Not that long ago the road leading to the trailhead of Independence and North Lakes was impassable due to the road being washed out. The road has since been cleared and this picturesque hike is once again accessible. It’s a hard hike with lots of steep elevation gain and loss but the effort you put into it is well worth it once you see the spectacular views on the ridge top and enjoy a quiet moment on the shore of North Lake.
The trailhead is located at the end of Forest Road 4060. No privy is available here but at the trailhead for Pass Lake, located just before this one there is a privy. The road is in pretty good shape. It’s a little narrow at times with steep drop-offs but aside from some of the scarier sections it was a relatively easy drive. There are a few sections of bad potholes but nothing too major! There were rangers at the trailhead checking passes on cars and ticketing those that weren’t displaying the necessary Northwest Forest Pass, so don’t forget to bring yours along!
Our hiking crew had a welcome addition this week, the charming, boisterous, and huge dog Moose, who lives up to his name perfectly, came along! We are dog sitting for some friends, which Latigo thoroughly enjoys seeing as Moose is his absolute best friend in the world!
If you are looking for a short and relatively calm hike then stopping at Independence Lake (elevation 37o0 feet) only .75 miles in is a great hike! The blue/green waters shimmered in the sunlight as the mountains loomed around it.
The trail up until this point had been mildly undulating through a forested area that had brought with it shade.
From this point the hike became very difficult. Steep switchbacks loomed before us, often in the full sun with overgrown wildflowers brushing against our bare legs. The wildflowers weren’t quite finished blooming yet but were getting close and I would expect that within a week or so they will be gone.
During the struggle up the rocky switchbacks to the top of the ridge we took many breaks to catch our breath and drink from our dromedary bags and were often awarded beautiful views of the mountains around us.
Finally to the top we took a spur trail to the left and were greeted with incredible views. Definitely take the short spur trail to take in the views! Even though we were out on a relatively cloudy day, the views weren’t that affected.
We returned to the trail and followed the newly placed signs to continue along the trail towards North Lake. After a short walk along the ridge line you begin the steep and rocky descent into the valley and to North Lake.
We read in previous trip reports that people were confused as to where North Lake is and that many stopped at a small “puddle” assuming that was the lake. Newly erected signs alleviate the wonder and assist in easily finding the hike. I will say that the last sign to North Lake has a right arrow painted on it but there is no trail to the right… Simply continue forward, you are, indeed, on the correct trail.
This section of the trail was, at times, muddy and I slipped on the slick trail more than once. The rocks also made it tricky and there were many large boulders on the trail creating large steps down/up. Again there was no shortage of spectacular views during this section of the hike, making the effort well worth it!
As you descend into the valley the trail is very overgrown and, at times, difficult to follow. Bobby generally takes the lead and today was no different. He had gotten so far ahead of me that I couldn’t see him through the young spruce trees and moss-covered boulders I found myself amongst. I hollered out that I thought I was lost. He hollered back that I wasn’t and to keep going. Then his voice rang out again, “Where are you?” “I don’t know! Maybe I should just sit here and wait for you to come back!” was my response. The descent was making me a little crabby, knowing that I would have to ascend this trail after only a short reprieve on the shore of North Lake. Bobby just laughed at me and managed to find me, I was, in fact, no longer on the trail and he guided me back to the small trail that we continued to follow down.
The trail switchbacks and brings you out of and into the thick short forest and into and out of a boulder field. Latigo was off leash for this portion of the trail because it was so tight and he was pulling a little too enthusiastically at the end of his leash, making Bobby’s descent more than difficult. As we neared the bottom and the shore of North Lake we soon noticed that Latigo was gone from sight and sound and we hollered for him to return. We were concerned that there were other hikers at the lake’s edge that he was pestering. Bobby soon hollered back at me that all was well. He had found a young female Golden Retriever who was also off leash and they were happily playing. Moose was on leash and generally barks at any dogs that get near us but to this beautiful and friendly young pup he only let out one small bark and then happily greeted her. We wondered if maybe he thought she was Latigo at first, seeing as how similar they were in appearance! The two women accompanying the young pup passed us and we found ourselves alone on the shore. The dogs swam while we sat and enjoyed a well earned respite.
After snacking and resting we began the long climb up. This was the slowest hike we’ve done in a long time. We maintained a pace of only about 1.2 miles per hour. We usually average 2mph… The way up proved no different. We stopped often and enjoyed many charming spots for pictures and water breaks. We took our time, discovering all that this beautiful area had to offer. From previous trip reports we had assumed there would be next to no one on the trail. That wasn’t the case today. We encountered four other groups, one of which was quite large. Not so busy that it was frustrating but busier then expected.
Overall, this hike was amazing! It was amazingly difficult but was also amazingly beautiful! Put in the effort, go the distance, and you will be greatly rewarded!