It’s September and time for a spectacular early fall hike. Look no further than Heather Lake, an all-levels trail on the road to Mt. Pilchuck, for the best bang for your buck. It’s a hike that has it all: a wealth of varied terrain and a smorgasbord of Pacific Northwest trees and vegetation, all wrapped up with lake views that seem like they are a screensaver for a computer back in the office. A short drive northeast of Everett, it’s a popular trail, but if you get there early, you might enjoy some quiet solitude at the lake. At a little over 4.5 miles and with a little over 1000 foot elevation gain, it’s an easy to moderate hike for most people.
The trailhead is on the way to the even more popular Mt. Pilchuck, which is several miles further up the Pilchuck Access road, FS 42. It’s a bumpy ride, and you’ll be happy to pull into the parking lot after dodging potholes on the dirt road. The trail is well-marked and wide enough for two to comfortably hike side by side for most of the way. The first long stretch is most notable for the absolutely enormous stumps of old growth trees that were logged ages ago. They are monsters, and you can see the notches in them that the loggers made to place boards to stand on as they sawed them down. It’s also fascinating to see the trees that have sprung out of these stumps. As you get closer to the lake, you’ll also see some gorgeous giant trees that escaped the saws.
Continuing along, the trail is criss-crossed with tree roots that form elaborate patterns that would not be out of place in a modern art installation. While it feels like a cliche to say that a hike is a feast for the eyes—it’s true. The variety of patterns and colors on this hike feels truly unusual, even for veteran Pacific Northwest hikers. Keep your camera or phone handy!
After a moderate climb, you’ll reach the lake, for even more photo-worthy views. The lake is ringed by a trail and boardwalk system over marshy areas, and is well worth circumnavigating. Another bonus of this buttonhook ending is there is space for everyone, even on a busy day. Keep walking around until you find an unoccupied spot for your lake view while you snack. Each angle is different—there is a rocky slide area on one side, a rolling meadow with low vegetation on the other, while jagged peaks (usually snow-covered until mid-summer) rise above the lake and are reflected in the water. September is a great time for this hike—there are still some gorgeous wildflowers at the lake and you might even find some late season blueberries. Enjoy the views and get the requisite lake photo—you can use it as your screensaver back in the office.
Note: You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass for parking at this trailhead.