It’s been a summer where I feel like I’ve done nothing and yet I’ve been too busy to hike or camp at all! Luckily, I was finally able to hit the mountains to see the stunning Annette Lake.
We arrived at the trailhead, only a short distance off of I-90, to see the very last spot get taken. Luckily, there was a huge open space in the middle, so we decided to be the brave ones first to just take a middle spot (by the time we returned, there was a second row of people in the middle, so guessing this was perfectly legal). While Annette Lake is a bit longer than other hikes in the I-90 corridor, it’s also one of the more flatter hikes, boosting its popularity.
Very quickly into the hike, you have a stunning new bridge to help you cross Humpback Creek. I’ve heard of many a hiker dunking their tootsies in here after their hike, and I have to say that idea didn’t sound half-bad! We were surprised to have such a pretty view so early into the hike, but were grateful for it (as well as the cool mist coming off of the rocks). You continue onward in the shade a bit before crossing under some powerlines in a meadow that I’d guess is exploding with wildflowers at the right time of year. Back into the shaded woods you go, until you reach a crossing, after around a mile give or take (WTA said 1.2 but my GPS said 0.8) with the John Wayne Trail. Take caution as you cross this trail, as it’s a trail with mountain bikers who are moving downhill fast. There was a clearly-labeled sign for when to re-join the trail to Annette Lake.
The next 1.5 miles are where you gain a majority of the elevation of this hike. You re-join the shaded woods though, and will stay in the shade for most of the duration of the hike, which helps. At this point, we marveled at how wide most of the trail was. For such a popular trail, the large width was awesome, as we rarely had to worry about who wasn’t following trail etiquette when you could pass without having to move over. The trail was also filled with people of all ages, and made for some interesting people-watching. Everyone was respectful and polite–was this really a trail on I-90?! We then came across another bridge, this one a natural feat made from the trunk of a massive tree. The price of admission was worth it for these two cool bridges alone, but the tough part was just about to start.
You climb higher and higher, navigating switchbacks. As the treeline grew closer, I saw peek-a-boo hints of what was going to be a stunning view of Granite Mountain. There started to be sun breaks through the tree cover, just enough to be blinded without sunglasses but basically have to be taking them on and off every few steps. The most mild of inconveniences one could possibly encounter, especially on a beautiful day. The sunbreaks got larger as we started having to cross some talus slopes, but the talus crossings also meant the elevation gain leveled off.
After the last talus slope crossing, you’re almost there. I spotted a clearing in the trees and picked up the pace, eager for a view, some jerky, and the delicious crowler of beer I had hauled in to surprise my companion with. There was a fork to the left for a pit toilet, but we continued straight. When we reached another fork, we were stumped. We chose to go right, but upon further exploration either way looks to have campsites for backpackers and places for day hikers to sit for a snack and a view. We did have to do some navigating around logs though, so left might be better if with kids or people with unsure footing or balance.
I had to pat myself on the back for lugging up not only beer and pint glasses, but my beloved Thermarest Z-Seat to put between a log and my rear for our view. It was the perfect lunch, especially with chipmunks around but not begging, fish jumping, and some stunning birds (which Google has informed me were a female and male Western Tanager). There even were a few people swimming in the lake! While bugs were not great, we knew that going in, and between bug spray and permethrin-treated clothes we were mostly unscathed by them.
The hike down was just as pleasant as the hike up. This really was a great trail, and I’m scratching my head over all of the WTA reviewers complaining about roots and rocks–other than the talus slopes, rocks were few fewer compared to many other trails I’ve done. While the distance might be too much for younger children, this is a great hike for almost all-ages.
Distance: 7-7.5 miles (my GPS said 7.0, and that’s with exploring around the lake, WTA says 7.5)
Elevation: 1800 feet, most of which is in the middle of the hike but still fairly gradual
Parking: NW Forest Pass/America the Beautiful Pass
Bathrooms: Pit toilet at trailhead and at lake