backpack: Packwood Lake
Packwood Lake is a great early season backpacking option if you can find a good weather window. Even though the forecast called for rain every day, we lucked out and only had a brief period of bad weather.
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 4-6 miles, 400-700 ft. gain
- day hike options: continue on the Packwood Lake Trail to the end of the lake
- best months: May – June (due to crowds in the summer months)
- location: SW Washington; nearest town: Packwood
- land management: Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Goat Rocks Wilderness
- trail conditions: Packwood Lake Trail #78
- hike description: Washington Trails Association
- permits: self-issued at the trailhead
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass required
Likely due to the easy access, this is a super popular destination and it gets crowded, so go midweek or early on a Friday if you can. While we were there, all of the sites filled up quickly on Saturday (even during a weekend with a lot of rain in the forecast).
5.5 miles with 650 ft. gain
Based on a trip report on wta.org about downed trees on the hiker trail, we were planning to take the Pipeline Road to the lake. The road is about 1/2 mile shorter and allows motorized vehicles such as motorcycles and OHVs. However, when someone in the parking lot told us that all of the downed trees had been cleared, we took the hiker trail instead. The trail is mostly in the trees with no views, although we did get a peek at Mount Rainier on our hike in.
When we reached the lake, we stopped at the day use area to take pics of the lake with a view of Agnes Island and Johnson Peak.
There are a lot of campsites next to the lake, all the way from one end to the other. The first sites are a short distance past the historic ranger station and bridge, but we continued for about another mile to find a more private spot.
The weather forecast before we left wasn’t great… 50% chance of rain on Friday, with 10-30% chance the rest of the weekend and an overnight low near 35 on the first night. I brought a tarp so we could cook out of the rain, and an extra insulated throw to wrap around my sleeping quilt. Thankfully, the actual weather we experienced was much better. : )
This was a leisurely trip so we took our time in the morning before we set out on a day hike. I got up early and sat by the lake taking photos. Two geese families swam by, one with ten goslings and another with five.
The day started out heavily overcast with fog on the ridges across the lake, but by the time we set out to hike, it cleared up and the skies were mostly blue with a few clouds lingering.
A volunteer with two horses was doing trail maintenance, cutting the downed trees that crossed the trail. The week before our trip, quite a bit of work was done that we were thankful for since it kept us from climbing over/under many downed trees on the trek in. So, thank you to all of the volunteers that do work on trails!! It is much appreciated.
We hiked to the end of the lake and sat in the sun for a long lunch break before exploring more of the area. From our lunch spot, Mount Rainier was visible for a very short time before clouds moved in and hid it.
The creeks at the end of the lake were running high with water and flooding an area with giant cedars.
Back at camp in the late afternoon, a storm rolled in with high wind and rain but it only lasted about half an hour. I brought a tarp so we would have a dry place to sit and cook, but we never ended up using it. Instead, we were able to have a campfire both nights and enjoyed dinner there instead. My friend and I have been working on a backpacking cookbook so we ate very well testing recipes on this trip. : )
We were expecting rain on the last morning but we still took time for breakfast before packing up. It started misting on us on the hike out, but since we were under trees most of the time, we hardly noticed.
We stopped to take in views of the lake once last time. I loved seeing the lake in many differing conditions over several days… the fog gave the area a completely different look as we left.
We took the Pipeline Road back to the trailhead instead of the hiker trail, cutting off about half a mile. The road has better views than the hiker trail, but I liked both.
I hope to return here for an early season trip again, but would try to arrive during the week since it fills up so fast.