Our Hiking Time: 5h
Total Ascent: Lake Lillian 1040ft; Full trip 2200ft
Highest Point: Lake Lillian 4800ft; Mt. Margaret 5560ft
Total Distance: Lake Lillian 1.75 miles; Full trip 5.3 miles
Location: Lake Lillian N 47° 23.9460, W 121° 20.3700 Mt. Margaret N 47° 22.9920, W 121° 20.3580
Required Permit: None
We’re always looking for ways to extend a hike to nearby peaks and lakes. Often, when trying to dig up more information on a hike, we’ll stumble across new trailheads and alternative approaches. This is exactly what happened when we were contemplating a climb to the top of Mt. Margaret – a trip that would require re-hiking the Lake Lillian Trail #1332. Instead, we found an unofficial “shortcut” trail to Lake Lillian, which allowed us to access the mountaintop from an entirely different direction with less mileage. Happy to be breaking new ground, we packed up and headed out to Hyak.
Unsurprisingly, the unofficial trail is rough and haphazardly scraped into the mountainside. The steep half-mile to Lake Laura and the main trail follows Rocky Run Creek past slide alders, devil’s club and the occasional hemlock. The creek sports a couple of impressive cascades that are easily accessed and worth the short diversion. As the trail briefly plateaus, a spur leads down the few hundred yards to Lake Laura. Access to the lakeshore is limited, but clambering on the rocky cliffs for a better view of the waterfall were enough to tempt us down to the water.
Whether you take the side trip down to Laura or not, the path quickly connects with the Lake Lillian Trail. From here, you have a choice; push up the short distance to Lake Lillian or head right toward Mt. Margaret. The placid waters of Lake Lillian sit beneath Rampart Ridge, quietly fueling Rocky Run Creek. It is possible to skirt the edge of the lake and slog up the ridge to Rampart Lakes and on to Alta Mountain. However, when the lake is high from snowmelt, the shoreline is fairly steep and requires some careful footwork to get around.
If the sun is shining and you’d like a view, head up to Mt. Margaret. Now on a refreshingly well-maintained official trail, the hike becomes easier. In a half-mile you’ll hike past Twin Lakes and look up to the rocky top of Mt. Margaret. From here, begin switchbacking up the shoulders of Margaret until the trail levels out and begins to traverse along the mountainside. Keep an eye out for a faint spur trail following a ridge to the summit and follow it to the top. Once there, find Laura, Lillian and Twin Lakes on display below. On the other side, Margaret Lake sits at the base of the mountain, with Stonesthrow Lake a little further beyond. Sit back and enjoy the quiet.
This is a fun little approach to Lillian, which is a nine-mile hike from the official trailhead. It’s on the more difficult side, but it is a great alternative to the more popular route. If you’re going purely for Mt. Margaret, the official approach is probably more efficient, but includes walking along gravel logging roads and lengthy stretches through recent clear-cuts. Although the road to the shortcut trailhead is currently a bit overgrown, the scenery is much more pleasant from this approach. You’re also unlikely to run into too many other people, as most hikers opt for the traditional trailhead.
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 onto an unmarked road, labeled FR 136 on maps. Follow the increasingly overgrown FR 136 for about two miles until you get to a major switchback and a small parking area. - Nathan
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