BackpackingHikingNorth Cascades

Barclay Lake – The Best Beginner Backpacking Hike in Washington

Barclay Lake
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Total Distance: 4.8 Miles
  • Elevation Gain: 509 Feet
  • Camping Permits: Not Needed
  • Passes Required: Northwest Forest Pass

Backpacking in Washington during the shoulder season (winter transitioning into spring) can be particularly challenging. After a long winter, there’s always that urge to venture into the mountains for the first backpacking trip of the year. While it may be beautiful near Seattle, in the mountains, winter is making its final stand. Planning backpacking trips in the mountains can be tricky when snow lingers in the higher elevations. However, there is one lake in the Cascade Mountains that offers stunning scenic mountain views as the snow begins to melt away – Barclay Lake. This post will delve into everything you need to know about backpacking to Barclay Lake and why it might just be the ideal hike for novice backpackers.

Why Barclay Lake is Ideal for Beginner Backpackers

Of all the backpacking trips I’ve taken in Washington State, Barclay Lake has undoubtedly been the easiest. The total distance for the trip is 4.8 miles, with a total elevation gain of 509 feet. Not once did I break a sweat on the trail. It felt more like a leisurely stroll through the forest, albeit an incredibly beautiful one. If you’re new to backpacking and seeking to hone your skills or simply in need of practice, this trail is perfect. Even experienced backpackers accustomed to covering long distances will appreciate this hike as a gentle warm-up for the season.

Getting to the Barclay Lake Trailhead

From Seattle, expect about a 90-minute drive to reach the trailhead. Head east on US Route 2 towards Stevens Pass, and after roughly 20 minutes past Index, WA, you’ll spot the turnoff for the trailhead. I personally clocked just under 30 minutes on the forest road leading up to the trailhead. Most vehicles should navigate it without trouble. However, if you’re driving a car with lower clearance, exercise caution due to numerous potholes. The trailhead itself is small, accommodating around 20 cars, but there’s ample overflow parking along the road. Pit toilets are located at the trailhead.

What Park Pass do I need?

You will need to have a Northwest Forest Pass or a National Park Pass will do.

The best time to backpack to Barclay Lake

With the trailhead situated at 2,300 feet in elevation, this trail is accessible from early spring to late fall. I particularly recommend hiking it early in the season because the snow melts out here well before it does in the higher alpine regions of the Cascade Mountains.

The trail to Barclay Lake

The hike to Barclay Lake traverses a picturesque valley, with Baring Mountain to your right and Wing and Merchant Peak to your left. You’ll meander through this valley for a little over 2 miles until you reach Barclay Lake. Even on warmer days, the valley retains a cool atmosphere, and if the sunlight is high enough, it illuminates the forest floor with its radiant rays.

Right at the beginning of the hike, you’ll pass through a dense grove of hemlocks that filter out much of the incoming light. As you continue, the canopy gradually opens up, offering glimpses of Wing and Merchant Peak to your left. During spring, it’s common to see lingering snow near the peaks of these mountains. Meanwhile, the forest floor comes alive with vibrant green shoots, moss, and ferns, adding to the scenic beauty of the surroundings.

The trail was impeccably maintained, making for a delightful stroll. I found myself stopping multiple times to capture photos of the enchanting forest scenery. It truly was an incredible experience, taking in the beauty of it all. While I have a deep appreciation for reaching mountain summits, I’ve grown to cherish the richness of these forests just as much.

As you continue along the trail, you’ll soon notice burn areas on the right side, remnants of the Bolt Creek Fire from September 2022. The scars of the wildfires are evident on the landscape, but thankfully, signs of new growth are beginning to emerge, offering hope for the future.

As you continue along the trail, you’ll gradually spot Barclay Creek to your left in the distance. With each step, it draws nearer. To proceed further, you’ll cross the creek via an old wooden bridge. This makes for a perfect stopping point to take in the scenery and marvel at the crystal-clear water, mirroring the vibrant hues of the surrounding trees.

After crossing Barclay Creek, you’ll encounter a gentle ascent in elevation. Baring Mountain, towering to your right, becomes strikingly prominent as it rises dramatically from the forest floor. To fully appreciate its grandeur, you’ll find yourself tilting your head back, straining your neck to take in the full view. The peak reaches an impressive height of 6,096 feet, towering nearly 3,800 feet above the ground where you stand.

After a short 2-miles, you’ll reach Barclay Lake, greeted by breathtaking views. Baring Mountain dominates the scene, its majestic presence towering over the tranquil, pristine lake. Evergreen trees speckle the mountainside, gradually yielding to steep granite cliffs, their bare faces contrasting with patches of lingering snow.

Barclay Lake is the perfect setting for excellent photography

Barclay Lake is a photographer’s dream destination. The serene beauty of the lake, paired with the striking backdrop of Baring Mountain, offers endless opportunities for capturing breathtaking shots. The soft, golden light of early morning and late evening enhances the natural beauty of the surroundings.

For optimal photography conditions, aim to shoot during these times of day. When facing Baring Mountain from the lake, the sun will rise to your left in the morning and set to your right in the evening. This directional light accentuates the rugged granite rocks and towering pine trees, creating a truly spectacular visual display.

There’s also some really large logs that have fallen in the water. Walking out on them make for a really awesome photo!

Camping at Barclay Lake

Reservations are not required, making it a popular choice among backpackers.

All campsites are situated along the North shore of Barclay Lake. It’s essential to camp on durable surfaces and avoid creating new sites, even if it means sharing space with others.

When it comes to food storage, bear canisters are a must. Not only do they protect your food from animals, but they also play a crucial role in safeguarding bears’ lives by preventing them from accessing human food. Be responsible and ensure you pack your food in a bear canister for a safe and enjoyable camping experience.

Where are the best campsites at Barclay Lake?

Among the numerous campsites dotting the shore, a few stand out as particularly desirable. During our stay, we opted for the first campsite encountered, boasting a spacious, flat area nestled under a towering Cedar tree. While it didn’t offer the best views of Baring Mountain, it provided a cozy spot to relax, complete with a sandy area perfect for setting up camp chairs.

However, the most coveted campsite lies further along the trail, nestled in the middle section of the lake. This spot offers multiple camping locations and sits right at the water’s edge, providing breathtaking views of Baring Mountain. It’s no wonder this spot is highly sought after by backpackers.

Further down the trail, you’ll encounter additional campsites, each offering their own charm. While perhaps not as prime as the first two mentioned, these spots still provide a comfortable place to set up camp. If luck doesn’t favor you at the outset, rest assured that you should still be able to secure a spot towards the end of the lake.

Are their bathrooms at Barclay Lake?

Yes, there are small pit box toilets available at the lake. One is conveniently located near the coveted campsite in the middle of the lake. Additionally, there should be another one at the campsites further down towards the far end of the lake. These toilets are not enclosed, allowing you to enjoy the fresh air and forest views while attending to your needs.

Can you fish at Barclay Lake?

Absolutely! Barclay Lake is an excellent fishing spot. According to Washington Fish and Wildlife, the primary species you’ll find here is Rainbow trout. While there are some great spots to fish from shore near the campsites, having a pack raft would allow you to cover a much larger area.

Is the Barclay Lake Trail dog friendly?

Yes, dogs are allowed on this trail. They must be leased.

Are you allowed to swim at Barclay Lake?

Swimming is permitted at Barclay Lake, offering a refreshing way to cool off during your visit. However, it’s important to note that the water depth may fluctuate throughout the year, and during the summer months, it could be quite shallow. Several sandy spots around the lake provide suitable areas for swimming. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to exercise caution, especially as the water temperature can be extremely cold outside of the summer season.

Are campfires allowed?

Yes, technically campfires are allowed at Barclay Lake. However, exercising extreme caution is essential. Early spring through early summer is the safest time for campfires, but it’s crucial to be vigilant. Fire bans are common during the summer and fall months, so it’s wise to check for any restrictions before lighting a fire. The Bolt Creek fire that occurred in the area in September 2022 is testament to the severity of the situation.

Barclay Lake: Serene Beauty in the Cascades

Barclay Lake is a must-visit destination in the Cascade Mountains, whether you’re seeking an easy outdoor adventure or a gentle warm-up hike for the season. From the enchanting forest trails to the tranquil waters reflecting the majestic beauty of Baring Mountain, this spot offers an unforgettable backpacking experience in Washington State.

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