A Schrodinger’s hike exists–one both so crowded that parking is a feat, but so uncrowded you might not see a soul till the end. This hike is also nice and close, in the town of Gold Bar. I’m talking about not Wallace Falls, but Wallace Lake.
Sharing a trailhead and parking (and some of the trail) with Wallace Falls means on weekends, you need an early start. The lot was full before 9am on a recent Saturday (which to be fair was also a fee-free day which probably didn’t help things). For Wallace Lake, there are three main options, but still some variation in those three options. Your choices are:
- Greg Ball trail–8.5-ish miles. This is your shortest option to get to the lake. The trail itself is through thick woods, so will provide nice shade and cover, which can be nice as it is a bit steeper. You will start and end along the main Wallace Falls trail, where there will be crowds and yes, possibly people with boomboxes.
- DNR Road–14-ish miles. This is your longest option. As it is a former DNR road, it is nice and wide and there are berries and foxgloves aplenty at the right time of year, but it is a bit of a long slog. It is also totally unshaded for a few miles, which could mean exposure to rain or sun. There are some nice valley views and you are almost guaranteed seclusion for the majority of the time.
- Loop of both! Why not get the best of both worlds? I’ve done counter and clockwise each once, there are pros and cons to which direction first.
Mama Boots and I wanted to do some challenging miles for us for a hike to raise funds for the Washington chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I usually do their Overnight Walk every year, 16 miles on hard city pavement, so 11-12 miles on a trail sounded lovely in comparison! While it meant doing the unshaded portion when it was warmer, we did the counter-clockwise trail, starting with Greg Ball and ending with the DNR road.
The trail is shared with Wallace Falls for the first 1.4 miles. You are along a nice, shaded path along the Wallace River, and there are signs aplenty. Given the popularity of the hike, a new addition for us was they have tons of signage, including naming the signs as checkpoints for better ease of coordinating aid if needed. While I had pre-mapped our route in advance, it was super handy to see them frequently to ensure we didn’t miss our turn off. Right at a little overlook was our trail left, while the falls path continues straight.
From here, there were signs every 0.5 miles, letting us know the upcoming difficulty level. It is abundant second-growth here, trees as far as the eye can see. There was also ample shade everywhere, which was nice, as it was supposed to be a little warmer that day than we’d have hoped for. Other than a couple refusing to let us pass (who ironically had tailgated me the entire 25 MPH stretch of road to the parking lot), this portion was fine, if not noteworthy. There was even a pit toilet along the trail at a junction with the Railroad Grade Trail, which was nice. Eventually, the sound of rushing water grew louder as we re-joined the banks of the North Fork of the Wallace River.
Once we re-joined the riverbank, there was even one nice bench overlooking the river. The air was cooler here as well, but that also could have been from the sun disappearing behind some clouds. My stomach was grumbling, but we had decided from the beginning to push forward to the lake for lunch, so onward we went. I saw clearings in the trees from afar, but it seemed forever until at last (3.2 miles) we hit the large, unpaved road walk portion. Turning left is the junction with the DNR road, but when the draw is the lake, we turned right for a little stretch before following the signage to the lake. One more stretch (about 0.75 miles) on a wooded, fairly-wide rocky road, and the sign at the lake was in sight.
As this is a high-mileage hike, seeing a wooden sign (boasting the 5 varieties of trout in the lake) and a picnic table near the lake was not the end. For starters, someone had already snagged the table, but there isn’t much of a view from there. The money spot is actually about 0.75 miles further, where you have a choice of one set of stairs downward to the water, or a bit further where there is a little path right at the sign for Jay Lake to a larger lakefront beach.
We chose the beach, arriving just as a couple was leaving. I pulled out my surprise for Mama Boots, my 26-ounce backpacking chair I had lugged the whole way so she could have a backrest. I had a ‘lunch,’ which was a first for me, as I usually just snack for my summit/lake/halfway point snack. We watched the fish jump and swatted away bugs, watching the clouds swirl overhead.
We drove ourselves away after awhile, knowing we were not even halfway. We retraced our steps until we saw the junction with Greg Ball, which conveniently was the halfway point. From here out, it was all new trail. As it’s a former DNR road, it is a very wide path, and it is very gradual. Some of the views are more clear cut-y (see left), but as we wound our way down, the views of the valley got a little more expansive, as did the ample foxglove growing around us.
Admittedly, this part of the trail can get a bit sloggish. You walk in a straight line for nearly two miles! We didn’t see another soul on this portion, which seems so odd given the full parking lot (and roads leading to the parking lot). We mercifully reached another detailed sign, and re-entered the woods.
At this point, I hit a wall, similar to the one I hit at Mailbox. The trail just continued, and I even joked to my mom that if anyone should be complaining, it was her, as I picked that trail! We saw a few other smattering of people, increasing as we got closer and closer to the main trail. We passed the other end of the junction with the Railroad Grade trail, and soon, kept floating downhill ’til we rejoined the packed main trail (complete with boombox). Limping (well, at least I was), we made it to the car, with my GPS saying 12 miles–our longest hike ever! It was a great experience to share with Mama Boots, and I’m itching for more miles–soon.
Distance: 8-14+ miles depending on route taken. Twice I’ve done the loop of both trails and had my GPS say 12.0 and 11.5 miles, respectively. You can also go one mile further from Wallace Lake to see Jay Lake for 10-16 miles round-trip!
Elevation: 1500 feet, according to WTA. Most gradual incline will be the DNR road, steepest will be the Greg Ball trail.
Parking: Discover Pass required, there is a kiosk in the parking lot that accepts credit cards. You can also backpack at Wallace Lake or Jay Lake, but special permits are required from the park office, which can be reached at 360-793-0420.
Bathrooms: Flushing–yes, flushing! Toilets at the trailhead. Along the Greg Ball trail there was one pit toilet, and at Wallace Lake there is supposedly a pit toilet.
Best Beer Bet: I have yet to try Timber Monster Brewing in Sultan, but a high school graduation parade in Sultan had us opt out this trip. Next time!