This year, it seemed the larches just weren’t going to happen for me. But thanks to the late-turning Western larch, low and behold!
I learned there are actually two types of larch: the subalpine larch, like those found at North Cascades National Park and other areas above 6,000 feet elevation, and the western larch, which is found slightly lower. This year, it seemed the subalpine larches turned way before the Western ones, so despite all obstacles, I was able to make it out after all!
Myself and Marissa from Postcards to Seattle planned carefully. She is still recovering from baby #2, but many of the Western larch hikes in the area are pretty short and sweet compared to the mileage and elevation price tag of some subalpine larch hikes. Clara & Marion Lakes is 3 miles of color-popping trees, albeit a bit steep for how short it is.
As we approaches Mission Ridge, pops of blazing larches were apparent. Parking at the ski resort was easy on a Tuesday. The trailhead is well-signed, but the climb starts quickly. We were raring to go after 3 hours in the car, but the steepness had us winded quickly! There were smatterings of larches, but most had lengthy trunks before the colorful boughs could be seen way up high.
There were a few forks here and there, and a few spots with spurs that weren’t on our map, but we made it to a sign for the lake in what felt like a flash. The trail was carpeted in brown needles, indicating the larches here will probably be bare by the time you read this (well, there’s always next year).
The lake, while small, was beautiful, ringed by blazing yellow against blue sky. Days like this, that feel like the final push of sunshine before the grey, are fleeting, and should be enjoyed! While driving three hours (each way) to hike three miles might seem crazy to some, it was wonderful for Marissa and I both to get to squeeze this hike in and take in the sights.
We spent some time at the water, grateful for our layers when in the crisp shade. There was one other person there who had toted a tripod up, capturing the contrasting blue sky, yellow larches, and crystal-clear water of Clara Lake. The shore was a bit muddy in places, likely from the receding lake line, and as much as I enjoyed the sun, I was imagining how it would look with a dusting of snow against the yellow. When so many larch hikes in Washington are pretty challenging, it was great to know there’s some more accessible to the young or those unable to do too long or too much gain in a hike.
Eventually, we tore ourselves away, pushing on the Marion Lake just a little further. While trip reports said it was dried up, we are completetionists who had to confirm this for ourselves. Sure enough, Marion Lake was mostly a swamp puddle, but still worth the extra trek for more sweet, larch-y goodness.
Going downhill was a blur, other than the people scattered about on their way up to the color show. On a Tuesday morning, guessing most of these people were locals, hoping to enjoy one last gasp of fall. I’d guess even in winter this is a pretty snowshoe trail, but parking might be a bit more contentious. On a fall day though, it was glorious.
Distance: 3.0 miles RT to get to Clara Lake and push on to Marion Lake.
Elevation: 900 feet of gain to the lake according to WTA, Gaia, and Runkeeper.
Parking: No pass required.
Bathrooms: None that I saw.
Best Beer Bet: Wenatchee has several options, but the one we chose had unmaksed staff (but surprisingly nearly all customers were masked?) so I can’t in good conscious recommend it at the time.