Surrounded by sphagnum bogs and primeval forest tucked in a quiet corner behind bustling Mount Pilchuck, the Ashland Lakes are the showpiece to the Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources’ 9600-acre Mount Pilchuck Natural Resource Conservation Area (NRCA). The placid lakes are an ideal destination for introducing children to the wonders of nature. Young hikers will especially delight in the numerous boardwalks traversing the saturated and stimulating landscape.
Begin your hike on an old logging road turned easy-to-walk hiking trail across bog and former ancient forest, now big stumps surrounded by dense new growth. In 0.5 mile cross a tannic creek on a sturdy bridge. After a slight climb, at 1.2 miles leave the old road for real trail, the old cut for real forest.
On boardwalks, puncheon, and circular cedar crosscuts, the trail traverses a forest floor full of running and stored water. The Mount Pilchuck NRCA is among the wettest regions in the Cascades, receiving between 100 and 180 inches of annual precipitation, including heavy snowfall. Consequently, the area supports an abundance of plants and ecological zones more common to nearby higher elevations. While the trail has been constructed well, take care on all planking. In rainy weather the boards can be slippery.
Work your way up a ledgy low ridge, pausing to admire a handful of humongous cedars among equally impressive big old hemlocks and silver firs. At 1.7 miles reach a signed junction. Take the trail on the left 0.1 mile to little Beaver Plant Lake (elev. 2840 ft) a sensitive wetland of sphagnum and peat bog. While appreciating this intricate ecosystem, contemplate what a Beaver Plant is (a factory that builds rodents or a tree that blossoms them?).
In 0.25 mile beyond the Beaver Plant spur, crest a 3000-foot divide and reach another junction. Left heads to the hinterlands of Bald Mountain. Head right instead for a gentle 0.25 mile to Upper Ashland Lake (elev. 2846 ft) and yet another junction. The trail left loops around the lake, meeting the main path at the outlet. It tends to be brushy, so stay right on nice boardwalks that offer great shoreline viewing. A couple of tent platforms along the way make sunny napping and lunch spots.
From where the lake loop rejoins it, the main trail continues to the right to Lower Ashland Lake, losing 200 feet of elevation in 0.25 mile. Less-visited than the upper lake, the lower cousin sits in a more rugged setting, flanked by cliffs and talus along its southern shores. Be sure to check out the elaborate bridge at the lake’s outlet before heading back.