Miles: 13.2 Round trip (only if you do an out and back to Panhandle Lake) Difficulty: Moderate My Overall Rating: 4/4 Green Trails Map(s): #332 Spirit Lake
Summary: A nice gentle hike with elevation gain that is spread out well over easy switchbacks. Beautiful views of Mt. St Helens and Mt Adams along with an endless supply of reflection on the sheer destructive power of nature.
Although we used this trail to access another, I will describe the parts of the Lakes trail that we used. Hopefully one day I can return to this area and experience the whole loop.
Starting at the Norway Pass trail head you climb slowly up the side of a large hill toward the pass. The views along the first part of the trail were fairly spectacular despite the heavy gray cloud cover. It is especially interesting to look at the many fallen trees around as you climb and the ones littering Spirit lake.
After the pass the trail climbs once more as it approaches Bear Pass, which is no where near as spectacular as Norway Pass. However, that could have been the clouds. From here the trail levels out a little bit passing Grizzly and Obscurity lakes. Honestly Grizzly was the better of the two but has no camp sites and Obscurity really wasn't all that nice (see camp site descriptions below). Past these two lakes the trail climbs once again as it heads toward Panhandle lake.
Panhandle was the nicest of the three on the first day by far. It is huge and sits in a nice bowl between two mountains making for some great photo opportunities. We were ecstatic at the camp site we got and I was happy my partner had picked these permits.
After settling down for a meal and watching the sun sink behind the mountains the stars came out in force mixed in with the thick band of the Milky Way.
Obscruity Lake Camp sites*
There are two camp sites(4 permits) available. However they were full at the time so I couldn't grab pictures. They didn't look very nice and looked to have little or no lake access. Plus the bathroom was right next to the trail, a disappointing feature of all the camps on this trail.