Anna Oenbring of Granite Falls hooks a cutthroat along the rocky shore of Slide Lake. (Mike Benbow photo)

Anna Oenbring of Granite Falls hooks a cutthroat along the rocky shore of Slide Lake. (Mike Benbow photo)

Incredible beauty awaits at this high mountain lake

Slide Lake, on the edge of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, offers enjoyment without the typical rugged hike.

By Mike Benbow

Special to The Herald

DARRINGTON — As I’ve gotten older, my once-frequent trips to fish high mountain lakes have dwindled; the hikes themselves have gotten shorter.

Thank goodness for Slide Lake.

Slide, my favorite high mountain lake for a couple decades, offers the most enjoyment for the least amount of physical effort of any high lake I’ve ever visited. The trail to Slide gains just 300 feet in elevation in about 1.3 miles (2.6 miles round trip).

The lake itself is at about 3,100 feet, with most of the elevation gained by driving a gravel logging road that provides some beautiful glimpses of the valley and the Skagit River.

Most of the work in the actual hike is in the beginning, with the rest of the trip more of a walk in the woods. Most trail guides describe this hike as moderate in effort.

And this moderate effort offers some incredible beauty.

Anna Oenbring of Granite Falls enjoys fighting a fish that grabbed her fly in Slide Lake. (Mike Benbow photo)

Anna Oenbring of Granite Falls enjoys fighting a fish that grabbed her fly in Slide Lake. (Mike Benbow photo)

Much of the trail is in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, winding through a dense forest that includes some giant firs and cedars, some of them with massive roots wrapping around giant boulders.

The boulders along the trail created Slide Lake long ago, crashing down the mountains in a landslide that dammed Otter Creek.

The 30-acre lake stays pretty high with snowmelt through August, but dwindles in the fall and winter as water continues to trickle through or underneath the field of boulders.

While the hike to the lake is well worth the effort, what’s good about the trip is the fishing.

Many of Washington’s high mountain lakes rely on the state or on volunteers to stock them with small fish. That’s not so for Slide Lake, which has a significant inlet creek for spawning the cutthroat trout.

A nice cutthroat is displayed before its release back into the lake. (Mike Benbow photo)

A nice cutthroat is displayed before its release back into the lake. (Mike Benbow photo)

The cutthroat are beautifully spotted trout with red slashes on their gills, The fish don’t get much bigger than 13 or 14 inches, but they’re plentiful and are easy prey for a lure of a fly. During a recent trip in August, my group caught several dozen cutthroat, both from the shore and from a float tube.

Because the lake isn’t very far, I’ve always gone in with waders, swim fins, and a float tube. But in the scores of times that I’ve fished there, I’ve seen other people with inflatable crafts only two of three times. I’m not sure why because float tubes make a huge difference in fishing success. You can fish the entire lake effectively without having to scramble over the many boulders along shore.

I didn’t see many insects hatching during my trip, but the fish don’t seem to care. They’re usually hungry. Black or green woolley buggers or leeches seemed to work well. Those not using flies do well with small spoons and other trout lures.

Anna Oenbring of Granite Falls casts a fly into the clear waters of Slide Lake. (Mike Benbow photo)

Anna Oenbring of Granite Falls casts a fly into the clear waters of Slide Lake. (Mike Benbow photo)

There were fish along most of the shoreline, especially alongside or under the many sunken logs. There were also a lot of fish near the inlet stream, with many sitting in the deeper water of the old creek channel.

The lake is ringed by mountains and sits in a fairly steep bowl, meaning there aren’t a lot of great areas for camping. But there are a number of small sites along the shore. I usually stop at Slide, but those looking for a steeper hike and another place to fish might want to follow what becomes a rougher trail up the creek to Enjar Lake, which might involve some bushwhacking.

If you go

To get to the Slide Lake trail, take Highway 530 (Darrington Rockport Road) through Arlington and Darrington. Before you get to Rockport, turn right on Illabot Creek road. Stay on the main gravel logging road, avoiding the many side roads. At about 12 miles, the road forms a “Y” where you should stay to the lower road to the left. It ends at about 22 miles, where you will see a wooden sign at the trailhead near a concrete bridge.

The road widens there for parking.

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