Scorching summer days may be a rarity around here, but when they come, I like to seek relief in the cool company of a high country lake or stream. There’s little more exhilarating than the rush of cold mountain stream water over aching feet, or the shocking plunge into the clear waters of an alpine lake.
Lake Dorothy, just off U.S. 2 in the Alpine Lakes wilderness, is among the largest alpine lakes in the state, and its easy accessibility makes it a fitting spot – albeit a popular one, particularly on summer weekends – to indulge in cool summer comforts.
“Lake Dorothy is a short hike to a big beautiful lake, and it’s a terrific choice for families and casual hikers,” said Lauren Braden of the Washington Trails Association, which offers guided hikes and coordinates volunteer trail work throughout the state.
The trailhead is easily reachable too, about an hour’s drive from Everett, east on Highway 2.
Beginning under a cool canopy of old-growth forest that soars above the trail, the trail (Trail No. 172) gently climbs to the signed boundary of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, the boundary of 394,000 acres of wilderness dotted by more than 700 lakes and tarns and laced with more than 600 miles of trail.
From here, the trail traces the east bank of the tumbling East Fork Miller River, its soothing cascades and waterfalls below a sign of more to come.
At just under one mile, the trail crosses Camp Robber Creek on a bridge upstream of its confluence with the East Fork Miller River. By now I’ve warmed up enough that I find a spot on the sunny slickrock ledges to peel off my socks and enjoy a soak in the cascades and pools here.
Back on the trail, I climb through moist forest carpeted with mosses and ferns. After a few rocky switchbacks on stairs and boardwalks, the trail reaches Lake Dorothy’s outlet stream. It’s an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet from the trailhead. A short trail off to the right leads to the outlet stream.
To get a sense of just how big Lake Dorothy is by alpine lake standards, I continue along the east shore of the lake on the trail, which winds for nearly two miles to the lake’s inlet as it passes under the imposing shadow of 6,680-foot Big Snow Mountain.
The dozen or so inviting campsites along the lakeshore, which fill up quickly in summer, also offer access to the lakeshore. It’s seven miles to the head of the lake and back to the trailhead.
Don’t be surprised to find a few rafts of fishermen floating on the lake too. In fact, Lake Dorothy is a popular spot for anglers, and this year, the lake was stocked with more than 7,000 cutthroat trout fingerlings, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Those looking to bob on the lake’s waters with a good book under the summer sun might find the effort of packing in a raft well worth the effort. The U.S. Forest Service, however, asks rafters to avoid the lake’s islands to protect sensitive wildlife habitat.
Further wandering beyond the lake’s inlet leads to Bear and Deer lakes in two more miles, and on to a chain of even more lakes nestled in the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness awaiting exploration.
Other hikes for lake lovers
For more detailed directions, contact or stop in to the U.S. Forest Service Ranger District in the town of Skykomish.
Barclay Lake: This family-friendly hike leads along Barclay Creek to Barclay Lake, nestled in the shadow of Baring Mountain off U.S. 2 near the tiny town of Baring. The 2.2-mile trail through mixed forest has little elevation gain, making it suitable for children and novice hikers. Campsites are also scattered around the lake.
Joan Lake: Tiny Joan Lake, perched on the shoulder of Scorpion Mountain, offers solitude at the end of a little-used ridgetop trail that wanders through meadow and forest. At nearly 10 round-trip miles with 2,900 feet of total elevation gain, the trip is best left for more experienced and conditioned hikers. The trailhead is reached from forest roads off U.S. 2 near the town of Skykomish.
Lake Serene: Staring up Mount Index from U.S. 2, it’s hard to imagine the precarious perch of Lake Serene, lying in its shadow. The 7-mile round trip trail, climbing up serpentine stairs of wood and stone, leads past the graceful cascades of Bridal Veil Falls to the lake. The trailhead is off U.S. 2 near Index.