Our Hiking Time: 4h 30m
Total Ascent: 2400ft
Highest Point: 2600ft
Total Distance: 8.0 miles
Location: N 47° 47.0520, W 121° 34.3320
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Snow levels continue to push us toward hikes in lower elevations, largely confining us to lakes and river valleys. Resigned to the theme for the immediate future, we set out to tackle Lake Serene before spring thaws bring flocks of hikers back to this well-traveled trail. Popular for over 50 years, the Lake Serene Trail #1068 got a makeover in the late 1990’s; a re-route that smoothed the once treacherous trail. These days the Lake Serene Trail is still a workout, with 23 switchbacks winding up the steep shoulders of Mt. Index.
The trail begins innocently enough – it follows a logging road with a mild grade the first portion of the hike, reserving most of the elevation for the end of the hike. For those interested in extending the hike, more than one side-trip is available along the trek up to the lake. Early in the hike, a short spur gives access to the old Honeymoon Mine, which is reported to be relatively safe and interesting to explore. To find it, look for a clearing along the logging road just before the first creek crossing. The unmarked trail is at the far end of the clearing. Additionally, about a mile into the trail, just before the trail hits the switchbacks and elevation gain, a well-signed path winds steeply up to Bridal Veil Falls and an expansive overview of the valley below. The glimpses of Bridal Veil Falls seen from Highway 2 as it passes under Mt. Index do little justice to the experience of standing at the base of the cascade.
From the falls, one can backtrack down to the main trail, or, for those thirsty for adventure, follow the faint bootpath up the mountainside. While this route shaves off almost two miles from the trip, it more than makes up for it in steepness. It is easy to lose track of the path, which at times is completely obscured or blocked with blowdowns. Occasional ribbons mark the way, but when in doubt, hug the creek and follow the path of least resistance. Steep, tricky and occasionally frustrating, this route is not for the faint of heart. However, we think the effort is rewarded by an enchanting waterfall tucked halfway between Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene. Impressive in their own right, the unexpected falls make a great spot to catch your breath before scaling the rest of the way to the top.
At first, the satisfaction of making it up to the lake basin is euphoric in and of itself, but it is almost immediate washed away by Lake Serene spreading out beneath the imposing cliffs of Mt. Index. Unlike many other questionably named places we’ve been to, this is no misnomer – Lake Serene lives up to its name. Once you catch your breath, follow the path as far as it will go around the lake to a popular lunch spot, or find your own little nook to take in the lake. More than likely you’re going to have some company, but there is more than enough of Index to go around. Unpack your lunch and take it all in.
We highly recommend the loop route to the lake for the adventurers out there – although a bit tricky and more than a little steep, it offers unique perspectives and hidden gems. It also avoids the crowds that normally clog the trail during the summer months. Still, if route finding isn’t your cup of tea, the main trail is still rewarding, especially if you take the side trip up to Bridal Veil Falls. Take advantage of the extensive trail improvements that include more than a few flights of stairs, eliminating many of the hazards that once kept this trail out of the guidebooks.
To get there, take Highway 2 out toward Index. Keep an eye out for the Mt. Index road on the right near milepost 35. Take the Mt. Index Road for about a half-mile following the signs directing you to the Lake Serene Trailhead. -Nathan
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