It was one of those cold and foggy days in Seattle and on this particular Sunday, Chad and I were in need of some time outdoors and were hoping to also find the sun which has been veiled for days on end.
We drove north towards Mt. Baker – our final destination was to be the Anderson-Watson Lakes. (see directions below). Once on Baker Lake Road, we literally drove up above the fog to blue skies and sunshine!
From Baker Lake Road, we turned to drive over the Baker Lake Dam. This was pretty crazy as the road is a single lane and would have presented quite the conundrum had another car come upon us from the opposite direction. But thankfully, it is pretty desolate up there, so we faced no such challenge.
From the end of the dam, we drove on a dirt road for 10 miles up, up, up the ridge of a mountain. Despite Chad’s excellent driving (navigating the many potholes and twists and turns of this road), at times I couldn’t look out the window because we were so close to the ridge!
Once at the trailhead, there were only two other cars in the parking lot, however we didn’t see a soul on the trails. I was a little nervous upon seeing the sign for “Bear hunting season” at the trailhead, but being from rough and tumble Chicago (ha!), we decided we would be fine.
Chad had our bear spray in hand, a smart purchase for piece of mind on some of the more remote trails. We proceeded on the well managed trail, which had many great boardwalks for our hiking ease.
We quickly made our way to the beautiful meadow where the combination of amazing fall foliage and snow on the ground took our breath away.
This contrast is rare and can only be experienced with perfect conditions of a bit of snow fall yet warm enough weather to keep the leaves on the tree. If you missed it this year, make sure to put this hike on your Fall 2014 schedule. Turning around as we climbed out of the meadow, we were awarded with amazing views of Mt. Baker. As you ascend the trail, the views of Baker get better and better and make for great photos!
Leaving the meadow, we missed the trail (well we thought we were on the trail, but it didn’t seem well groomed at all) and we kept walking deeper into a forest. Suddenly, we felt like we were in an episode of “Lost” and I was wishing John Locke was nearby with his tracking skills. I heard a snap as Chad tripped on a log. What I thought was a snap, was actually Chad accidentally deploying some bear spray as he tripped. The next thing we knew, we were both tearing up and gagging from the pepper spray. Thankfully, we had lots of water to flush our eyes and throats. So much for our Chicago survival instincts!
At the next meadow, we laughed because we saw in front of us the trail we had missed. Back on track, we came to the junction leading to either Anderson Lakes or Watson Lakes. We decided to proceed towards the larger lakes – Watson Lakes, which had been recommended by the Washington Trail Association. We climbed up a small ridge and entered a new forest. On this trail, we came across a medium size bear track in the mud, going in the direction we were going – towards Watson Lakes.
We proceeded another ten feet or so and, AHHHH, we saw the most magnificent lakes just below us.
After taking many photos of this serene area (from up on the hill), we decided to play it safe and turn back, because we were the only ones on the trail and weren’t in the mood to encounter the bear. We will definitely return again to go down to the lakes – which were spectacular!
Our hike back to the trailhead was equally breathtaking (and we stayed on the trail this time!). We drove out of the parking lot and quickly pulled over to take in amazing views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan.
The drive down the mountain didn’t seem as hairy as the drive up (maybe it was just my fear of heights?) and we enjoyed our return drive across the dam (thankfully never encountering a vehicle going in the opposite direction – that would have been an interesting game of chicken!).
What makes hikes up near Mount Baker so fabulous – especially this hike at Anderson-Watson Lakes – is that they are remote enough that most of these areas are not overrun with amateur hikers. While this hike was what I would call “easy-intermediate”, the drive there was not for the mild mannered driver, and the hike was for those prepared to truly respect wilderness (and know when to turn back!). For those up to these challenges, Anderson-Watson Lakes offer many eye-popping, breath-taking rewards.
Important Travel Notes:
Directions To Anderson-Watson Lakes Trailhead: From I-5 take exit 230 at Burlington and head east on Route 20 (the North Cascades Highway). Between Mileposts 82 and 83, turn left on Baker Lake Road, heading north. Continue for 13.8 miles and turn right on Baker Lake Dam Road (Forest Road 1106). Proceed 2 miles (crossing the single lane Baker Dam) and follow the road left on Forest Road 1107. Continue for 9 miles and bear left at sign pointing to Anderson-Watson Lakes. The trailhead will be about a mile further up this road. Beware of potholes!
Required Credentials: Northwest Forest Pass