Hike of the week: Packwood Lake

November 12, 2010 

Hike description: All hiking guide books indicate Packwood Lake is crowded. This has not been our experience of late.

At one time, Packwood Lake was a resort destination with boat rentals and fishing outfitters.

The businesses no longer exist, but the fishing is still said to be good. And, even if you don’t catch any trout, what could be bad about trying in such a scenic spot?

This is an easy hike to the emerald-colored lake accented with a small forested island.

Hike in along Trail No. 78, which takes you up and down and up and down again through wonderful forest.

As you get close to the lake, you will come out in some open areas strewn with boulders. The trail is punctuated by some minor water crossings as the seasonal snow melt makes its way across the trail. You’ll know you’re getting close when you notice a different color through the Douglas fir, the intense green of Packwood Lake. As you are saying, “We’re here already?” the trail descends steeply to the shore of the lake. Packwood Lake makes for a great lunch spot with a front-seat view of prominent Johnson Peak on the south end, seemingly just beyond and above Agnes Island. Take your ease, soak your feet in the lake, take a swim, watch the fisher-folks in their inflatable pontoon boats, snooze, or even take some time to explore the trail farther along the lake.

Camping sites with fire pits are found dotting the lake. There are two sites near pit toilets. One is at the north end of the lake and the other is just beyond.

For those wanting another great experience, make Packwood Lake your base camp and hike beyond Mosquito Lake to Lost Lake (another 12 miles round-trip and a 2,800-foot gain).

When you’re ready to head back, take the old road for a different view of the forest.

The road is used by ATVs and motorbikes, so be ready to step aside when you hear them. You’ll pass the power plant and flood control dam on Lake Creek. As you follow the road, you will get glimpses of Mount Rainier to the north.

Stop at every opening in the trees to turn and look back toward Johnson Peak. The road is more open than the upper forest trail you took in and provides breathtaking views of the area. The water crossings on the upper trail cascade down to the road over moss covered boulders and fallen trees, creating enchanting waterfalls to delight you on your way out.

At the end of the road, a trail climbs to the left up to the parking lot.

Directions: From U.S. 12 in Packwood, turn south on Forest Service Road 1260 and continue six miles to the trailhead. From the north, a good shortcut is to pick up the scenic Skate Creek Road (aka Kernahan Road and Forest Service Road 52) to Packwood. Cross U.S. 12 and drive Forest Road 1260 for six miles to the trailhead.

Difficulty rating: 3 (1 is easiest, 5 is most difficult)

Miles round-trip: Nine

Elevation: 500 feet

Best time of year: June to November

Map: Green Trails No. 302 Packwood

Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

Also: Large parking lot and vault toilet at the trailhead. The trailhead is at 2,700 feet and the high point on the trail is 3,200 feet; check for snow levels and trail accessibility for early and late-season hikes. The trail is shared with equestrians. If you plan to fish, have appropriate state and federal permits. Always carry the 10 Essentials.

Info: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, www.fs.fed.us/gpnf; Cowlitz Valley Ranger District, Randle, 360-497-1100; “Day Hiking South Cascades” and “100 Hikes in Washington’s South Cascades & Olympics,” both Mountaineers Books.

Hike of the Week is presented by The Mountaineers Tacoma Branch Hiking/Backpacking Committee.

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