Upper Ashland Lake. Credit: Brian Teutsch/Flickr CC
5. Ashland Lakes, Mountain Loop Highway
Distance: 5.5 miles round trip, 800 feet in elevation gain, Discover Pass required to park
Kids will love: the opportunity to inspect beaver activity, dragonflies and tadpoles up close
Description: This is a true Cascadian rain forest, one of the wettest spots on the mountain range’s western slope, and it’s got loads of spongy moss, slimy slugs and stinky skunk cabbage to prove it. On rainy days, the trail also has some very slippery boardwalk, so step with caution.
The trail skirts around three placid lakes fringed with sphagnum and peat bogs — first a wetland home to dozens of dragonflies called Beaver Plant Lake, then Upper Ashland Lake, and finally to the largest, prettiest and most remote of all, Lower Ashland Lake. Most of the trail is on boardwalk, which gives kids the unique opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of unique features of Northwest wetlands, including beaver dams, lily pads and frogs.
Directions: From Granite Falls, head east out of town on the Mountain Loop Highway for 15.2 miles. Turn right on FR 4020, and drive 2.6 miles. Turn right on FR 4021, and proceed 2 miles to the trailhead. Although this area is surrounded by Forest Service land, this trail and the lakes are state land (Washington Department of Natural Resources), so parking at the trailhead requires a Discover Pass.
Editor's note: This article was originally published several years ago and updated most recently for 2021.