Total Ascent: 2200ft
Highest Point: 3100ft
Total Distance: 11 miles
Location: N 47° 27.1200, W 121° 36.6600
Required Permit: Discover Pass
Our first encounter with the Granite Lakes was back when we climbed up Dirty Harry’s Peak and cautiously peered down the mountainside at a pair of smallish lakes below. At the time, they seemed a bit forlorn at the bottom of a heavily logged valley shrouded in shades of more brown than green.
The hike itself starts off just past the maintained logging roads up to the lakes. A few sections of the trail have been washed out near the beginning of the hike, Mailbox Peak trail head, and follows fairly well but after that the path is wide and fairly smooth. About a mile into the trail we encountered what Harvey Manning describes as “the warzone,” a steadily re-growing swath of clearcut forest that the road switchbacks through. As you climb the haystack of Mount Si is visible just behind Mt. Teneriffe and Green Mountain. Behind you Rattlesnake Mountain eventually becomes visible, before the road takes you around the back of Mailbox Peak.
You’ll cross Granite Creek about two miles up, and shortly thereafter run into a Y in the trail; continue up and to the right. From this point on the trail is almost exclusively an uphill battle, though the snow probably made our ascent more difficult than it would be normally. The trail is often bisected by small creeks and streams which need to be navigated with some care depending on the snow level. At five miles you come to a signed intersection giving you the choice between leaving the logging road and going down to the Granite Lakes, or pressing on to Thompson Lake. We clambered down between the firs toward the lakeshore and took in the spectacular views down the valley: a veritable sea of snow-capped mountains dominated the northwestern horizon.
The lakes themselves were completely frozen and snow covered, looking like tree lined meadows in the bowl of a valley presided over by Dirty Harry’s Peak and Mt. Defiance. We spent some time soaking up the silence born of snow and freeway-noise canceling mountains before heading back down. Manning outlines a 1200ft scramble up to a saddle next to Mt. Defiance to take in some additional views that we decided to forgo as we plan to visit Defiance and surrounding environs before long.
Overall the hike was thoroughly enjoyable, taking us through a mix of forest at a moderate pace, lots of water around to spice things up, while providing some unexpectedly good views. In retrospect, bringing our snowshoes along could have made the hike even better – especially the terrain around the lakes once we left the logging road would have been great fun with snowshoes strapped on. Expect a quiet isolated hike up to the Lakes on this trail. While there were over a dozen cars at the Mailbox Peak Trailhead, we only ran into one other group along the way, a fairly stark contrast to the crowds on Mt. Si.
The trailhead can be accessed by taking Exit 34 off I-90 and taking a left on 468th Ave. Follow the road past the truck stop for about a half mile until you reach SE Middle Fork Road, also known as Forest Road 56. The road has a few twists and will split about two miles in; take either branch, as they merge together just before the asphalt ends. There will be some signage and likely a few cars in the clearing here as this is the Mailbox Peak Trailhead. Continue past, watching for a road with blue gate on your right less than a half mile beyond. There is only a small amount of parking at the gate itself, so you might have to park back at the Mailbox Peak Trailhead. – Nathan
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