Hike through a fire-devastated forest to an alpine lake set below steep cliffs with a waterfall inlet. Rennie Peak looms to the south and a mature forest shelters many campsites. Come for the day, or camp and explore.
The 2018 Crescent Mountain Fire overran the lower South Creek and Louis Creek valleys, changing the character of the hike, but sparing most of the area near the lake, including the campsites. At the lake, the sounds and sights include the roar of the inlet waterfall in the trees to the southwest, rockfall off the steep cliffs to the southeast and in the fall, the golden larch above the lake. Exploring beyond the lake requires scrambling and climbing skills.
The route to the lake follows the South Creek Trail for 1.9 miles, crossing the Twisp River on a sturdy bridge, passing a junction with the trail from the Twisp River Horse Camp at 0.3 mile, and entering the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness at 1.1 miles. The trail stays high above South Creek, as it makes an easy climb up the valley.
The fire intensity was not uniform in the mostly burned forest, with a wide range of impacts, from pockets of unburned brush and trees to areas with no surviving trees. Just before reaching the Louis Lake Trail, the South Creek Trail passes through an avalanche/debris runout that used to be very brushy. With the fire, the brush is mostly gone and there are views up valley and over to the Louis Creek valley.
In early summer, the trail is lined with flowers that make a nice contrast to the stark black and brown of the burnt forest. The flowers include sunflowers, larkspur, paintbrush, lupine, forget-me-not, and lilies. In fall, the reds and yellows of surviving brush provide color nearby, while a few larches are visible on the high ridges.
Turn left (south) onto the Louis Lake Trail and descend for 0.1 mile to a bridge over South Creek, passing a small camp. From the bridge, the trail switchbacks for 1.1 miles through intensely burned forest, with few surviving trees, to reach the Louis Creek drainage. As the trail turns into the drainage, pass a small, dry camp with a viewpoint.
Once in the drainage, the trail is a climbing traverse through a stark burnt forest for 1.0 mile. Above the trail, the scree slope provided a natural firebreak, protecting the forest above it. In early summer, hear the roar of Louis Creek, about 150 feet below. The stark forest area ends at the edge of a brushy avalanche runout.
The next 0.7 mile shows the pre-fire nature of the area, as it passes through a section of mature forest, crosses below a boulder field, passes a few larches, goes through a spot fire area, and comes to Louis Creek. A flat-topped single log bridge without a handrail has rolled about 30 degrees, making the crossing a bit precarious. The alternative crossing is the ford, just upstream from the bridge.
The last 0.1 mile is a pleasant walk through the forest, passing a camp on the left and a signed trail to the toilet on the right. At the lakes, the camps are in the forest, set back from the lake, due to the brushy northwest shore and rocky southeast shore.
Reach the shore through one of many paths through the brush to enjoy the views up the lake and listen to the sounds. The shallow outlet end of the lake has many floating and grounded logs, some are useful resting places.