Total Ascent: 1900ft (1600ft in; 300ft out)
Highest Point: 5100ft
Total Distance: 5.5 miles
Location: N 47° 22.8240, W 121° 20.1720
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
The rain has come. Soon it will turn to snow and begin to impede our access to trails. This week we wanted to push out beyond the Pass to take advantage of one of the last snow-free weekends. Margaret Lake had been our list for quite some time, and with it raining heavily in Seattle, we decided to take our chances in the mountains.
Lake Margaret is one of a several lakes in the area bestowed with female names; Lake Lillian, Lake Yvonne, and Lake Laura are all fairly close together. We assume there was some theme involved or some story behind the names, but a few hours of searching didn’t give us any hints. Perhaps when we visit Lake Lillian we’ll have better luck with our research.
Like so many trails we’ve been on lately, the Lake Lillian Trail #1332 begins on a decommissioned logging road winding through vast acres of recovering clear-cut. This quickly gives way to an actual trail, albeit one that continues to through the aftereffects of logging. Overall, the trail is fairly tame and most of the elevation gain comes at the beginning. The clear-cuts are bursting with blue huckleberries during the season, although now there’s not much left beyond a few forlorn berries clinging to bushes that have already lost most of their leaves. Switchback up the slope toward the shelter of mature Douglas fir and pine while noting the landscape as you ascend. If you’re lucky, Mt. Rainier will be out headlining the horizon. Mt. Catherine is the large isolated mound at the end of Keechelus Lake. In the middle distance you can make out the sharp point of Silver Peak.
Under the protection of the trees you’ll continue to gain elevation until you attain the ridge. At this plateau the trail diverges. One may continue on to Lillian Lake or take the short spur down to Margaret Lake along the Margaret Lake Trail #1332.1. We’d already decided to reserve Lake Lillian for another day, so we veered off down the spur to the lake. You almost immediately begin a decent into the bowl below Mount Margaret. As you cross over into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, occasional openings in the trees reveal glimpses of what is to come. For us, the reddened fall foliage on Mount Margaret made it all the more impressive.
The trail opens up into meadows as you near the lakes and the trails become much muddier. If it’s rained recently, you’ll want to make sure to take your time and watch your step, as we found the trails pretty slick. You’ll first come upon the very small Lake Yvonne – so tiny that it’s not much more than a pond, further leading us to believe that there’s something to the names of these lakes. It’s as if they had an extra name and needed a lake to go along with it. Lake Margaret lies just beyond.
This is a great little hike. Lake Lillian is fairly popular and most hikers head that direction. Lake Margaret is a little bit less traveled, and if you have some time, there are a number of other lakes right nearby – Stonesthrow Lake, Rock Rabbit Lake, and Swan Lake. Many guide books suggest that the trails to these lakes have been lost to neglect, but we’re pretty sure there are some semi-secret routes to them. If you have sometime, take a look around and let us know if you find anything!
To get there, take I-90 to the Hyak Exit 54 and take a left. As you pass under the freeway take a right on the frontage road. Follow the road for about two and half miles before it becomes the graveled Forest Service Road No. 4832. Follow FR 4832 for a mile or so to an intersection. Head left. Ignore an unmarked and slightly overgrown side road that leads out to the Lake Lillian Shortcut. Instead, continue past for a few tenths of a mile to a parking lot labeled Lake Margaret and Lake Lillian. Gear up and find the trail a few hundred feet further along the Forest Road. -Nathan
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