Weekend Hikes in the Pacific Northwest: Josephine Lake

Lake Josephine

This past weekend three of us went on our first hike-in camping expedition of the summer. We wanted a destination that wasn’t too far from Seattle, that wasn’t too terribly challenging for a maiden voyage, and that promised interesting scenery. After some research, we decided to pick up the Pacific Crest Trail at Stevens Pass and take it out to Josephine Lake (a nine mile round trip).

When we woke up on Saturday morning it was raining and we all thought about bailing, but then decided that we might as well go since we were already packed — and I had just purchased a new rain poncho at REI the night before. We headed out toward Stevens at about 10:00 and made it to the trailhead at 12:30. (From Seattle, take I5 North to I405 North. Get on 522 just before Woodinville and stay on that route to Monroe. Pick up Route 2 in Monroe and continue on to the Stevens Pass Ski Area.)

We had an uneventful drive out to Stevens — due to the iffy weather, the holiday traffic was surprisingly light. Following the guidebooks’ instructions, we parked in the easternmost parking lot and found the PCT trailhead without too much difficulty. There’s no signage from the road, but once you’re in the parking lot you can see the trailhead message board a short ways up a trail that ascends from the midpoint of the rear of the parking lot.

The day was, despite early qualms, a perfect one for hiking. We hit patches of light rain during the drive, but by the time we started hiking that had stopped. Cloud cover protected us from the sun and a stiff wind kept us cool as we worked our way up the first ridge. The trail climbs gently but steadily from Stevens for about a mile, offering a view of the lower ski lifts, and then begins a stiff, switch-backed ascent to the peak of the first ridge, passing through wooded areas and alpine meadow. We crossed a handful of people hiking back out, but no one else hiking in.

At the top of the ridge, we stopped for lunch and enjoyed a stunning view of the surrounding peaks.

Mountain Lily

All along the trail wildflowers were in bloom — great clusters of lupines and purple heather, interspersed with red mountain columbine, purple asters, a yellow daisy-like flower, and many other flowers I don’t know the names for. (I believe that the flower shown here is a variant of the Leopard Lily known as Vollmer’s lily, but I’m not sure. Anybody out there recognize it?)

After a brief break, we started working our way down the ridge on sometimes rocky switchbacks. After a long stretch of mostly gentle climbing, we came to Lake Susan Jane. There were two tents set up there, and we said hello to a father and his two small sons, who were setting off for a stroll from one of the tents. Lake Susan Jane was small, but pretty.

After another short rest, we began climbing the second ridge in a final push toward Josephine Lake. At the crest of the ridge, we picked up Icicle Creek Trail, which circles Lake Josephine for about a half mile and then plummets more or less straight down to the lake. Walking along the ridgetop, we knew that the lake was below us, but we could only see clouds through the trees. Finally, just before the trail began to drop, the clouds cleared and we caught a glimpse of the lake far below us.

By the time we reached Josephine Lake we were all pretty well exhausted. Ghostly wisps of cloud were floating on the lake surface and a stiff, chill wind was blowing across the water — the campsites were deserted and we had the entire lake to ourselves. We struck camp, ate a quick dinner, and then retired to our tents where we all quickly fell asleep to the sound of wind blowing through pine trees.

We woke up at 6:00 to clear skies and the promise of sunshine. I made coffee and oatmeal on our camp stove and we watched the sun come up over the ridge and then move across the lake. After we finished our breakfast, a chipmunk made himself at home in one of the bowls and licked it clean.

I had been dreading the hike back up from the lake, but it turned out to be not so bad. A good night’s sleep, a solid breakfast, and a beautiful sunshiney morning all helped matters. Plus my pack was lighter since we’d eaten a good deal of our food, and I did a better job of packing it for the hike out.

It had taken us a leisurely four hours to get to Josephine Lake on Saturday, with many stops for food and photos, but less than three hours to get back out. The hike out is probably a bit easier (despite the almost vertical climb up from the lake), but I think we were all benefiting from being rested.

Saturday’s hike, with its eerie clouds and chill winds was the Scottish moors; Sunday’s hike, with its crystal clear sky and bright, warm sun, was the Swiss alps. The wildflowers along the trail looked especially gorgeous in the sun.

The hike to Josephine Lake would be a lot of fun to do as a day hike, either right now while the wildflowers are coming into full bloom or in the Fall, when the huckleberries are ripe. Despite some stiff bits of climbing, the trail isn’t especially challenging and offers the reward of magnificent views and varied terrain.

The trails to Josephine Lake are shown on Green Trails Map No. 176 (“Stevens Pass, Wa.”).

(Additional photos)

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