The West Fork Foss Lakes trail has long been one of my favorites.
I remember coming to Trout Lake with my “Uncle Bones” when I was just a kid, and then as now, the trail still wows me with every step.
Elevation gain: 3300’±
Mileage: 14.6mi RT±
Difficulty: YDS 2 , be in reasonable shape
Free loading birds in your backpack the minute you turn around: n=n1 x n2/m2 x f(t²)
Your journey starts out easily enough, gradually gaining elevation along the Foss River and it’s mostly dry flood channels.
Keep an eye out to your right for Shoestring Falls, descending into the Foss on it’s west bank.
About a mile in you’ll come to a very well built bridge which, if it’s secretly anthropomorphic, is likely counting the days until the next major flooding event, the likes of which destroyed it’s predecessor.
Standing on the bridge, you are a little less than a mile down trail from Trout Lake.
Along the remainder of the way there are a couple of points of interest;
One is an absolutely monstrous tree (can’t miss it). If you hike this trail with friends I can guarantee we’ll have one thing in common; a picture of someone standing in front of this tree.
The other is marked by a rusted 2-½in pipe crossing the trail. Without going into too much detail; above this pipe, blasted into the flanks of Malachite Peak is the 772′ long Imperial #2 tunnel, and the 112′ Vine Maple Prospect.
Below the pipe, along the banks of the Foss River, is the site of the old Imperial Power Plant. Not much remains, but the occasional rusted metal relic can sometimes be found.
At Trout Lake take a breather, cast a line or stay the night at one of it’s campsites.
The trail begins to climb significantly after passing the west shore of the lake, almost 2000′ in less than two miles!
Silver Eagle Peak dominates the eastern horizon as you switchback up through mixed forest and shrub. At one point you’ll pass a corner with easy access to a slabby watercourse, great for dipping your head into and refilling empty water bottles.
Malachite Falls becomes visible as you gain elevation, it’ll be filling your ears with it’s 618′ of waterfally-ness before you can see it.
You’ll continue to gain elevation, eventually surpassing the waterfall and coming to an intersection with the Lake Malachite trail.
NOTE: You may also notice a sign near here that says “Campfires prohibited beyond this point” This means ALL points along this trail beyond this sign (Specifically any point above 4000′)
Lake Malachite is only a short, sorta steep hike from here, offering great views, a few campsites, and fishing.
Less than half a mile from the intersection you’ll cross a fairytale-esque bridge of perfectly placed boulders before setting eyes upon beautiful Copper Lake.
The popular campsites fill up quick, but the lake is spacious enough to allow some breathing room if that’s what you are looking for.
If Copper Lake isn’t your thing, the trail continues along it’s eastern shore towards Little Heart Lake.
Not a whole lot jumps out at you on this section of trail, but you will pass over the tailings pile of a mining prospect at the south end of the lake, and there are a couple of established campsites along the way.
Little Heart Lake seems a little less hospitable by comparison, it’s smaller, and seems crammed into the surrounding rock. Upon first glance, shoreline access also seems extremely limited.
Exploring around however reveals some established campsites, and ample talus shoreline if you are a little more adventurous.
Leaving Little Heart Lake, the trail again begins to climb, gaining a little under 1000ft in a mile, then losing a few hundred feet on the way to Big Heart Lake.
The views through here become more dramatic.
Looking back you’ll see Trout Lake (perhaps bringing back memories of when your legs were not on fire) Delta Lake is down below, Otter Lake peeks at you from across the valley, and then finally Big Heart Lake, shimmering at you through the trees.
The first time you approach Big Heart Lake is likely to stick with you for the rest of your life…
You walk in on top of a little ridge that parallels a small arm of the lake. The water is deep, and bluer than anything you’ve yet seen, not unlike that mysterious fluid barber’s put their combs in.
Here the official trail ends, there are a few campsites available in the immediate area, and a couple more hidden about.
For the ambitious hiker, this may only be the base camp, for there are numerous boot paths leading to many destinations: Angeline and Azurite Lakes, Camp Robber Peak, Chetwoot Lake, you could even make it a loop back down the Necklace Valley.
The West Fork Foss river trail is your oyster.
Bearing that in mind, leave your oyster better than you found it; pack it in, pack it out, leave no trace, take only pictures, leave only footprints, I’m sure you know them all.
Basically; Don’t be “that guy”.
THE GETTING THERE
Firstly, I’d suggest driving to Skykomish to procure a pre-hike sandwich, or some campin’ booze at the ever friendly and delicious Sky Deli.
After filling up at Skykomish, head east on the “2” and you’ll pass the Skykomish Ranger Station, keep your eyes peeled for the Foss River Road branching south (right) from the highway. Take it.
A little over a mile in you’ll pass beneath a gargantuan railroad trestle, and then hit a fork. Stay right.
You’ll pass the Necklace Valley trailhead on your left in another half mile, and a half mile past that is your left turn for the West Fork Foss River Trail#1064. The turn is signed, but can be missed.
Two miles from the intersection and you’ll be there.
The trailhead has ample parking and a pit toilet, but on summer weekends, try and come early because this is a popular trail, and is steadily gaining in popularity with every new Ballard condo.
THE REQUIRED DOCUMENTS
Currently a NW trailpass or other qualifying document (America the beautiful interagency pass) is required at the trailhead.
In addition to provided links,
Woodhouse, Phil; Jacobson, Daryl; Petersen, Bill; Cady,Greg; Pisoni, Victor, Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines Vol.1: The West Central Cascade Mountains. Oso Publishing Company, 1997