After you've explored a few easy, flat trails with your little one, the Heather Lake trail makes a wonderful next step. With just a bit more elevation gain, and slightly more rugged terrain, it's the perfect place to take children on their first ‘real’ hike. The trail is short, but steep and challenging--it'll give a child a real sense of accomplishment once they reach the lake.. The lake itself is a scenic little lake located on the northeastern slope of Mount Pilchuck.
The trail takes off just left of the large parking lot, and immediately begins to climb through old second growth forest on a series of switchbacks. As you climb through the woods, note the huge rotting stumps with the springboard notches on the side. Springboards were boards placed in tree trunks for the loggers of yore to stand on as they used a large crosscut saw to take down the tree. Notice young trees growing out of the stumps--old stumps nursing new forest.
The trail reaches an old logging road, and follows it for a short distance before it begins to climb again. At this point the trail becomes very rocky and rooty and in high runoff, wet, with little streamlets running through the rocks. Watch for little waterfalls along the way.
The vegetation becomes more interesting as the trail climbs. Admire from the trail the large prickly leaves and bright red berries of devils club and fern understory. You will reach a clearing in the woods as the trail takes a slight bend. After crossing the clearing, look for the wide, spreading roots of a long ago downed tree on your right. The soil has since been packed hard here by many small feet (and some big ones) posing for pictures.
As you continue to climb through the forest again, notice the big old-growth trees that escaped the saws of days past. Give them a hug, then cross another small clearing, and soon the trail begins to level out. Only another quarter of a mile to go and you will be at the lake. The ground is marshy and the trail muddy, but there is a nice boardwalk across some of this. In spring the marsh will be bright yellow with the large showy flowers of skunk cabbage. You will glimpse the lake, but just before you reach it, there is a fork in the trail. The trail goes all around the lake so it really doesn’t matter which direction you choose, you will only add a little over half a mile.
The right fork crosses a series of boardwalks through the woods, and then on to some fine lunch rocks on the far side of the lake. The trail left follows the shore past some nice camp spots along the water. On the east side of the lake there is an open marshy area. You will find a succession of wildflowers here, starting with the marsh marigolds and trillium and ending with fall asters.
Notice the contorted mountain hemlock along this section of the trail, and speculate on what caused it to grow that way. There is also more boardwalk here that passes by a quiet little pond with some reflection picture opportunities, and nice views of Mount Pilchuck.
On your way back, as you pass the outlet stream, notice all the berry bushes and make a note to revisit this little gem of a lake in the fall!
Pro Tip: This is a very popular hike on sunny weekends. Visit midweek, pack breakfast and a thermos of coffee, get there before nine, and have the lake to yourself.