Want to take a step out of big city present day and step back in time? A hike to Lake 22 will fit the bill. The trail, a very moderate and relatively short hike, lies near Mt. Pilchuck, west of Granite Falls, off the Mountain Loop Highway. The area was designated a Research Natural Area (RNA), established in 1947 to serve as a type of baseline area to compare other impacted areas that had been logged or otherwise changed. It’s like a living museum of old growth hemlocks and cedars and a mountain lake surrounded by wetlands.
It takes just over an hour from Seattle to reach the trailhead, and by the time you’ve arrived you’ve lost cell service and feel about 60 years back in time. You’ll pass campgrounds and general stores on the Mountain Loop Highway that seem to have similarly been untouched. The first half of the trail goes through the canopied woods, crossing or following the ever-present flow of water. There are lots of moderate hikes in the area that are fine for trail runners or sneakers, but you’ll want hiking boots for this one, due the many small streams you’ll ford. The trail is wet in most places, except during the driest summer days. Waterfalls and wooden bridges offer multiple photo ops. (Note: In snow, this is an excellent snowshoe trail.)
About halfway, you’ll exit the forest into an open rocky slope. You’ll zigzag up this talus field, picking your way through the rocks, but without a punishing elevation gain. If you have a clear day, views across the valley will show you no sign of human habitation or buildings, adding to the “back in time” feel. In early November, the colors are still bright, if fading.
After the slope, you’re back in the forest for the short push to the lake itself. Water is really everywhere on the trail here. But the payoff makes one of the best rewards for a short hike in the area. A small, extremely still lake with steep mountainsides of Mt. Pilchuck seeming to come straight down to shore. A boardwalk goes part way around the lake, and a trail completes the loop, if you’re so inclined. (Please stay on the trail and boardwalk here to keep the pristine area from damage so it can continue to be an excellent RNA). Grab a snack on the boardwalk and soak up the mountain scene. While I ate my snack on a recent hike, an eagle came in and snatched a fish out of the lake and had a snack, too. When you’ve had your fill, head back down the trail to the present day.