If you have driven up the Mountain Loop Highway in search of a peaceful lake to visit, you know that the majority make a stop at the popular Lake Twenty-Two by the abundance of cars flowing from its roadside parking lot. But if you are willing to continue on just a bit further, there are two backcountry lakes tucked away from the crowds that are perfect for almost any level of hiker in search of an accessible outdoor experience.
Resting in the slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range, Boardman is the largest in a small chain of lakes nestled under the shadow of the lengthy Bald Mountain ridgeline. The trailhead is reached by driving up a rough but passable forest road, just take your time around those potholes! Before you reach the trailhead you will be treated to emerald views of Mallardy Ridge, Bald Mountain and the Boardman Creek valley below.
After parking and walking past the trailhead register, take a minute to glance to your right into the small outlet for Lake Evan. You may spot a frog or two sunning themselves on floating lily pads resting on its tranquil surface. The lake is reached in a short 250 feet after wandering a wide, level trail lined with star solomon’s seal, deer fern and huckleberry while regal old growth cedars tower overhead. You will already feel deep in the heart of the forest even though you may still be able to see your car through the trees behind you.
Lake Evan is encircled by a mat of tangled roots polished by years of outdoor enthusiasts looking for a private spot of lakeshore real estate. There are several paths that take you through a thin line of guardian trees and verdant salal to the shore, so if you find company there is most likely another one to lead you to solitude. Here, dragonflies flit across the water’s surface evading leaping fish eager for lunch. The shoreline is grassy and wet with the best spots for enjoying the lake located back on weathered logs. Most pause here only briefly before continuing onto Boardman Lake just a short distance further up the trail.
Leaving Lake Evan, the trail gains a gradual 100 feet in elevation, snaking up to the left around a small cliff band before turning right again towards Boardman. Watch your step on the often trenched and rootbound trail aided with worn wooden puncheon bridges that the forest is slowly taking back. Columbia lilies and bunchberry are speckled among the spiny ferns and cascading twinflowers you wander by.
At just over 2900 feet, the trail winds through one rocky switchback and continues another quarter mile up over a rounded contour before bringing you out to Boardman Lake at close to 3040 feet. Approaching at the northeast edge, just 0.8 miles from Evan, you come to a junction and are presented with the option of dropping down to the left or continuing to the right.
The trail to the right is not maintained and dwindles at the northern lakeshore just a few hundred feet after you make your way over several large tree roots but could offer some solitude on a crowded day. Those who are more adventurous have been able to continue on over a southeastern ridge to a smaller Island Lake but off-trail experience is necessary.
The greater number of this lake’s visitors make their way left and down at the junction. There is a sandy slice of shoreline perfect for wiggling your toes and tossing pebbles to see ripples glide across the surface of the large forty five acre lake. Take a moment to gaze at the sun warming the overgrown talus fields and sharp cliff bands on the ridge across the lake. You may even be lucky enough to see rainbow trout swimming in the water’s depths, stocked over the years for fishing.
To your left is a logjam clogging the outlet for the lake and if you have the balance to maneuver it will take you over to the eastern shore. Look for a larger log that has hash marks cut into it from a long ago footbridge to help you across. From here, there is set of steep wooden stairs to take you up onto the wooded knob.
This level area provides a couple of roomy campsites and trails that carry you around and to the top of a low forested summit. The best views, however, are when you first reach the top of the steps and walk out to the right to a granite slab overlooking the blue green waters of the lake. There are several beaches further along the shore for you to find a place to eat lunch if this spot is occupied, just be mindful as the social trails drop down sharply to the water’s edge.
As you make your way back down from enjoying your time at Boardman Lake, be sure to check your surroundings for anything you or others may have left. This alluring location offers an accessible opportunity for many to experience the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and leaving it better than you found it is one way to assure they do.