Watson Lake Backpacking

The 60+ hour weeks are still continuing at work, so for our own sanity, forced time off has been implemented. Twist my arm, I guess I’ll go backpacking?

My friend Celeste and I decided to go backpacking together. We’ve backpacked and hiked together before, and luckily we have tons of hikes almost equidistant between us to meet at, but to keep things even safer, we each brought allllllll of our own gear and tents, which meant by far my heaviest pack ever. We decided to stick to a short trail to make up for the heavy packs, with Anderson & Watson Lakes tossed around as an idea. Honestly, it ended up being so stunning I almost didn’t want to write this post, to keep it a secret, but good things are hard to keep to yourself!

The trek on a moody, misty Saturday started off with a bang, with me having to bring my car to a full stop not too far along Baker Lake Road to let a black bear cross. Despite living here my whole life, it was my first bear sighting in this state! It was a VERY small cub, smaller than some puppies, but with cars behind me, I didn’t search too hard for a mama nearby or try to get my phone out for a pic. Hoping it would be my only bear encounter of the trip, I continued onward to the ominous forest road 1106. WTA had tons of reviews urging hikers on this road to only attempt this road with a high clearance vehicle, but luckily we did NOT heed those–the road had a few iffy places, but both of our sedans made it fine, even with mist and clouds so thick I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me at places.

We parked (we timed it well enough to get spots from departing cars), hit the trailhead privy, and hit the trail. While it had stopped raining, there still were plenty of drops falling from the boughs above us. I was pole-less, having only looked at the WTA total elevation, not the profile, which turned out to be a mistake. The trail starts out mildly climbing through the forest before getting to an open-air meadow with a boardwalk, descending down a valley to another valley where you find the junction for Anderson & Watson Lakes. We only did Watson, which was a camel-hump up-and-down from the junction. From parking to end it looks mild, but the camel humps are a bit more effort than it looked like, especially when slick with the morning rain and mud.

Is it a misty mountain hop if you can’t see the mountains?

There was one downed bridge we easily navigated before we entered a misty meadow around one mile in. My heart soared, as I LOVE a good boardwalk section, and despite the gloomy weather, the meadow was gorgeous (only to get more stunning the next day). There is a spur here for Anderson Butte, which adds about an hour of hiking time but is a climb. In the clouds, the view would have been useless, but on a clear day, this can be an astounding view of Mts. Baker and Shuksan. We pressed onward, ascending a bit before re-entering the trees to descend down. The extra-heavy pack, combined with slick ground, made for a quad-numbing trek downward. At around 1.5 miles, we hit another short boardwalk trek in a meadow before the junction for the two lakes.

It’s about a half-mile to Anderson Lake from here, which offers ample camp sites, but most people are in agreement Watson Lake is superior camping, so forward we went. It’s about another mile-plus to Watson fron the junction. Up you climb a little before the steep descent to the lakes. There was one massive blowdown to navigate, and I cursed myself for not thinking rain would mean slick ground and bringing my poles. The extra-heavy packs also made hitting the brakes here harder, and I am grateful Celeste lent me one of her poles for this tricky section.

Soon, you exit the forest for your first view of the lake. Technically, there are two Watson lakes here, an upper and lower, and the view here in the clearing is a great spot to catch your breath before continuing downward. The mud here got worse and worse as we hit the lakeshore.

There are a few spots here, but upper Watson has by far the most sites. We had one somewhat tricky crossing before we reached the upper lake. We surveyed the tons of large sites with ample tent space, all occupied. The trail does continue quite a bit up and around the lake, but the mud here was near-ankle deep and we lost the main trail. We roamed around a bit, seeing only occupied spots besides one small area right on a path with a tiny flat area. It would have to do, but an earlier or weekday start would have meant a more stunning (and far more private) campsite. Although, can I really complain?


As amazing as our 12:00 view was, behind us was just as pretty.

We quickly got our backpacking chairs and snacks out (and my new bug net). The view was stunning here, and in hindsight I can say it might be the prettiest place I’ve backpacked. The water here was a gorgeous emerald-green color that grew more spendid as we approached the shore. My boots were caked in mud and I ached all over, but hard to find any complaints.

The bugs were horrendous, but aren’t they everywhere this time of year? As the sun struggled to emerge and the sky darkened, the hours flew by. Nighttime came with colder temperatures and swarming bugs (which dissipated thanks to the many illegal campfires around us) which had us diving into our down bags. There was no frogs or other sounds, and I slept fairly well, for backpacking.

I woke up around sunrise, eager to hit my chair and watch the golden hour emerge.

To say we had to tear ourselves away would be an understatement.

With the workweek looming closer, we tried to pack quickly and get an early start to free our Sunday for grocery shopping and unpacking. The sun was out, yesterday’s rain a faint memory (minus the mud everywhere). The trail seemed foreign in the sun, with us having to check a few times we were on the right path. The departing view of the lakes, however, was still stunning.

Up we went, before the first camel-hump down. My boots never came close to drying overnight, and despite knocking them together, they were still caked in mud on the soles, which added to the fun factor here. In addition to lending an extra pole again (THANK YOU!!) Celeste reminded me to be extra-careful on the wooden log crossings and boardwalks, as they were slick. We saw plenty of people hiking up (nearly 100% masked) as we entered the first meadow and the last climb up.

Before entering the second meadow, we knew it would be far more stunning than the day before. WTA had mentioned something about a great view of Mount Baker, we we did not know just how amazing it would be.

With every step, the view changed. I really did have to tear myself away from it. Mount Baker is beautiful at any distance, but there’s also the reminders of seeing Baker loom outside of my college dining hall making any sight of it extra-special.

One more for good luck.

We hit our (intact) cars, giddy with the sun and the joy of getting to take our packs off. It was a wonderful trip, albeit a quick one (from leaving my house to getting back to my car was nearly 24 hours altogether). I am not exaggerating when I say I cannot WAIT to return and camp here again–but with hiking poles and hopefully less mud.


In summary:

Distance: Varies a lot depending on if seeing one lake, both lakes, or taking the spur to Anderson Butte. Going straight to Watson Lake and back was just under 5.0 miles according to my Runkeeper.

Elevation: Gain depends on destination–Anderson Butte gains 600 feet in half a mile.

Parking: NW Forest Pass or an America the Beautiful pass.

Bathrooms: There was a pit toilet at the trailhead, backcountry privies at each lake.

Food Storage if Backpacking: Safe storage recommended.

Fires: Not allowed at this elevation.

Best Beer Bet: Birdsview Brewing is right along the way home.


One Reply to “Watson Lake Backpacking”

  1. Beautiful place. Loved the photos. Overnighting near the lake sounds ideal, except for the bugs of course. Glad you got to get away, even if only 24 hours.

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