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5.68 miles

Elevation Gain

1165 ft

Route Type



Added by The Outbound Collective

Anderson and Watson Lake is is a great beginner backpacking trip in the North Cascades with scenic and secluded campsites. Don't forget your Northwest Forest Pass required.

The drive up to the starting point of the trail to Anderson and Watson Lake was easy, but at the end it gets a little tricky - the service road is sharp gravel and runs for about 10 miles to the trailhead. Some spots are steep and there are large potholes, but slow and steady wins the race. There's a lot of viewpoints on the way up as well, so make sure to stop and stare!

The beginning is a cake walk, and all second-growth hemlock. There are a lot of nicely developed boardwalks to help keep your feet dry over the various creeks, as well as keep the trail maintained and nice. After approximately a mile of basically walking, you come into a beautiful meadow full of wildflowers and more creeks.

There's a sign for Anderson Butte, but continue right though the meadow. The variety of wildflowers bloom the most in August. The meadow had to be my favorite part; I love the slightly rolling hills and the babbling streams. There are a lot of blue butterflies flittering around, as well. Can't forget to mention the horse flies, but it's only through the meadow and they don't really do harm other than annoyingly buzz around your head.

Don't forget to look back, either - on a clear day, Mt. Baker is in full sight and is absolutely magical. Even on a cloudy day, it's wonderful. Pull out your camera, because with every step forward the view gets better and better! The meadow is also a perfect spot to stop for lunch.

At the top of the meadow, you go back into a forrest covered in moss, making the trees look hairy; my 4 year old got a kick out of that. The trail starts to descend steeply so take care, because it has some loose rocks and a lot of roots. It's an easy walk down, but the hike back up can be a little grueling, although at least it's in the shade. Going back up this part is the hardest part of the whole trail. At 1.5 miles from the trailhead you arrive at another shorter meadow, and another junction veering left or right.

The trail to the right heads half a mile downhill to lower Anderson Lake, and the trail to the left continues 1.5 miles to Watson Lakes; continue to the left. It climbs briefly, but be cautious with younger children because the trail does get very narrow in spots. This is where my son started to get pretty tired - we attempted to play I-spy but there wasn't much color in that area other than green, so good luck if you're taking kids, just know you're almost there! After an easy ascent, the trail drops back down. You cross a big log and continue further down and at some points you can spot the lake through the trees.

Then you come out to the first, refreshing look-out: the Upper and Lower Watson Lakes are in plain sight and it's an amazing view. Definitely whip out your cameras again. The way down is packed with oxeye daisies...and sharp (although stunning) rocks. Be careful. Quickly pass the Lower Lake, which isn't very private as usually people are pretty tired so they park their butts at the first sight of a campsite. Continue on to Upper Watson Lake.

Upper Watson is the more dramatic of the two (in looks but not so much in a hike.) The trail goes steadily near the shoreline, and a few places are more rocky than others. It goes through some marshy meadows, and you have to walk over a couple long logs to get to the other side, but it's all easy compared to the hike there, and it's the last stretch. Distant mountains are in full view, and you're able to really see into the crystal clear water when the sun is up. Because it is a glacier lake the majority of the time the water is pretty chilly, but after a long, dirty and sweaty day it feels amazing to wash off in.

The camping is also much better on the Upper Lake and several sites are located on rock outcroppings along the lake shore. A backcountry privy is available in a couple spots depending on where you want to camp. The rock outcroppings, even if a little uneven, are worth it for the privacy and the perfect view of rocky mountains.

Co-ordinates: 48.6747, -121.6017

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