This is a tale of three lakes, each originating from the same starting location. I’m speaking of recent hikes I did to Margaret Lake, Twin lakes, and Lillian Lake. Three gems in the Alpine Wilderness, located off I-90.
To get to the trailhead is an easy one hour drive from Seattle, up and over the pass and taking exit 54 to Gold Creek. The parking lot is not Gold Creek, but ¾ of a mile further on the north side of I-90, continuing east, and then up Forest Service Rd 4934 to a parking lot on the left, marked “Margaret Lake”.
I hiked Margaret Lake on Aug 6th with my brother Chris and his fiancée Karena. On August 11 I came back and did a solo hike to Twin and Lillian Lakes.
The lakes share a common (and mundane) hike up a clear cut which has grown back to 10-20 foot tall trees. There are very nice views along the way looking back at Lake Keechelus, so that is something anyway. At 1.75 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation gain – finally! Second growth forest. From here the hike is a gem. We started at 3,997 feet at the parking lot, and hit the second growth forest at around 5,000 feet. From there it’s decision time – go east to Margaret Lake or north to Twin and Lillian Lakes? The distance to do all three lakes in one day would be tough (at least for my 50-something body). We decided to hike down into Margaret Lake, which was about ¾ of a mile and a drop down from 5,100 feet to 4,800 feet. A word about Guide Books – they suck! I have not found one guide book that accurately measures elevation gain and distance. Try bumping whatever numbers they mention by 20% to get a better estimate. For example, my gps gave me a distance of 5.9 miles round trip for Margaret, and 1,521 feet of elevation gain. The guide book says 6 miles and 1200 feet, so I guess they got the mileage right, anyway.
As we broke the crest and descended down to the lake we began running into snow on the trail, which got more frequent and thicker the closer we got to the lake. Once we arrived, however, we found open areas and some very nice camp sites and rocks to hang out on. The lake was clear of ice – yes! I tied on a Fish Creek Spinner and began working the lake, but had no success. As we fished a half dozen very larger trout swam by. I would estimate them to have been in the 14-16” range – these were BIG trout and not at all what I have come to expect from Alpine lakes. Since the spinner was not working I tried flies (both dry and wet) behind a casting bubble. I actually had one of the trout nudge a small nymph pattern I had tied on, but he wouldn’t commit. After convincing myself that the fish were not in the feeding mood we gathered our things and hiked back to the parking lot. Margaret lake definitely would be worth visiting again, and the elevation and distance would make it a candidate for hiking in a small raft for more serious fishing efforts. I’m sure once a person figured out what those fish wanted they would be a hoot to catch!
Chris and Karena Fishing at Margaret Lake
Lot's of snow but passable
Thursday I returned for a solo hike with my goal to reach the furthest lake along the trail system, Lillian. It was another perfect morning for hiking and there were just a couple cars in the lot, which I found out later were overnighters at Twin Lakes.
I made quick work of the clear cut, and at the fork in the trail headed north to Twin lake, first in line. The hike here follows along a wooded ridge line with spectacular rock fields and peak a boo views. A really nice walk and the kind of hike I enjoy most. At 5,000 feet plus, I was running into some patches of snow and a lot of downed trees on the trail, so this portion of the hike I was pretty cautious.
At around 1.3 miles or so I dropped down into Twin Lakes, a very steep trail and feeling a lot more than the 250 feet descent the guide book said it was.
Twin Lake -shallow - no fish?
Twin Lakes are, as far as I could tell, barren of fish. The lakes are quite shallow and clear. I saw nothing and did make a few casts, looking for trailing fish, but didn’t see a thing. The lakes (one large and one small, but neither very big) are pretty and have several very nice camp sites. This would be a good destination if your goal was to hike and camp in a scenic setting, but not plan on catching fish. The lakes have nice rocky bluffs on several sides.
Onward I went through snow patches and fallen trees to my primary objective, Lake Lillian. Distance traveled, about ¾ of a mile of intense ups and downs, rock fields, more fallen trees, and generally tough hiking conditions. But, well worth the effort! Lillian is one of those “take your breath away” destinations. Surrounded by rocky outcroppings and cliffs, you really get the Alpine Lakes experience. I found myself just taking in the scenery in quiet appreciation. Well, not quite quiet, as a group of seven arrived 5 minutes after I got there. But that was OK, they were cool and we had a nice visit.
Now, regarding fishing at Lillian. The lake was clear of ice except for the west shore where I was. It is possible to work up over some rocky cliffs on the south side of the lake, which would give you a chance to hit more spots, but I wasn’t willing to try this day. One false step and you ARE going in! The water is deep right up to the shore, crystal clear. I did not see any fish dimpling the surface. That said, I have no doubt there are fish in this lake. It is listed as having rainbow trout and the lake is 17 acres. So for me the fishing will have to be for another time.
There is one more lake which is just west of Lillian and about 400 feet lower, Laura Lake. This lake is listed as having rainbow also and is 3 acres. It would require a scramble down a rocky hillside and some dead-reckoning. I’ll leave that to someone younger and more energetic than I.
I shot video and will post it at a later date.
Totals from my GPS:
Margaret – 5.9 miles round trip, 1,521 feet of elevation gain.
Twin and Lillian – 11 miles round trip, 3,020 feet of elevation gain (yes, I feel it!)
Margaret - hiked Aug 6, 2011
Twin and Lillian - hiked Aug 11, 2011