Beers at the Bottom has hiked down the Lily-Lizard Lakes trail in the pouring rain, laden with full overnight packs, in complete silence. It was not what I would call a pleasant experience. Luckily for you, dear readers, those circumstances were the extreme—in fact a complete opposite to the hike up the afternoon before, which was warm, joyful, and held such promise for a backpacking overnight.
Lily and Lizard Lakes, located on the east side of Blanchard Mountain, make for a great introductory (or nearly urban) backpacking site largely due to the ease of the trail. The lakes can also be accessed from the more difficult Oyster Dome trail, but we recommend approaching them via the Lily Lake trail located near the Samish Overlook off of Barrel Springs Road in Alger. From this trailhead, the overall elevation gain is only around 700 feet.
The trail meanders gradually uphill through typical Pacific Northwest landscape—dense tree cover, fern dotted embankments, mossy tree trunks, and small run-off streamlets crossing or paralleling the trail. The tree cover offers both a sun shade, as well as rain cover (for all but heavy downpours unfortunately).
At the 1.5 mile mark, the trail will come to a junction. Bear right to continue on the lake trail. Max's Shortcut, part of the PNT, is not really a shortcut at all. I personally don't recommend it—switchbacks, and roller coaster-like grade didn't really add any sense that we were cutting corners with this route. We have a theory that back when the area was used for logging, there was one character on the crew named Max—and he was either a kook when it came to trailblazing, or liked to play jokes on his fellow loggers when it came to his namesake trail.
There aren't many vistas or viewpoints along the trail, but there are plenty of areas for snack breaks, including a clearing complete with log benches. From the junction, Lily Lake is only 0.5 miles, and Lizard only 1 mile. We hiked out to Lizard first, then back-tracked to Lily. The smaller of the two, Lizard Lake is marshy, with deadhead logs and beaver lodges. There are campsites along the lake, but we chose to camp at Lily.
Lily Lake is the first of the two lakes you encounter along the trail and obviously gets it name from the nets of waterlilies lining the shallow shoreline. At the sign for the lake, you'll be directed to the “hiker” camps to the left, or the “equestrian” camps to the right. Go left and walk along a lakeside board walk for a view of this peaceful lake. There is a chance you might catch sight of birds such as hawks, bald eagles and heron who pull fish from the lake. Also be on the look out for newts and other amphibians along the muckier areas of shoreline. Continue to the right and cross a somewhat waterlogged “board”walk to reach the “equestrian” sites. I'm not sure how many horses are really up for walking along the slick, and slightly sinking logs that lead out to this section of the lake, but I'm not much for horseback riding. We chose to camp here because of what is perhaps Lily's greatest asset: a firepit with surrounding benches located on an outcrop on the lake. Even if you're only adventuring out for a day hike, who doesn't love a nice set-down around a warm woodsy campfire?
From Lily Lake, it's also a quick twenty minute hike over to the Oyster Dome viewpoint. Simply follow the stream leading out of Lily Lake near the sign junction, down past the marsh to turn right and head up the last hill climb to Oyster Dome. It's a great place to watch the sunset from. But if you do plan to camp-out, check the forecast before-hand (even if there is only a 20% chance of rain) or else you may end up waking up to a soggy tent and a 4 mile re-trace of your steps back down to your waiting car.
For additional information on Lily and Lizard Lakes, including more photos and detailed directions, check out the following:
Washington Trails Association (WTA):
The Open Road Before Me (Nathan's perspective on our backpacking trip):