|Trail Highlights:||Mountain views; lake views; old-growth forest
|Round-trip Distance:||4.60 miles / 7.40 km
|Location:||Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest,
Mountain Loop Highway / South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley,
Washington North Cascades
|Directions:||From State Route 92 in Granite Falls, Washington, turn left onto the Mountain Loop Highway
Proceed 11.90 miles/19.20 km
Just past the "blue" (almost more grey or white) truss bridge (Bridge 538) over the South Fork Stillaguamish River, turn right onto the Mt. Pilchuck Access Road, as indicated by signage
Proceed 1.30 miles/2.10 km to the parking lot, keeping right at all forks
Most of the Mt. Pilchuck Access Road to the trailhead is unpaved — beware of potholes
|Required Pass:||Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites
|Additional Trail Info:||Washington Trails Association
U.S. Forest Service
|Note:||The page profiles the Heather Lake in Snohomish County, Washington; another lake of the same name is located in Chelan County's Central Cascades.
Heather Lake pools at the foot of Mount Pilchuck‘s imposing massif. Heather Lake Trail, September 02, 2012.
Heather Lake is reached by a relatively short trail, first through stripling forest and then through old-growth giants, before rounding a verdant lake set in a stony cirque hewn from sheer, rugged peaks. Its progression through forest in varying stages of maturity contrasts stark, stump-filled second-growth forest with many-layered old-growth forest where life still thrives at every level from fern-fringed floor to draping canopy. Until it reaches the lake, the trail is generally enclosed in deep forest shadows, but, as it climbs and enters more mature, open woodland, sunlight increases.
Although often recommended as an appropriate hike for children because of its short distance, parents should note that it can be wet, includes some steep inclines and, given its popularity, is worn down to rocks and roots that may be difficult for short legs to navigate without assistance. Those wishing to enjoy the lake in more solitude may wish to visit on a less-frequented weekday.
For nearly the first half its length, the trail climbs through dense stands of relatively new forest. Throughout, it passes the poignantly impressive remnants of the original, ancient forest, felled by loggers in the last century. Notches still visible in the sides of the stumps remain from where springboards were inserted into the trees to provide footing for the woodcutters to accomplish their handiwork. This stump’s girth and deep, rippled furrows suggest that it was a western redcedar (Thuja plicata), a cypress species misnamed as a “cedar” because of its similarly aromatic, rot-resistant wood. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
Spilling earthward, a stripling’s veiny roots trace the gnarled contours laid by its forest forebear. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
Happily, not all giants were lost to the woodsman’s saw. After approximately one mile/1.60 km, the trail enters mature woodland where old-growth forest, mostly western redcedar (Thuja plicata), still thrives. Typical of their cypress kin, western redcedars are characterized by broad, buttressed bases that taper quickly as they rise. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
Worn by legion successive footfalls, the trail reveals the serpentine roots that enmesh the stony foundations just beneath the thin forest soil. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
Heather Lake pools beneath Mount Pilchuck‘s very eaves. Upon reaching the lakeshore, the trail diverges in either direction to encircle the lake. Heather Lake Trail, September 02, 2012.
Heather Lake’s looking glass mirrors Mount Pilchuck‘s rocky visage. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
Lake bottom pebbles form a starry firmament above Mount Pilchuck in this reversed image of its reflection on Heather Lake. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
Splitting as they age or dry, mushroom caps transform into “flowers” sprouting from the shady forest floor. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
A curiously crooked mountain hemlock’s (Tsuga mertensiana) elephantine trunk doubles upward beside the trail. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
Boulders scattered amid placid shallows and vivid reeds lend the lakeshore a zen garden serenity. Heather Lake Trail, September 02, 2012.
A grove of lichens, likely toy soldiers (Cladonia bellidiflora), and other richly textured species crowns a boulder’s summit. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
On the lake’s southern and western edges, the stunted forest, angled and battered, bears evidence of the winter crush of snow and rock that presses down from Mount Pilchuck‘s heights. Heather Lake Trail, September 14, 2014.
Mount Pilchuck‘s looming crags appear bowed as if in perpetual gaze upon Heather Lake’s pleasant cirque below. Heather Lake Trail, September 02, 2012.