Ashland & Twin Falls Lakes

Kim and I headed to the Mountain Loop Highway for a hike to four lakes. A forested walk to four lakes and a few big waterfalls can be perfect on a hot summer day.The downside can be crowds and lots of bugs. We had the best of all worlds on all counts. To beat the crowds and heat we started early. Meeting in Seattle at 6:10 am and on the trail by 8:00 am. The parking lot for Ashland Lakes is very small. Seven or eight cars at the most. There is a short steep very narrow road up from the junction with the road to Pinnacle Lake and more parking available along the road there. We were early enough to find only a couple cars at the trailhead. I first visited Ashland and Twin Falls Lakes in 1990. I went only to the Ashlands in 1998. My second visit to all lakes was in 2010. The trip is well worth doing more often than every few decades.

On my May 2012 trip there was yellow skunk cabbage from the parking lot to the end of the trail. Just a lot of very big leaves in mid summer. Not much in the way of wildflowers now. No snow at all. Kim loves big trees. What I had forgotten was the monstrous size of many trees on this trail. Not just big trees. Huge trees. Cedars that are 7 feet in diameter. The biggest silver fir that Kim has ever seen. An amazingly large Douglas Fir. The trees alone are enough reason to hike this trail.

The route begins on an old road. It is pretty flat as it travels alongside some bogs. Skunk cabbage grow quite large here. We saw several spider webs wet with morning dew. The route abruptly leaves the road and enters forest. This first part of forest was logged long ago. There are some very large stumps. The trail is not smooth. It is rocky and can be muddy. Since the route is fairly level with lots of small creeks the ground is often wet. Even in mid summer. The trail was built with many boardwalks. Large sections are on wood. Beyond Lower Ashland the trail is narrow and rockier. Not a bad trail but not smooth and it does not get a lot of upkeep. This day we did see a trail crew at work.

At 1.7 miles we reached the well signed junction with the path to Beaver Plant Lake. Nobody was camping at the lake. The lake is turning into a marsh with a lot of it covered with grass. The blue open water and bright green grass were very photogenic in the morning sunshine. After a brief visit we walked the very short trail back to the junction. The highest point of the day was quickly reached at 3,000'. The trail begins a gentle descent to Upper Ashland Lake. We were astounded to be hiking a wet trail to multiple lakes and hardly have any bugs in mid summer. Surprising but much appreciated. The upper lake is good sized. The trail reaches the shore and there are a few access points right off the trail. More campsites with only one taken. The campsites at all four lakes are industrial backcountry. They have plenty of tent space and iron grills for cooking.

We left the upper lake and continued our descent to Lower Ashland Lake. This is where the trail crew was hard at work. They were brushing when we went by and building wooden walkways in a muddy spot when we returned. Nice to see DNR doing some work here. This whole route in on DNR land and requires a Discover Pass. It is located within the Mt. Pilchuck Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA). As such those remaining giant trees should be safe. The trail beyond Lower Ashland Lake is in generally good shape. There is a wooden bridge near Twin Falls Lake that has broken in the middle. It is not over water but is suspended along a steep rock wall. It is a scramble to get down about eight feet and and back up the other side. For this reason the DNR recommends that hikers do not go on to Twin Falls Lake. It is not a hard scramble but it is no longer a trail hike either.

We reached Twin Falls Lake just after 12:00 pm and crossed the high bridge. You need to get down to the shore to see the waterfall plunging over a cliff into the lake. It is most impressive though the amount of water in the falls was much less than in my May 2010 visit. With bright sunshine and few bugs the lake was very pleasant. The lake is much smaller than any of the previous lakes. We spent quite awhile eating and lounging around the lake. Before heading out we checked out the campsites above the lake. I had not done that on my two earlier visits. They are very nice. Flat with benches, iron grills, and lots of tent space.

We also made the short trip along the left side of the outlet creek. A little scrambling took us to the lower falls. They drop about ten feet onto a slab then go over the big vertical falls. It is a long way to the bottom. We climbed back up to the trail and headed out at 2:30 pm. It is all uphill to and beyond the Ashland Lakes. Never steep but uphill as we gained about 765' from the 2234' lake back to the high point. At Lower Ashland Lake one group of campers had left and another group took their spot. We saw almost nobody hiking in or out, just some campers and the trail crew. Doing this hike at a much slower than normal pace had a big advantage. I really took the time to search for big trees. There are so many of them. That and the mid summer time frame made this seem like an almost new hike.

We chopped about 45 minutes off our return time even with a half hour break at Lower Ashland. The forest kept us cool. No bug spray or sunscreen used all day.  We made it back to the truck at 6:00 pm. It was nice to do a trip with a short drive and still have a lot of solitude. Four lakes and so many big trees more than made up for no summit, wildflower, or alpine views this day. All in all, a very nice summer day in the mountains. Totals for the day were just under 9 miles with 1400' of elevation gain.

Edit: In 2007 the Mt Pilchuck NRCA was absorbed into the Morningstar NRCA. The trailhead board information should be updated by DNR.

One Big Bench
Spider's Web
Almost Ripe Berries
Posing With Big Tree
Beaver Plant Lake
Lower Ashland Lake
Big Tree Shot
Tree Sandwich
Shades Of Green
Forest Trail
Another Big Tree
Suspended Bridge
Broken Bridge
At Twin Falls Lake
Outlet Bridge
Twin Falls Lake
Grass In Lake
Pond Below Outlet
Top Of Lower Falls
Lower Falls Over Cliff
Falls Over Slabs
More Boardwalks
Tree Tops
Break Time
Another Reflection
Lower Ashland Lake II
Trailhead Board
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2012