Home Trip ReportsBackpacking Lily Lake & North Butte

Lily Lake & North Butte

by Amanda Phillips
View from North Butte at Blanchard forest

Two weekends ago, we went to Lily Lake and North Butte to ease into backpacking season.  Our previous trip to Shi Shi was all about forgotten gear, but this trip seemed to be all about broken bodies.  Michael’s new hiking boots gave him some rather extreme blisters about 1 mile into the trip and my shin splints started to flare, not unlike the spindly fire we managed to nurse for four hours. 

Visit Lily Lake in the Blanchard Forest for a low-key lake and incredible views of the San Juan Islands
Path to Lily Lake near Blanchard Forest

Luckily, we chose a trip that had a lot of flexibility, with a myriad of intersecting paths to add or reduce mileage.  We got to the trailhead by 10:30 and started up the trail from the Upper Trailhead.  We wound our way through lush greenery and saw relatively few people compared to the crowded oyster dome trail on the other side of the state park.  Before too long we found ourselves at the first spot to pitch our tent, Lizard Lake.  The lake was small and filled with stumps; did not see any lizards.  The lakeside was ringed with telltale beaver signs and several logs looked freshly chewed, and it looked like a textbook beaver pond come to life before us.  A side swamp was filled with skunk cabbage and was as smelly as it was beautiful.

Lily Lake at blanchard forest
Skunk cabbage at Lizard Lake
campground  near lizard lake
Log chewed by beaver near lizard lake
Lizard Lake in Blanchard forest

We ate our lunch, but it was so cold we found ourselves pacing and jogging in place to keep warm.  After putting on every layer that I packed, and still feeling quite chilly, we decided to continue to Lily Lake and see if the second lake had more sun exposure.

We made our way up the Lily/Lizard connector and my shins began to complain as the trail grade increased.  Halfway between the two lakes, we took the turnoff for North Butte for the lookout to Puget Sound. It was there that we found the sunshine that we so desired.  The rocks were warm and the view overlooking Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands was spectacular.  We had the rocky outcrop to ourselves for over an hour and enjoyed watching paragliders and eagles fly above the forest.

Log chewed by beaver near lizard lake
View from North Butte at Blanchard forest

The excellent view overlooking rows of evergreen trees was an apt place to sit and reflect on the future of this wilderness.  The Blanchard Mountain system is slated to be logged if the Washington State Senate does not support funding passed by the Washington State House to save the core of Blanchard from logging. Washington initially planned to log the entire Blanchard State Forest, but an agreement was reached in 2007 to protect a 1,6000-acre core zone for recreation.  Unfortunately, to offset the revenue lost from abstaining core logging, the state needs to find 7 million to avoid logging in 2018. As the only place that the Cascade mountains touch the Salish Sea, containing part of the Pacific Northwest Trail, and an extremely busy (100,000+ visitors a year) trail system featuring unparalleled views, protecting this area is of paramount importance.

After sitting at North Butte for an hour, we made our way down to Lily Lake and found a tent pad close to the lake, around 2:00, thanks to our early start.  We didn’t see any other backpackers and we looked forward to an unexpected night of solitude.  We managed to scout some dry wood and started a fire, which ate about four hours of time.  Dinner was peanut noodles followed by some bourbon-spiked hot chocolate.  We were in bed under the covers trying to warm up by 7:00 and enjoyed several hours of reading to a chorus of frogs.

As we built our fire, two bald eagles and one juvenile bald eagle moved around the lake.  The two adults chased each other in the sky for awhile, harassed a mallard duck, then one of the adults caught a mouse.  The juvenile edged in closer during the feeding event but did not appear to snag any scraps.  It was delightful to sit on the lake’s edge and spend hours watching the eagles.

Lily Lake at blanchard forest
Lily Lake at blanchard forest
Lily Lake at blanchard forest
Lily Lake at blanchard forest

In the morning, we braved the cold and ate some oatmeal and drank some coffee.  We packed up camp and made our way slowly down the mountain.  The trail was a little busier on day two, with more mountain bikers.  We finished out the loop and made it back to the trailhead by 11.

creek near Lily Lake at Blanchard forest


When I arrived at my car, it was clear that someone had tried to break in on the passenger door. Luckily, no windows were broken and nothing seemed missing so we changed into city clothes and made our way to Bellingham for lunch.  We ordered sandwiches from Brotha Dudes, which proved to be excellent post-hike sandwiches and ice cream from Mallards.  We hopped back in the car and made it back to Seattle by 3:30.

Overall, it is unlikely that we will repeat the trail, as low-land lakes are not really our thing. The extra features like fire pits and benches at campsites are actually a detractor for us, as it pulls back into park territory and out of wilderness. It functioned for a quick overnight, but besides the view at North Butte, there were not a lot of spectacular moments.  It was a nice opportunity to spend time outside on a sunny weekend, and we ended up lucky to have such a short approach since both of our bodies were not feeling like backpacking.  Unfortunately, I imagine that this will be my last backpacking trip for a month, as I attempt to heal my shin splints before the summer.

Blanchard Mountain History

Lily Lake and North Butte belong to the Blanchard Mountain system, an area threatened with logging until 2018. Recently passed in the winter of 2018, this area was renamed the Harriet Spanel Forest to protect valuable recreation areas.

Logging in the Blanchard forest began in 1867 when a number of local homesteaders began logging the mountain. The Blanchard family completed a tram railroad to maneuver the logs in 1887 and developed the area into one of the largest logging camps in the Washington Territory. A road was developed in 1910, primarily by convicts and was eventually completed by the state highway department in 1916. The area became a prime location for moonshine and rum runners during the prohibition era. Eventually, Larabee state park was established and the area became known for its recreation opportunities.

Prior to the logging and homesteading activities of the early 1800’s, the land was inhabited by the Puget Sound Salish and Nuwhaha tribes. In 1855 the Point Elliot Treaty was signed to establish open lands for homesteaders in the region. Archeological evidence shows villages established by Indigenous people in this area form at least 4,000 years ago, potentially longer.

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Laura Norsen June 12, 2017 - 5:17 pm

Lovely photos of the view from North Butte! So few people visit it compared to Oyster Dome, and it’s nice to be reminded that there’s an alternative viewpoint in the area.

Laura Norsen June 13, 2017 - 6:46 pm

Beautiful photos of the view from North Butte! Oyster Dome gets all the attention, but it’s nice to be reminded that there are alternate viewpoints in the area – especially since I’ll be in the area this weekend!

Amanda Phillips June 23, 2017 - 9:19 pm

Thanks! I had never been to North Butte so I was amazed at how few people there were compared to Oyster Dome. Hope you enjoyed your visit!


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