Late September through mid-October can be a great time to get out and enjoy the transition from the green of a Washington summer into the grey of a Washington winter.
Heather Lake is a great hike virtually year-round and even offers itself as a nice snowshoe destination when the snow really piles up.
Round trip distance from the trail head to the lake is about 5.5 miles (including the loop around the lake) and elevation gain is about 1,300 feet. This limited mileage, relatively low elevation gain and easy to follow trail means that Heather Lake is a great destination for those new to hiking, those with a limited amount of time or when the weather is questionable.
On this particular date in late September the plan was to go hiking with my daughter (plus her dog) to Heather Lake. In addition, we would be hiking with my sister, her husband, their dog and two friends of theirs (plus their dog). Unfortunately, my daughter came down with a high fever the night before so she wasn't able to come along this time. Her pup kindly offered to stay home with her.
The five of us healthy people (and two dogs) met up at the supermarket in Granite Falls before we continued out the Mountain Loop Highway to the ranger station at Verlot. The turnoff to the Heather Lake trail head is just a short distance beyond the ranger station. Cross the bridge over the Stillaguamish River and turn Right onto the Pilchuck Mountain Road. Follow this road for a few short miles and park at the obvious trail head.
In the winter, this road is often gated just beyond the trail head. Even in snow, it is often possible to drive to this trail head.
Parking at the trail head does require a Northwest Forest Pass. If you don't have one (or forgot one) there is a one-day-pass 'pay station' (drop your money/check into a slot, no credit cards or change) or you can back track to Verlot to purchase one there (if they are open).
Our weather had the potential to be rainy and wet. Luck was on our side and we stayed dry throughout our trek. Out in this area of the Cascades, weather is often different that it was from wherever you came from. Sometimes it's better, sometimes it isn't. Be prepared for a wide variety of conditions.
While the trail is easy to follow, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of trail obstacles. The trail frequently has large rocks, tree roots and even boulders which require nearly constant attention as to where your next footstep will land. Without appropriate focus and caution, an ankle injury or a fall is very likely. Hiking poles... highly recommended.
As reported in my last trip report to Heather Lake, there are many parts of this trail that have running water over the trail. It's often as if you are hiking in a creek bed. When temperatures drop below freezing, the trail of water becomes a trail of ice.
The only real trail junction on this trail is when you reach the lake. At the junction you have the option of continuing around the lake in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. If you are in need of a back country restroom break, take the clockwise route (to the left) and in a short distance you'll see a toilet sign and faint trail off to the left.
There was a little bit of snow on the far side of the lake and colors were just starting to shift from summer green to fall gold.
At the far end of the lake, I spotted an unusual formation in the walls of the cirque. Using full zoom I managed to capture these images which appear to be columnar basalt (but tilted at an angle instead of the more frequently seen vertical columns). That is a pure guess on my part - don't use that statement as a fact in any geology research assignment. :)
Our return to the trail head was uneventful and we ended our journey with some salad, pizza and beer at Alfy's Pizza in Granite Falls (right next to the grocery store).
Our route map and profile:
If you take a look at the above map, you'll notice that the lake just to the east of Heather Lake is Lake Twenty-Two... the destination for my most recent hike. Trip report coming soon (relatively speaking).