West Fork Foss River – Trout Lake

With the sudden arrival of fall, and even snow at the passes, time is running out to get in those higher mountain hikes. West Fork Foss Lakes trail to Trout Lake is a fairly easy excursion into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, much prettier than expected, and has ample space for one last easy overnight with the kiddos.

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Trout Lake, pictures don’t do it justice.


The Basics:
From route 2, turn south onto Foss River Road just east of the Skykomish Ranger Station. Proceed south for about 4 miles on the part paved, part good gravel road. You will pass under a train trestle, immediately followed by a forest road spur to the left. Stay straight, pass one more spur on the left still continuing straight. At a well signed junction, turn left on to forest road 6835 and follow it to road’s end. (Navigation note: Google maps and others say that forest road 68 continues all the way to the trailhead but it is actually 6835 after you make the left turn.) Federal recreation pass required. A vault toilet is available.

All-Terrain Stroller Options:

West Fork Foss Lakes Trail:

Begin your hike by registering for a wilderness permit at the trailhead. It is free and self serve but if you’re caught in the wilderness without one a big ticket awaits you. Plus, it helps with trail funding to know how many visitors are using the trail, so take the extra minute to register.

Immediately entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the trail starts out wide and flat, meandering gently through deep shady forest. In early summer, the wildflowers are plentiful. Watch for wood sorrel, calypso orchids, and every shade of green possible. This time of year, the colors of fall should be in full swing alongside the evergreens and plush moss.

After about half a mile of shady forest, the trail begins to open up with peek-a-boo views of the West Fork Foss river, the surrounding mountains, and some sizeable waterfalls in wetter seasons. The views open up more and you get closer to the river as you continue onward, coming up right along side it in a short while.

Just shy of one mile, you will cross the West Fork Foss on a fairly new and very sturdy bridge. It is narrow so cross single file and take turns pausing to admire the river cascading through the rocks to your left. Beside being sturdy, the bridge has good side rails so even those who hate bridge crossings (raises hand…) should feel comfortable crossing here.

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Beautifully constructed bridge over West Fork Foss River.


After the bridge, the trail begins to climb gently away from the river, switchbacking a couple times before leveling out in beautiful old growth forest. There are two trees in particular that have to be the biggest trees for a hundred miles. You will know them when you see them. Both are worthy of pictures and hugs, though it will take an entire group of hikers to get a hug around them. I seriously exclaimed, “Whoa!” when the second one came into view. The section of trail that climbs between the bridge and the big old trees is narrow and very brushy at times. Keep an eye on the kiddos and your own footing (more of that in the Hazard Warning section…).

At 1.6 miles from the trailhead, reach the outlet of Trout Lake. A map detailing the lake and the surrounding camping facilities is found here. There is a surprising number of camping spots and multiple backcountry toilets noted. This would be a great spot for a first backpack or one last quick escape before the snows settle in. As you continue, the camping area is off to your right, the lake shore to your left.

In just another tenth of a mile, there is a good side path down to the lake with a lovely hillside and beach to sit and admire the view, cast a line for some of the eponymous trout, or wade in on a hot day. I was surprised at just how nice the view was and at the size of the lake. Neither comes through very well in photographs and most trail descriptions are focused on the further, much higher, lakes. Continue further down the trail if you like or rest a while and return the way you came


Hazard Warnings:
About a mile from the trailhead, the trail crosses the raging West Fork Foss River on a very nicely constructed bridge. Watch kiddos at the ends of the bridge as the water is running fast in the river below. After the bridge crossing, the trail is very narrow and brushy with dropoffs at times. Keep a closer eye on the kiddos past the bridge.

Besides the brushy and narrow sections, there are sections with loose rocks and slick roots and rocks. I suggest good boots and poles if you are carrying a kiddo. Even with boots and poles, watch your step. I was wearing an excellent pair of boots and using poles and took quite the fall when one of my feet slipped on a root while stepping up. It was like it happened in slow motion… I thought I had caught myself with my poles (and knees) but then kiddo’s weight shifted in the pack and he pushed me further off balance, sending our heads towards rocks. I managed to stop us just before either of our heads hit but ended up bruised, scraped, twisted, and sprained (its bad when your ankle is purple the next day right?) Even with the right equipment, falls can happen. I was able to finish the hike but was grateful to be hiking with friends. Had that fall been worse, we would have really needed them and our 10 essentials.

Exploring Further:
The West Fork Foss Lakes trail continues another 5.5 miles past Trout Lake, gaining 2800 feet in earnest through a chain of four more alpine lakes.

Along the access road, you passed the trail head for the Necklace Valley Trail, another alpine lake backpacker’s route. For a beautiful and exceedingly green add-on, check out the first few miles of the trail along the East Fork Foss River.

Back on rt 2, there are many others trails and parks to explore. Stop in the Skykomish Ranger Station for a map. Short, but steep, Heybrook Lookout makes a nice contrast to the deep lush forest walk. If the mountains are out and you’re up for a climb, Heybrook is a great choice.

For a couple easy add ons, and to maximize the use of your gas tank if you’ve come from the I5 corridor, continue just a little further up rt 2 to either the Iron Goat Trail or Deception Falls.

Reading Further:
If you don’t already have a shelf, or entire bookcase, full of local hiking guides and maps, here are some of my favorites featuring this hike and/or others in the area:

Day Hiking: Central Cascades

100 Classic Hikes Washington

Alpine Lakes Wilderness [Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests] (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)

Hiking Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness: Day Hikes and Easy Overnights

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