Beat the heat with a cool dip in an icy mountain lake

  • Fri Aug 10th, 2012 10:50am
  • Sports

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

What goes best with a hot day and a hike?

Besides an iced cold beer, I mean.

A dip in a mountain lake, of course.

The local beaches and swimming pools tend to be crowded on warm days. As do air-conditioned movie theaters.

Escape the crowds and the heat by hitting the trail to one of these nearby lakes:

Goat Lake

“Oooooh. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.”

“Brrrr. So cold. So cold.”

On a recent July afternoon, my friend Jessi Loerch and I sat gazing at snow-covered Cadet Peak and listening to the reactions of fellow hikers as they took the plunge into Goat Lake.

After a more than 5-mile hike, a swim in the picturesque Goat Lake is a must. But the hikers’ cries of mingled joy and pain put some fear in us. When snow that feeds the lake still clings to mountain cliffs surrounding it, you know you’re in for a chilly swim.

Our dilemma: jump in the lake from a slippery, slimy log or slide in and risk losing our nerve.

Jessi took the first option. I went for the second.

Either way, Goat Lake was cold and incredibly refreshing.

Situated on the Mountain Loop Highway, Goat Lake is a popular hike, though it’s long enough to weed out many hikers. There are spots at the lake for overnight camping if the 10.4-mile round trip sounds daunting.

From the trail head, you can take either the upper or lower trails, which meet up about a mile and a half before you reach Goat Lake. Jessi and I had the upper trail to ourselves on the way in and shared the slightly shorter lower one, which travels along a creek, on the way down. The upper trail follows an old logging trail, providing an easy warm-up with great mountain views.

After the two trails intersect, the route enters the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Area and begins to climb more seriously. Be sure to take the short detour to McIntosh Falls, one of the more awe-inspiring falls I’ve seen. The lake is a short distance from the falls.

Directions: Follow the Mountain Loop Highway east 31 miles from Granite Falls to Barlow Pass, where the road turns to gravel. Continue on 3.5 miles and look for Forest Road 4080 on the right. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Lake Dorothy

The trek to Lake Dorothy is a short one, so it’s perfect for families. However, that also means you’ll have company when you go.

The 3-mile round trip hike to Lake Dorothy made an excellent choice for bringing Jessi’s daughter, Hazel, along for the trip. The trail is in great condition and has stairs for much of the tougher parts of the climb to the lake.

You can hear gushing water along most of the way. About halfway up, you’ll reach a bridge over Camp Robber Creek. Water cascades in from three directions over slabs of rock that look like a perfect place to sun yourself on a warm day. But continue on, up the steps and to Lake Dorothy.

The log-lined outlet to Dorothy creates a scenic entrance to the lake. On a Saturday in late July, we shared a lunch spot on the edge of the lake with two hikers and their dog.

Two-year-old Hazel was eager to get in the water. Lots of rocks and a few fish that drew her attention. Hazel splashed around in the water, directing us from one rock to the next for her amusement. Jessi and I took turns swimming, often floating on our backs trying to keep in the upper, warmer layer of water.

Other hikers packed inflatable rafts to use in Lake Dorothy. One person brought an inflatable a dragon boat. Some families played along the lake’s shore with beach balls and tubes.

If you’re looking for more of a challenge or an overnight hike, the trail continues from Dorothy on up to Lake Bear and Lake Deer.

Directions: From Everett, drive east on U.S. 2 for 45 miles until you reach the Money Creek Campground sign. Turn right and drive a mile. Turn right again onto Miller River Road, which is the gravel road that you’ll follow almost 10 miles to the trail head. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Surprise Lake

The surprise is there’s no surprise.

The hike to Surprise Lake is pleasant, albeit moderately strenuous.

The only surprise for me was how badly I wanted to jump in the lake after climbing 2,200 feet of elevation in the four miles hike to the lake.

Remember the heatwave back in 2009, when the stores sold out of air conditioners and fans? That’s when we hiked to Surprise. And we got a late start, which meant we were hiking the toughest part in the hottest part of the day.

If the weather is hot, start this hike early. Have lunch at the lake, then go for a swim.

An old growth forest shades you from the sun for early part of this hike. About a mile in, you’ll cross Surprise Creek. The trail then heads into brush area, where there’s more exposure to the sun.

The last mile to Surprise Lake gains about 1,000 feet of elevation. Surprise Lake’s greenish-blue water is a welcome reward for your efforts.

Directions: Drive east from Everett on U.S. 2 to mile marker 58. Turn right on the unmarked road just before you would head up Stevens Pass. Cross the railroad tracks and take a right onto a spur road for the last 0.2 miles to the trailhead.