With 40 pounds of gear on my back and two trusty companions by my side, I hike into the forest, surrounding myself with its the sights and sounds. As three pairs of feet tromp down the trail, I begin to relax, sinking into the flow of the forest.
For this week’s edition of Trailblazers, I take to the Central Cascades with two great friends, Owen Powers and Matt Leist, to tackle the West Fork Foss River Trail. This trail covers 14 miles of backcountry and is home to amazing waterfalls, alpine lakes and miles of empty trail for you to explore.
This system of trails gives you multiple options; day hikes of 1.6 miles one way to Trout Lake, 4.2 miles one way to Copper Lake and 7.3 miles one way to Big Heart Lake. Backpacking trips to Trout Lake, Copper Lake and Big Heart Lake are encouraged. If you are interested in backpacking these lakes, there is ample room to camp by the water at each location.
Shortly after getting on the trail, you will see a sign stating that you are entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. After making a decision on where you would like to go and signing in at the trailhead, step into the forest and begin your adventure, immediately surrounding yourself with the forest.
As you crest one of the first hills, about 0.9 miles after the trailhead, you will see the first big river crossing. This crossing leads across the west fork of the Foss River. This is a wonderful place to stop and enjoy the natural air conditioning coming off the river. Also, take the time to look at the bridge and the surrounding area. The bridge had to be rebuilt due to severe flooding, which took out the bridge and surrounding hillside. This flood overpowered the bridge and swept it downstream, carrying trees the size of cars with it, according to a ranger at the Skykomish Ranger station.
As you continue on, the trail gains close to 500 feet of elevation before popping you out above Trout Lake. Depending on when you began your trip, Trout Lake is a great place to take a water break and alleviate any shoulder pain, due to an upcoming jump in elevation, almost 1900 feet, in the next two miles. This jump in elevation will lead you up an exposed rocky outcropping to a breakoff trail, leading you to Lake Malachite. Lake Malachite is a great offshoot hike if you are looking to add more miles while on your way to or from Big Heart Lake.My two travel buddies and myself decided to hike all the way to Big Heart Lake, in order to spend one night as deep in the backcountry as we could. If you decide to spend time at Big Heart Lake, I recommend continuing across the logjam you see as soon as you descend 300 feet down to the lake. This will allow you to skirt the rim of the lake and find camping quite close to the water.
Even though this hike is about a 2½ hour drive from Bellingham, I highly recommend it. The trail offers terrain for all levels of hiking and you are able to experience one or all the lakes connected to the trail. The Washington Trail Association works hard to maintain these trails annually in order to keep these hikes accessible to anyone who is interested in hiking.