WA State: Ashland Lakes (Mountain Loop Highway)
We have a new favorite family hike in the Pacific Northwest.
This trail has something for everyone: a lovely lake, rushing streams, wooden boardwalks, and winding trails. There are numerous little pools for kids to explore; in early Spring the skunk cabbage was bursting forth and frogs were hopping amongst the foliage. This would also make an excellent first backpacking trip as there are a few campsites located near the lake’s edge and it’s only 1.8 miles each way. See a map of all three lakes here.
The Ashland Lakes are located within the Morning Star Natural Resource Conservation Area, administered by Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources. The Area includes the ever-popular Mt. Pilchuck, several species endemic to our state, and is classified as one of the wettest microclimates within the Cascade Mountain range. But don’t let the threat of rain keep you from visiting. This hike is a gem. Especially if you come equipped with sufficient rain gear.
Located a mere 15 miles from Granite Falls along the Mountain Loop Highway, the gravel road up to Ashland Lakes is steep but in good condition. Try to arrive early as the small parking lot fills up quickly.
Begin the hike along a gentle former logging trail, stopping to explore the numerous little streams that wind their way through the trees and bogs. Massive stumps sill remain in mute testimony to the vast forests that once occupied this land. A narrow bridge over a tannic bridge will keep the little ones on their toes. The trails begins to climb after a mile and tykes will find the final push (0.8 miles) up to the lake the most challenging due to twisted stumps and rocky areas. It’s at this point that we break out the beef jerky and trail mix to prop up the wilting legs. It’s worth persevering, however, as the lake, weirdly dubbed Beaver Plant Lake, is lovely and there are a few nice spots along the rim for a picnic lunch.
Families still itching to explore can continue on to Upper and Lower Ashland lakes, making the hike about 5.5 miles roundtrip.
Adapted from the Washington Trails Association website: “From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 11 miles to the Verlot Public Service Center. Proceed an additional 4.6 more miles, turning right onto Forest Road 4020 (signed for Boardman Lake, Ashland Lakes, and Bear/Pinnacle lakes). Follow this gravel road for 2.7 miles to a junction. Turn right onto FR 4021 and continue 1.4 miles to second junction. Turn left onto the short and steep FR Spur 016, reaching the Ashland Lakes trailhead in 0.2 mile (elev. 2550 ft).”
3.6 miles roundtrip. Exploring past Beaver Plant Lake to Upper and Lower Ashland Lakes can make this a 5.5 mile roundtrip hike.
800 feet elevation gain.
This is a busy trail in the summer and the parking area fills up quickly. Plan to arrive early (prior to 10 am). There is additional parking along the entry road but it’s narrow and tough to negotiate if there are scores of hikers. Also, the trailhead outhouse is frequently out of toilet paper; bring your own!
Looking for another family friendly hike near Seattle? Try Barclay Lake along Highway 2.