To see beautiful Williams Lake, set in a meadow basin with pockets of larch trees, a hiker must earn it. The shallow gradient trail takes 7 miles to gain 3600 feet and is mostly on a fire-scorched, sun-baked south facing slope where the sparse shade offers a welcome respite from the heat.
Almost all the Williams Creek Trail was impacted by the 2018 Crescent Mountain Fire. The area is starting to recover, with lots of fireweed and returning brush. The tread was destabilized in many areas by the loss of vegetation and falling rock. The beauty of the lake and its basin remains, as it was not burned.
The trail starts with 15 switchbacks up a patchwork burned, forested northeast facing slope. The gradient and shade from the surviving trees make for a nice first two miles with 1000 feet of gain. After this, the trail turns into the Williams Creek valley and stays on the southeast facing slope. The valley was severely impacted by the fire, with most trees reduced to stark black monuments to the 2018 inferno. Even the rockslide crossings were impacted with lots of medium sized rock rolling into the trail tread.
In the next 2.5 miles, the trail uses 22 staggered switchbacks to climb up the valley. Note that maps before 2013 may depict the old, steeper trail. At 4.5 miles, the trail enters an old burn area with patchwork burnt younger trees and blackened old stumps. At 5.5 miles, enjoy your first view of the rock bench that anchors the lake's basin.
The trail winds through the rocky terrain and around a lower basin to reach the top of the rock bench. In the last climb, be sure and look back to see the entire Williams Creek valley. From the top of the bench, it is a 0.3 mile meadow walk to the lake.
A number of "horsey" campsites are near the outlet and two more are on the northwest side of the lake. For those with time and energy, a boot trail takes off from the northwest side of the lake and heads up to Williams Butte, a 1000-foot gain from the lake.
Even though this is a creek trail, water will be at a premium in late summer and fall. Williams Creek can be heard, but not seen or accessed in the first six miles. There are small springs that cross the trail in early summer, but dry up by late summer.
In early summer, the trail can be damp or muddy with streams overrunning the trail due to the snow melt. The lake melts out in early July, initially with a cohort of bugs. The nuisance of the bugs is offset somewhat by the flower show in the basin.
In late summer and early fall, the trail is basically dust covered or rocky, with short sections of both. The advantage of the dust is the record of what has used the trail (horses, hikers, dogs, deer, bear, coyote, squirrel, marmot...). Even in late summer, the flower show continues. The shallow lake warms on the outlet end providing an inviting swim in the summer heat. Once the lake level has dropped about a foot, there is fishing access completely around the lake.
In the fall, the cool air provides ideal hiking weather, and at the lake, larches provide a golden touch to the scenery.