Monday, September 23, 2013

Huckleberry Heaven

Labor Day meant another day off work.  It also meant another chance to go hiking.  And I knew just the place.  Huckleberries were ripe in the Indian Heaven Wilderness.  High time for a visit!


I convinced my friends Young and John to join me.  They too like huckleberries, so it didn't take much arm-twisting.

No hiking post is complete without a trail sign.

The Indian Heaven Wilderness is located in southwestern Washington.  It's known for beautiful alpine meadows, plentiful scenic lakes, and massive huckleberry fields.  Long ago Indians used to come to this area to race horses and pick berries.  A large berry field near the eastern wilderness boundary is still reserved for the local tribes.

Time to pick some berries!

But within the Wilderness boundaries, anyone is welcome to gather berries.  I made sure to pack a large nalgene water bottle to hold my stash.  Young and John scrounged up two spare water bottles from their pickup.  Bring on the berries - we were ready!

Lovely woods

The Indian Heaven Wilderness offers many trailheads and lots of hiking options.  For today's hike, I chose my favorite, the East Crater Trail to Junction Lake.  The plan was to tack on a loop to Lemei Lake and return via the Pacific Crest Trail, a grand total of 9.2 miles.

The mushrooms were out in force.

My friends and I started out on a glorious late summer day.  The sun was shining, the temps still moderate, and the green woods beckoning.  We didn't travel very far before getting sidetracked by a large field of huckleberry bushes, heavy with fruit.  Time to get pickin'.

This mushroom looks like a pancake.

In no time I'd amassed a good collection of berries in my bottle.  But we'd burned a half hour, and there was still a lot of trail yet to cover.  So my friends and I packed away the bottles.  There would be many more chances to gather berries further down the trail.

We reach the Pacific Crest Trail

As we hiked, Young and I kept spotting bushes full of huckleberries.  It was so tempting not to stop and do more picking.  But since the last two miles of our return trip would be on this same trail, we decided to wait until then.  (Although it didn't stop Young and I from grabbing a berry or three as we walked by!)

Junction Lake

John, keeping his eyes on the ground instead of in the bushes, spotted a huge patch of unusual mushrooms.  Some of them were really pretty - round as a golf ball, orange colored with white spots and another large and flat like a pancake.  I took so much time photographing the fungi, John probably regretted telling me about them.

Young walks along Junction Lake's shoreline

But 2.6 miles from our trailhead, the East Crater Trail connected to the Pacific Crest Trail.  Also at this intersection was the appropriately named Junction Lake.  A scenic little body of water, it was ringed by Douglas Firs, and to our delight, more huckleberry bushes.

These huckleberry leaves are sporting fall colors

Around the lakeshore, some of the huckleberry bushes were just beginning to turn.  Their leaves displayed the most wonderful hues of red.

On to Lemei Lake!

At Junction Lake, my party and I left the PCT for a spur trail that would take us the two miles to Lemei Lake.  Although nearly noon by now, it was agreed to hold off lunchtime until reaching this next destination. 

Huckleberry break

Besides, there were bushes of berries lining the trail.  One could always grab a handful for a quick snack!

Loved these red leaves

The trail climbed up a wooded ridge, with more mushrooms hiding out below the trees.  We meandered through more huckleberry fields, past a few bushes sporting the most lovely red leaves I've ever seen.

Lemei Lake makes a wonderful lunch spot

Then our path began the long descent into Lemei Lake.  Following a well-rutted track led us into the grassy meadows surrounding this cute little lake.  We chose a spot near the water.  Gazing across the water, towering fir trees made a nice backdrop.  A very peaceful spot.  Perfect to rest and enjoy our lunches.

Scenic lakeshore of Lemei Lake

Grasses floating in the water made unusual patterns.  Dragonflies buzzed the lake's surface.  It was hard to leave - I could've stayed here all day.

Mega huckleberry picking session

But the call of the huckleberry is a strong one.  Young noticed a huge clearing nearby full of berry bushes.  Packing up our lunches, a mega picking session ensued.

Beautiful little creek

We spent a long time wandering around the bushes.  But I managed to fill my bottle to the brim.  Yahoo - I now had a goodly amount of berries, more than enough for a cobbler.  An there's nothing better than warm huckleberry cobbler!  Young and John also nearly filled their bottles.  Our work now done, it was time to finish the hiking loop.

We reach the PCT once again

Past beautiful blue Clear Lake, we again rendezvoused with the PCT.  Following this famous trail back to Junction Lake, we passed by several small scenic lakes.  First Deer Lake, then Bear Lake, and finally tiny Acker Lake tucked in woods way below the trail.  All of these lakes had great shoreline campsites, and I made a mental note to return here next year for a backpacking trip.

We also passed a few PCT through hikers.  I talked to one man briefly and offered him my gummy bears, but he declined saying his pack was already too full.  It's amazing to think these people started at the Mexican border and now here they are in southern Washington!

Our trail passed by many lovely lakes

Arriving back at Junction Lake, John spotted a huge group of people fanned out in the huckleberry bushes.  It appeared they were grabbing every berry in sight.  As my friends and I made our way back down the East Crater Trail, Young noticed there weren't many berries left in the bushes.  Surmising this party must've picked them clean, we were glad to have filled our bottles at Lemei Lake.

Heading home!

A wonderful day to be out in the woods and high meadows of Indian Heaven Wilderness.  And always nice to come home from a hike with an extra something yummy to eat.  If you've never tried huckleberries, they're a real treat.  More tart than blueberries, they are amazing in pies, jams and cobblers.  And - speaking of cobblers - that's exactly what my berries became.

Too bad huckleberry season only comes around once a year!

Sharing with:  Tuesday Muse.


  1. Love the pics and as always, am so amazed at the diversity of nature. Those lakes are just beautiful and something my mountains simply don't have. We have the rushing streams and plenty of water, but no small, calm lakes. So beautiful! Bet that cobbler is long gone!

  2. I'm jealous, jealous, jealous!! I do believe I would be in better shape if I could hike and look at beautiful scenery and eat huckleberries!! An exercise dvd in my living room just doesn't cut it..:( I've never eaten huckleberries....sure wish this was a magic computer and you could send me some huckleberry cobbler...yum!! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I'm still remembering your fall color shots from last year, now you tempt with berries. I can't wait to get to your neck of the woods someday, I have a feeling I won't want to leave...well, at least until the snow flies.

  4. beautiful! And I love the wooden signs ...

  5. Love hiking with you Linda ! Mushrooms shapes , sizes, textures, colors ~ fascinate me !
    I have been thinking of a name for one of our young roosters and thanks to this post I now have it ~ Huckleberry !

  6. Looks like fun picking those berries! What a beautiful day for berry picking. Those mushrooms are so cool!

  7. I love huckleberries! For the poster named Lisa, above, there are websites where you can order pies etc made with huckleberries. One is a a store named the Huckleberry Patch here in Montana. yum!

  8. LOVE huckleberries-they are beyond fantastic! Beautiful scenery--so peaceful and green. We had one of those unique mushrooms growing here one year-do you know the name of them?

  9. I don't think Huckleberries grow here -- wish they did now. They look so good Linda. Beautiful photos and great commentary as usual.

  10. I've never eaten a huckleberry. I bet they'd make good jam.

  11. Very good pictures of Huckleberry and mushroom.Beautiful lake looks so peaceful and good.

  12. Nice series- good job on the fungi. Someone else on my blog identified what you thought were huckleberries as "Indian Cucumber" - do you know about them? I read that huckleberries have ten hard seeds. Is that your experience?

  13. Hi! You enjoyed khiking very much. Huckleberries look very delicious. The Junction lake is very beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  14. OH! What a gorgeous trail! So many photo ops and those huckleberries are certainly a BONUS! ;)

  15. Cool pics & blog! I'm a new GFC follower :)

    P.S. I'm hosting a giveaway that you might be interested in!

  16. What a wonderful hike. It it amazing how different the trees are there. Thanks for the visit.


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