Just behind the High Bridge Guard Station at the end of the road in Stehekin, a trail leads to a quiet little lake nestled in lush, vibrant forest. This trail is primarily used by hikers heading to the summit of McGregor Mountain, the most prominent peak towering over the Stehekin Valley, but Howard Lake is a nice destination in and of itself, if you don’t have the time or the desire to tackle the 16 mile roundtrip hike up McGregor. It is accessed by a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which continues north past the turnoff for Howard Lake.
From the High Bridge Guard Station (a remnant from the era of the Civilian Conservation Corps), look for a trail heading north. This is the Pacific Crest Trail. Follow it along the base of a small knoll, heading northeast along wide tread before it makes a turn and begins climbing moderately on more rugged terrain.
The landscape goes from open Ponderosa forest to a greener, more lush area in just half a mile. As the trail switchbacks uphill, look for a junction with a trail signed as the Cascade Horse Trail. The horse trail heads right, but you will switchback yet again and continue on the left-hand trail, continuing to climb and following the Pacific Crest Trail to a turnoff signed for McGregor Mountain. Just a few hundred feet down this trail, find Howard Lake.
A large rock makes a great spot for picnicking and relaxing. Take in 8000-foot McGregor Mountain towering over you, and listen to wildlife all around you. If you like, retrace your steps and explore further north on the Pacific Crest Trail. Otherwise, stay here as long as you need and return the way you came.
Note: This little lake was officially renamed Howard Lake in 2015. The name honors Wilson Howard, who lived nearby and was one of two black miners to stake mining claims in the North Cascades in the 1890s. While some believe the former name came from raccoons that lived in the area, most people believed it was a racial epithet and called for the name to be changed to honor Howard and the unique life he had.