Some friends joined us today for our hike. We’ve been on the search for a good swimming lake, and a friend suggested Independence Lake on the Mountain Loop Highway. On the road up, we stopped at Coal Lake. It’s a pretty little lake that sits right next to the road, with a short path up and down some roots and rocks to get there.
There is a small camp area (where someone had inadvisedly built a camp fire!). We didn’t stay long, but it looks like a neat place to explore more if we just want some time in nature without a long hike.
The trail to Independence Lake is just under a mile, but it makes you work the whole way. It starts out in rocks and dust, switchbacking up a sunny slope, ferns and fireweed towering over your head. Soon enough it reaches the cool forest, and from then on it’s up and down and up and down, steeply at times, with big and little steps. Some streams cross the trail; most were dry already, but early in the season, there might be some rock-hopping required. We met a WTA work crew doing their best to give some TLC to this beat-up trail; it sure needs it.
But I found it fun, and it seemed that even young children and grandparents were able to navigate their way to the lake. Several folks had continued on to North Lake, but it’s another 2.2 miles farther and more elevation gain, so we didn’t attempt it.
Independence Lake is a gorgeous blue color when the sun shines on it. We sat at the log jam at the outlet stream for a bit, but the kids were anxious to find a spot to swim, so we moved up to the north end of the lake and tried there.
There was a lot of submerged wood debris, but the kids were able to get out in the water for a short time before they became too cold to stand it. The clouds were moving in, and it was at least 10 degrees cooler there than down in the lowlands. Still we lingered until it was time to head back home. It got hot again on the walk out.
If You Go: The road to Independence Lake is across the street from Big Four Ice Caves, in between the entrances to the two parking lots. It starts off nice and well graded, but there are some sections of rocks and potholes and washboarding, and a few areas where early streams must cross the road. Yet all kinds of cars made it to the end, including a Prius. Parts of the road are narrow with dropoffs, so please drive slowly in case you meet another car.
There is an outhouse at the parking area for Coal Lake, and you need a NWForest Pass to park, but there are no amenities at the trailhead for Independence Lake, so no passes are needed. There is a nice campsite when you arrive at the lake, and there is another, larger camping area on the far shore before the trail heads up to North Lake. There is a toilet box at the far campsite. There was also lots of human poo and toilet paper around the camp area. 🙁 Please pack it out or use the box.