was open when we visited.
If you’re planning to go this weekend, it couldn’t hurt to read the WTA’s excellent safety tips for fall hiking. The forecast for this weekend is calling for snow. However, not much is predicted for Heather Lake. If you’re prepared for the conditions, this trail should be just fine this weekend.