The rugged allure of the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail and the pristine beauty of Big Heart Lake make backpacking in this corner of Washington an adventure worth pursuing. Nestled within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the West Fork Foss Trail offers a captivating journey through alpine splendor, enchanting waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas. As a passionate Pacific Northwest hiker, I can confidently say that the West Fork Foss Trail is among the most remarkable trails I have ever hiked.
In this guide, we will delve into how to access the wonders of this trail, with a particular focus on the mesmerizing Big Heart Lake. Get ready to discover an outdoor paradise that will leave you in awe at every step.
Table of Contents
Date Completed: June 24th-25th, 2023
Length: 14.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,700 ft
Trail Type: Out and Back
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Accessing West Fork Foss Lakes
Before heading out to the trail, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when planning your trip! This section covers important information about how to get to the trailhead, permits, and weather considerations.
Location of Trailhead
The trailhead for the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail is conveniently located near Skykomish, Washington, making it easily accessible for both local hikers and visitors. To reach the trailhead, follow Highway 2 east from Skykomish until you reach the town of Baring. From Baring, turn onto Forest Road 68 and continue for approximately 12 miles until you reach the trailhead. Look for the signage indicating the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail.
Parking is available at the trailhead, but it’s essential to obtain the required permits before embarking on your backpacking adventure. When I completed the trail, I started on a Saturday Morning and there was plenty of parking around 7am.
Permits and Regulations
Before setting foot on the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail, it’s important to be aware of the permits and regulations in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead. This can be obtained in advance from a ranger station or purchased here.
Additionally, overnight camping along the trail requires a permit. These permits are self-issued for day AND overnight use. These permits are obtained at the trailheads. When you get to the trailhead, there will be a box full of self issued permits. Fill out both the top and bottom portion. The top portion you will attach to your backpack and the bottom you will deposit into the box. Make sure you have a pen! We needed to borrow one from a fellow backpacker since there wasn’t one in the box. For more information, you can contact the Skykomish Ranger District office.
The accessibility of the West Fork Foss Lakes changes seasonally. Generally, the trail is accessible from late spring to early fall, May to October. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the exact opening and closing dates may vary depending on snowmelt and trail conditions. Check with a local ranger station or park authorities for current information on trail conditions, closures, and any other pertinent updates.
By following these guidelines and being mindful of the general location of the trailhead, permits and regulations, and all seasonal considerations, you’ll be well-prepared to access the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail and embark on your unforgettable backpacking journey.
Backpacking West Fork Foss Lakes Trail
West Fork Foss Lakes Trail is known for being a fantastic backpacking trail because of its variability. While many people make their final destination Big Heart Lake, families with small children will do shorter backpacking trips to Trout Lake only a couple miles into the trail.
Day 1: Little Heart Lake
Stats: 6.8 miles – 2,700ft gain – 4.5 hours
The road to the trailhead, while a dirt road, was in fantastic shape. A few potholes but manageable for any vehicles. Arriving at the trailhead around 8:30 am, there were about 20 cars in the lot and many people gearing up for their backpacking trip. After gathering gear and our dog, Meatball, we set out on the trail!
The first 0.6 miles winds through a fern forest. The incline is gradual and there are gorgeous views of West Fork Foss River. Once reaching the bridge across the river, the incline steepened and exposure to the sun increased.
Check Out Another Amazing Backpacking Trip Next: Enchanted Valley
The forest has immaculate trees. Large hemlocks that not only tower over you, but are wider than your arms stretched. With each step for the next 4.0 miles, the incline will steepen. However, the views of the area are increasingly gorgeous.
The collection of switchbacks switches off between shaded and full sun. We definitely took advantage of the shaded parts. Once Malachite Falls are in view, the initial journey upwards is about half way done. There’s a beautiful foot bridge 5.0 miles in that’s great for filling up water and taking a few pictures.
Continuing on, there’s a short trek up to Copper Lake. There’s a rather wide stream that requires crossing. There are enough large rocks to jump to that you won’t have to put your feet in the water. The lake is pristine. Brilliant blue water with a spectacular rocky backdrop and waterfalls cascading down the sheer cliffs. Many people were stopping here to set up camp or take a quick dip in the lake. While one of the biggest lakes on the trail, campsites were extremely limited. Most of the available campsites were right on the trail.
Eventually reaching Little Heart Lake, the trail to get to the campsite is unmarked and easy to pass. A couple of the sites were still covered in snow, but we found the perfect spot to set-up camp.
Camping at Little Heart Lake
At around 4pm biting flies and mosquitos began coming out and with our dog we decided it was best we stay in the tent. So after a quick and cold dip in the lake, we posted up in the tent to avoid the relentless swarms of bugs. We drank boxed wine and had a lovely evening inside the tent.
There was one other couple at the campsite but they were far enough away that we did not see or hear them.
Day 2: Big Heart Lake
Stats: 4.0 miles – 1,400ft gain – 2.5 hours
Day 2 we decided to day hike to Big Heart Lake and leave our gear behind. Right away there is about 1,000 ft of elevation gain in the first mile to the lake. The views are immaculate. As you climb, you will begin to see the terrain in a new light, you see trout lake from an aerial view and on a clear day, Mount Baker.
After 1,000 ft of gain, you’ll hear Big Heart Falls in the distance and catch glimpses of it in between trees. Now it is time for the descent. You will lose elevation to get down to the lake with a collection of switchbacks. With the lake in sight, you’ll see picturesque snow capped peaks surrounding the water. As you walk into the basin the trail leads you along the lake until you reach a log jam, this is part of the trail. Walk across the logs to reach the campsites and enjoy your time at the lake.
We opted to hike back at this point after enjoying a small lunch overlooking the lake. The hike back was quick and before we knew it we were greeted at Little Heart Camp with more swarms of biting flies. At that point we decided to cut our trip short by a day and hike out.
Stats: 6.8 miles – 2,700ft loss – 4.0 hours
The hike out was quick all things considered. With infrequent breaks, we stopped briefly at Copper Lake and decided that this lake was the most beautiful of all the lakes that we saw on the trail. The only lake we did not see was Malachite Lake. If we had stayed that extra day, we had planned on hiking to it on the way out.
We saw some more campsites on the way out in between Little Heart and Copper, but they did not have any lake views, but it’s good to know that they were there in case the lakeside sites were extremely busy.
Many people were hiking in with fishing poles and the sites that were occupied on the way in were now empty. We passed very few people hiking in while we were hiking out. When we eventually got back to the trailhead, the parking lot had half as many cars in it as when we arrived the previous day.
Camp at Big Heart Lake
1st Night: Copper Lake
2nd Night: Big Heart Lake
Long hike out on Day 3
1st & 2nd Night: Big Heart Lake
Long hikes in and out but have plenty of time to swim and relax at Big Heart Lake on Day 2.
1st Night: Copper Lake
2nd Night: Big Heart Lake
3rd Night: Malachite Lake
This gives a taste of every lake on the trail AND shortens your hike out on Day 4.
What to Bring Backpacking
This list is based on the 2 day, 1 night West Fork Foss Lakes Trail. Curate this list accordingly depending on how long you’re taking to complete this trail, the time of year, and your specific needs.
For more details on what to pack, check out my Backpacking Essentials for assistance in choosing gear that you might need.
Any asterisked items (*) are optional but recommended.
Athletic Shorts, Leggings, or Pants
Pairs of Socks
Toothbrush + Toothpaste
Trowel + TP
Leave No Trace Principles
One of the essential aspects of exploring the West Fork Foss Trail and the captivating Big Heart Lake is to embrace the Leave No Trace principles. These principles ensure the preservation of the trail’s natural beauty for future generations to enjoy. Let’s delve into some key tips for practicing Leave No Trace while backpacking the West Fork Foss Trail.
1. Minimize Your Impact
As you traverse the trail, be mindful of your impact on the environment. Stay on designated paths, follow trail markers, and avoid trampling on delicate vegetation. By sticking to established trails, you help preserve the natural landscape and prevent erosion.
2. Pack It In, Pack It Out
Remember the golden rule: whatever you bring with you, take it back. Keep your backpacking gear and personal items organized and dispose of waste properly. Leave no trace of your presence by packing out all trash, including food wrappers and containers. This practice ensures that the trail and its surrounding areas remain pristine and free of litter.
3. Respect Wildlife
The West Fork Foss Trail is home to a variety of wildlife species. Show respect and admiration for these creatures by observing them from a distance. Refrain from approaching or feeding them, as it can disrupt their natural behaviors and potentially harm their well-being. Enjoy the wildlife encounters from afar and capture the magic through photography, remembering to use a zoom lens when necessary.
4. Camp Responsibly
When setting up camp near Big Heart Lake, choose a designated camping spot and avoid camping too close to the water’s edge. This helps protect the fragile lakeside ecosystem and maintains water quality. Follow any specific regulations or guidelines for camping in the area and ensure you leave your campsite exactly as you found it.
5. Educate and Inspire Others
As you embark on your adventure along the West Fork Foss Trail, take the opportunity to educate and inspire others to follow Leave No Trace principles. Lead by example and share your experiences, photographs, and stories on social media or through blog posts. Use these platforms to spread awareness about responsible outdoor practices and encourage others to protect and cherish the natural wonders of this magnificent trail.
By embracing these Leave No Trace principles, we can all contribute to the preservation of the West Fork Foss Trail’s pristine beauty, ensuring that future generations can also revel in its captivating allure. Let’s leave a positive impact and create a legacy of responsible stewardship for this Pacific Northwest gem.
Remember, by minimizing our impact, packing out all waste, respecting wildlife, camping responsibly, and educating others, we can truly leave no trace while experiencing the wonders of the West Fork Foss Trail and the enchanting Big Heart Lake.
Happy Backpacking, Be Safe, and Have Fun!