A peaceful wetland lake resting just inside the boundary for Goat Rocks Wilderness, Lily Lake is a gentle stroll, perfect for a day out with the family to experience flora and fauna near White Pass and Mount Rainier. However, the forest road to reach the trailhead is not as gentle, and higher clearance vehicles are advised.
At the trailhead, signage lets you know Lily Lake can be a brief stop before continuing on to higher elevations. The Clear Fork Trail leads to a junction for Coal Creek Mountain or the Pacific Crest Trail at Tieton Pass for those venturing further. Don’t be surprised to see hikers laden with heavier packs starting off for week-long treks as you begin your own ramble.
The trail to Lily Lake begins wide and flat on an abandoned road bed then quickly narrows to bisect a forested plateau above the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz River. The quiet surroundings around you make it hard to believe that through the pines to your left passes Highway 12 and below, daring kayakers are challenged with class 5 rapids in the river’s narrow canyon.
You soon will enter the Goat Rocks Wilderness at 0.25 miles into your walk, stop and gaze up at the towering cedar giants around you. Look for a set of triplets 0.1 mile past the sign that circle together, waiting for little ones to climb up and join them in their embrace.
A marshy area on your right in another 0.25 miles holds the drainage for reflective Little Lava Creek. Listen for choral frogs calling through marshy weeds. You have lost about 50 feet of elevation at this point and will gain another 100 feet or so as you continue towards your destination of Lily Lake.
Trail structures do their best to keep your feet dry as you pass over a few small seasonal streams with neighboring huckleberry and salmonberry that distract hungry hikers later in the season. White bunchberry dogwood flowers nestle around green lichen spotted nurse logs below rugged hemlock and Douglas fir as you wind along in solitude.
Sitting at 3660 feet and easy to miss, keep an eye out for boggy Lily Lake on your right in 0.75 miles. As you walk around the northeast side of this enclosed meadow tarn, a clearing will become evident and a forested ridgeline should be visible through the trees. You have gone too far if you begin to gain elevation again.
Several boot paths turning right off the main trail may require stepping over a small log or two as you walk 40 to 50 feet towards the lakeshore. Brush thickly lines this body of water and early season often means a muddy approach. Be prepared with waterproof boots or climb upon one of a handful of overturned tree stumps to reach a better view.
After observing a blue heron fishing for dinner or a dragonfly flitting over the water surface, use one of the logs nearby to enjoy a mid-day snack before you return back to your car. You may be lucky enough to spot deer or elk wandering through for a drink of water as you relax. If you're very quiet, you can watch for mountain lion that also call this area home.
WTA Pro Tip: Lily Lake can also be accessed from the Clear Lost Trail (#76) trailhead directly on Highway 12 but involves a crossing of Clear Creek and considerably more elevation loss and gain. For a similar lake with a level trail that is accessible by all vehicles and popular for fishing, try the South Swofford Pond Trail near Mossyrock.