Tucked away in a basin just north of Mount Pilchuck, Heather Lake is a great destination for hikers looking for a quick and scenic day trip just an hour's drive from Seattle. While challenging, the trail is suitable for hikers of all abilities: the 1,000 feet of elevation gain is stretched over nearly 5 miles, so the route to the lake is never difficult. Along the way you'll see the classic understory and dense second-growth forest that is indicative of the region. Ubiquitous fern and moss species are joined by devils club, bunchberry, Oregon grape, and other species that can tolerate the second-growth Douglas fir and hemlock canopy.
Logging is part of the history of this landscape, and for a time the trail follows an old logging road. You'll have a great perspective on the upcoming old-growth as you re-enter the forest and the trail proceeds into an unlogged portion of the terrain. Most of the climbing is in the earlier portion of the trail, so at this point the lake is an easy stroll. The trail splits as it intersects with the path that encircles the lake, and you'll notice the boardwalk that has been constructed to protect the marshy wetlands around this beautiful lake.
The lake itself benefits from the myriad streams that cascade down the canyon walls each spring and summer, and if you visit at the right time of year you will get to see this process in action. The south wall of this basin is a sheer rock face, and the waterfalls accentuate the dramatic rock formations. Mosquitoes can be quite busy in the wet seasons, so be warned. Also, because this hike promises such a beautiful reward for moderate effort, the area becomes very popular in the summer months. Consider hiking to Heather Lake on a weekday if you can, and you may get to enjoy the lake and the incredible views of Mount Pilchuck in relative solitude. And as with all heavy use areas, Leave No Trace hiking principles are helpful for managing visitor impact on the alpine environment.