Fourth of July and Washington Lakes
After hiking the long-ish trail to Alice Lake the day before Gail and I set off to do the relatively easy 6-7 mile roundtrip to Fourth of July and Washington Lakes in the White Cloud Wilderness. With only 1,200 feet elevation gain and the short distance to the two lakes the trail is popular among families and other casual hikers so we set off early to avoid the potential crowds, beginning by climbing the steady grade amongst firs along the Fourth of July Creek. As we did so I was reminded by my quads that I hadn’t really hiked in the previous month that we were building in Libby but by the time we approached Fourth of July Lake my muscles had loosened sufficiently and I wasn’t even conscious of the initial fatigue.
Like many of the lakes in the Sawtooths, Fourth of July was located in a basin with a mountainous backdrop. Lush grasses and pines of all sizes surrounded the water where we paused briefly to take some photos before continuing uphill to the rocky saddle where we encountered a small and (I believe) un-named body of water nestled in the scree. From here we could peer into the next basin and grew excited at the profile of the peaks visible to the east/southeast but it wasn’t until we crossed over the high point that we saw the beautifully-dense conifers that surrounded the lake on three sides.
Washington Lake – in my opinion – was prettier than Fourth of July, not only having a more dramatic mountain backdrop but also having being surrounded by taller, more mature forest. After we descended to the shore we realized too that Washington boasted an incredible amount of wildflowers in the surrounding grassy wetlands. We eagerly followed the fishermens’ trails around the southern edge of the lake soaking in more vistas while carefully sidestepping any encroaching vegetation on the pathways. In the process we were able to view the outflow of the lake into Washington Creek and more towering spruce and conifer. Soon enough we ran out of trail and, unwilling to trample sensitive ground, we retreated back to the main trail and the trailhead, detouring at Fourth of July Lake to take some more photos now that the light had changed.