The mission: Find an easy backpacking trip that would be both close to home and not crowded. We managed to luck out with all three!
Having to cancel our planned multi-night trip to Spray Park due to snow and the permit holder’s household getting COVID, we decided it was time to take our pup on his first backpacking trip. With the heatwave blazing, we were confident somewhere higher and shady with a lake would keep us sufficiently cool. We narrowed down our list, and ultimately went with making a loop of Lizard and Lily lakes near Bellingham, confident if one of the lakes’ sites were full, we could hopefully find a spot at the other one. It being a Friday and not a Saturday made us a little more hopeful about snagging a spot.
With the close proximity to Bellingham, we feared crowds. We also feared given the relative ease of the hike there would be partiers. Luckily, we experienced neither! This hike fit the bill for so many reasons, although I still am hoping to go again in the spring for some shoulder season backpacking. We strapped our packs (Schooner’s too!) and took off on an already sweltering day.
The first 1.2 miles is either a roadwalk from the trailhead, or along a road. Admittedly, not too scenic, but at least it was a gentle, shaded climb. We hit our first switchback and pushed on to our first junction. Those wanting a large scenic loop should hang a left here and take Max’s Shortcut for a beautiful large loop, but we stayed right for a more direct route. I had been hoping to do Lizard Lake first, but as we approached the second junction around 3.0 miles in of hiking, we decided Lily was closer, so to turn left and hit it first (after a lengthy break for the pooped pooch). At this sign, our pup bolted to jump into the lake, but we were all surprised at how pond-like it was in terms of muck (and lily pads, fittingly). At least it cooled him down! Lily Lake includes a horse camp as well, so make sure to pay attention. We followed signs to leave the trail and check out the camping sites.
Okay, if you’re reading this to decide which lake you want to camp at, I’ll cut to the chase: it’s Lizard, not Lily. Both lakes have three sites (numbered 1-3 at Lizard, and 4-6 at Lily). All lake campsites had makeshift benches and fire rings (be sure to check status, the trailhead mentioned a current burn ban). Neither lake camping area has great water access or privacy. The sites at Lily were all a bit above the trail, so it would feel like you had people walking through camp all day. They also didn’t really have the best views.
With all of those factors, and how close the lakes looked on my map, we decided to take a break and push on to Lizard and see if those sites were better. With all three sites at Lizard unoccupied, we pushed onward, knowing we might have to return. The connector from Lily to Lizard is almost all downhill, mercifully, and dotted with some of the largest glacial erratics I have ever seen! We arrived at an equally empty camping area for sites 1-3, as well as one large day use area.
While further from the trail and with better water access, the three sites were all pretty close together. Again, all had makeshift benches and fire rings, and two of the three had designated tent areas. However, we liked the one without a clear tent area, #2 best, even if it wasn’t the perfect flat area. We set up camp and quickly changed for a dip! We figured other people would be arriving any second and wanted to maximize time with the camp to ourselves.
Boyfriendo kind of fell in while inspecting the water, to our surprise the lake was far deeper than it looked even close to shore. There was very warm water over lots of muck and mud. Stepping would have you sinking downward, with cold water bubbling up as you plummeted inches. Neon blue dragonflies and other winged insects were everywhere in the air, and there were logs and tree detritus all about as well. We were supposed to drink this water?! Choosing to instead reflect that I was glad to have brought some water sandals, I eased myself in, grateful to be cool but still moreso wading than swimming.
Our pup prefers splashing over swimming, so he wasn’t too keep on swimming. After a bit of glorious cooling off time, we heard a huge, massive crash that sent us sprinting from the water. We still don’t know what it was–a beaver felling a tree? That was enough for us to get about to having our (warm but still tasty) kolsch we brought and preparing for dinner. The bugs were everywhere but between DEET, nets, and a Thermacell, it didn’t seem like we were being eaten alive too badly. We kept hearing little crashes and crunches about, but never saw anything larger than a bright orange lizard-like (newt? Salamander?) creature in the water. With still no people at camp when we tucked into our dinner, we began getting our hopes up. The evening passed without much of note, other than a bored doggo. We crawled into bed, delighted to still have no neighbors. While the noises and crashes around us never really stopped, it seemed like everything around us was small, and our dog didn’t seem phased, so neither were we.
Morning came, with both the pupper and my bladders dictating when I left the tent. Shockingly, I was able to crawl back in for another 90 minutes of sleep, not something fairly typical. I heard one very unique bird call, one that sounded almost like a wooden block being struck. I was pretty content with our trip so far, but also eager to get on trail before the heat returned. We opted to skip breakfast due to both not being keen on even filtered lake water, leaving us with 1.5L each (plus more for Schooner).
The trip back was almost all downhill, and mostly cool in the shade. We were so happy with our fairly successful trip with the pooch, and thrilled to have gotten camp all to ourselves. I was also pleased with the new quilt and tent we had used. We made our way back to the intact car, with my trusty ice water-filled Hydroflask ready to cool us down. All in all, a great trip, even with the legions of bug bites waiting to appeae!
Distance: To Lily Lake campsites via the Lily Lake trail was 3.8 one-way; to Lizard Lake via the Lily and Lizard Lake trails was 3.7. You can make either an out-and-back, or make a loop connecting them, with more add-ons possible.
Elevation: 1369 feet to Lily Lake, 1181 to Lizard.
Parking: Discover Pass
Bathrooms: None that we saw at either camp or the trailhead.
Food Storage if Backpacking: Safe storage recommended.
Fires: Fire rings at all six campsites, but always verify if a burn ban is in effect first.