The demure Top Lake trail provides easy access and a popular jumping-off point for hikers, backpackers, equestrian riders and trail work volunteers, all headed into the Cascades backcountry during summer and early fall once snow has receded. Take in the beauty of subalpine meadows and regal peaks on the horizon that offer a taste of what draws outdoor enthusiasts here to the Henry M. Jackson and Glacier Peak Wildernesses and beyond.
Beginning at 3700 feet and climbing gradually to circumnavigate the southern flank of Shoofly Mountain, the first mile wages a constant battle with vegetation and mud. Take care with devil’s club but don’t miss the thimbleberry and salmonberry to be savored. Beard lichen drapes from boughs above and pinecones crunch under your feet as you wander below the forest canopy.
In another 0.6 miles, level out briefly at a deep but meager creek bed at 4200 feet. Stumps in an open campsite offer a seat before ascending a little more than 400 feet in elevation on a set of switchbacks. Early season may offer a chance to gather water from the stream but it runs dry as summer persists.
In 0.8 miles the trail enters the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness and the burn area from the 2014 Shoofly Wildfire. As you meander across the slope to the other side of the mountain, you are heralded by the ghostly reminders of the mature forest that once carpeted the mountainside. The fire burned 160 acres of the upper drainage Little Wenatchee River and was one of a series of hard-to-fight wildfires that year due to steep, difficult terrain.
White stone outcroppings are revealed on the now open summit of Shoofly to your right and to your left, peer through inky spines to spot mountain peaks as far south as Mount Rainier. Search for busy bumblebees flitting about bright magenta fireweed rising out of discarded black scales of fallen bark.
Your traverse through the sooty trail lasts 0.8 miles to the other side of Shoofly, where the trail stays on a wooded ridge towards Fall Mountain. A few remaining patches of ashen trees dot the outslope before leaving the burn area entirely.
An ascent of 175 feet for a half-mile towards Fall Mountain brings you to a panoramic viewpoint across the Little Wenatchee River Valley. Take a moment to enjoy the line-up of poet-inspired peaks to the north: Irving, Poe, Whittier, Longfellow and Bryant and the Wenatchee Ridge and barren Labyrinth, Howard and Rock Mountains to the southeast.
It is possible to continue up on a boot path here to the summit of Fall Mountain. The trail is faint and easy to lose and the partially treed summit offers little more than a view of Glacier Peak in addition to peaks you are already spied. You’ll have a much easier opportunity to see that regal mountain before you arrive at Pear Lake.
After this high point of 5200 feet, the trail skirts 1 mile around to the south on a subalpine meadow filled with verdant shades of waist-high ferns, corn lily and mountain ash. Take a minute to observe below in the Lake Creek drainage and you may see a sauntering black bear grazing on a midday snack.
Tucking back into hemlock and Douglas fir, a small saddle offers refuge. Peek through to the north and you could spot the snow white cap of Mount Baker but don’t be surprised if you startle mountain grouse taking shelter at the base of a nearby tree.
The trail rises gently over a knob and then drops steeply down 575 feet to the shore of Top Lake in a half-mile on a direct fall line absent of switchbacks. Your knees will thank you if you've been drinking your water today and you remembered hiking poles. Pause at a viewpoint on the other side of the knob before your descent to gaze at Mount Stuart on the horizon along with Jove and Union Peaks closer in.
Top Lake may fall short of grandeur but makes up for it in surrounding blueberry-rich meadow. Rounding the lake on the northwest side, there is a campsite tucked up in the trees before the privy and a large area of durable surface closer to the lakeshore on the left. Expect this tranquil lake to be anything but on a warm Saturday night in the summer with families, laughter and mosquitos.
WTA Pro Tip: If you arrive at a crowded Top Lake and have a little more pep in your step, saunter another 0.6 miles to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail and another 0.7 miles north to reach the larger Pear Lake.