Pass-Northwest Forest Pass Difficulty-3.5/5 (kids rating) Rating-5/5
Summer is coming to a close so over the Labor Day Holiday we decided to say goodbye to summer in an epic way, a family backpacking trip! There was so much we wanted to do this summer; so much we accomplished this summer. Hiking in the North Cascades was high on our to do list and we knew we were running out of time. (Depending on the weather roads to the North Cascades can close in October and sometimes won’t reopen until July!) Since there was going to be awesome weather over Labor Day we thought it was time to move “hiking in the North Cascades” from the want to do list into the accomplished list! I found a few hikes online that looked amazing and I sent some to Chris. I was nervous that these hikes might be too hard for our family, but Chris was optimistic that we could do it! We finally picked The Anderson and Watson lakes hike. This hike is great because it is a day hike that also has back country camping spots. This is great for us because it means its on the shorter side and we can break it into more than one day, which makes it even shorter for us!
The longest hike Ryan has done was hiking to Wallace Falls, just about 4 miles. The elevation gain wasn’t too bad on that hike. Lillian was carried a good chunk of that hike and so it doesn’t count on a hike that shes hiked. The longest hike both kids have done was Whistle Lake which is 4 miles with 580 feet elevation gain. Lillian was carried a small amount of this hike, but I’ll give it to her. Our first backpacking trip to Wolf Bar Camp was about 5.2 miles round trip with very little elevation gain and the kids did great on it (they ran the whole way), so we knew the kids could hike well. We hadn’t taken a longer hike than 3 miles with significant elevation gain without the option to carry Lillian before so I was a little nervous with the hike to Watson Lake being just over 6 miles (round trip, so about 3 a day) and about 1200 feet elevation gain (about 600 a day). This would be their hardest hike, and we’d be carrying all our stuff in, and no option to carry a tired hiker.
We packed our gear and loaded up the morning of our trip. We had a bit of a rocky start…First, we stopped and ate at this great burger shack in Arlington called Nutty’s Junkyard Burgers, it was seriously so good, and such a fun environment! I’d drive to Arlington just to eat at his restaurant! Everyone went potty at the burger place, except for Ryan, so naturally 5 minutes into our drive Ryan is screaming that he has to poop. We pull over at a KFC and let him go potty, then we are rolling again. About 5 minutes away Chris realizes that he has left his phone (that is also his wallet) in the bathroom at KFC. So we turn around and go back for his phone. Luckily someone found it and turned it in, not taking any of Chris’ money or credit cards! So we are rolling again. We knew that this places needed a Northwest Forest pass, which we have, but Chris told me to check it and sure enough it hadn’t expired. Surprise, surprise it had in fact expired! We stopped at a Big 5 and we were able to get a new up to date pass. (Glad Chris thought to check to make sure it was up to date!) And we were officially rolling! (No more stops!)
The drive up was stunning! We had huge views of the glacier covered Mt. Baker. We drove along Baker Lake and across the dam. The water around these glaciers is the most stunning turquoise color and the backdrop is snow covered peaks. It is so pretty! As we wound up the mountain roads we got closer and closer to the peak of Mt. Baker. I loved it! Driving up the dirt road we came across a snake that the kids were able to see and they loved it! We were off to a good start.
We pulled up to a pretty packed parking lot of eager hikers. We were hoping a lot of them would be day hikers so we could have a back country spot to camp that night. We used the outhouse there, (actually very clean and not so smelly.) we took our mandatory picture in front of the trail head sign, we signed in the log book, and we were off!
The hike is basically up a mountain, down a mountain, up a mountain, and down a mountain, which is great because you start on the up, when you are nice and fresh, and you end on a downhill, when you are tired. So both directions you start up and end down! This hike is never really flat, but it is stunning! We started off going through a beautiful forest, then we came out into a meadow, looking behind us was a breathtaking view of Mt. Baker and we were surrounded by small peaks all around us. Continuing on we went through another forest, then peaked out at a small meadow. At his meadow you can continue straight to the harder, further Watson lake, or you can veer off to the right to the slightly easier Anderson Lake (we did not do Anderson Lake so I have no idea how much easier it is, but looking at a typographic map, it looked easier). We weren’t sure where we were going to camp that night and we figured once we got to this fork in the road we could tell if we were up for the challenge of going to Watson Lakes, or if we would go to Anderson Lake. We were feeling good so on to Watson Lake we went. We were back in the forest and back to climbing up the mountain!
We made it out of the National Forest the Noisy Wilderness (the kids thought this was a funny name)! At his point we were almost to the top of the Mountain and we could look down and see Watson Lakes! It gave us the extra momentum we needed and we were able to make it down the mountain. The lakes were so pretty, it is one of the prettiest places I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest so far! Once we made it to the lakes we knew we needed to hike around them to find a camping spot. Luckily for us this was the flattest part of our hike! The kids were energized knowing we were almost there!
We were able to hike right along the lakes and the sun was almost at the golden hour! The peaks, and the lakes were on fire! (from the light, not an actual fire….) We hiked through blueberry bushes and snacked as we hiked. We finally got to a bank of a lake and Chris left me and the kids to play in the water while he found a perfect campsite for us.
There were a few other groups camping here, but there was still plenty of room for us. (it wasn’t bad for a sunny holiday weekend!) Chris found a perfect camping site for us on top of bluff over looking the lakes. I still can’t get over how pretty it was! We made dinner and set up camp and we were getting ready for bed. One of the groups was having issues. (Mother daughter problems) and the teenage daughter was freaking out…there was lots of yelling. I wanted to hug the girl and tell her everything would be ok. (I’ve been a teenage girl before and I know that issues, no matter the size, seem like a huge deal.) I also wanted to hug the mom and tell her to hang in there and that shes doing the best she can. Luckily the issues seemed to be resolved, or at least they were able to sleep and all was silent again. It was definitely one of the strangest things I’ve experienced camping…still not sure what really happened.
All in all we slept…ok and in the morning we decided on just having protein bars for breakfast, we packed up camp and we made our journey home. Both kids hiked it like it was nothing. Lillian had one minor freak out and we gave her a snack and a small break and it was smooth sailing. Ryan said we were slowing him down and he stayed about 30 feet in front of us the whole time. We didn’t see any animals, but we did find a fun boulder to climb on!
It was just an awesome backpacking trip and I am glad Chris made sure we would do it! I recommend this one for sure and I think its a place we will go back! Maybe next time we will take some fishing poles and do some trout fishing in the lakes!