Backpack Anderson and Watson Lake

Rate this Adventure Washington Anderson and Watson Lake Trail

Added by Holly Singh

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

The drive up 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

Pack List

  • Boots
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag/sleeping pad
  • Water filter
  • Headlamp
  • Cameras, cameras, cameras!
  • Tripod (beautiful view of the Milky Way)
  • Warm clothes (don't forget warm socks, it gets cold at night)
  • Swimsuit/towel (if you dare)
  • Cookware/stove/fuel
  • Food, of course
  • Bug spray (the bugs becoming relentless when the sun sets)
  • The Ten Essentials
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Backpacking, Camping, Chillin, Hiking, Photography, Swimming

Skill Level:



Spring, Summer

Trail Type:



4 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1100 Feet


Family Friendly

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Added by Holly Singh

There's a handful of things that pretty much sum me up: I'm 21, a mother to my crazy little 5-year-old boy, Enzo; and a student at the University of Washington, and I live for the outdoors. I grew up camping and studying botany and ecology (on a lower level of course) and I'm intrigued by everything nature! I may not have loads of cash to travel near and wide with pristine camping/camera equipment, nor do I have the time, but I try my best to get back to my roots and make more memories with my son and the people I meet on the way. Here's to many, many more adventures and cheers to nature and it's bonding magic!

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