Hours

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Review

Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
Within the Roche Harbor Highlands, one of the most nature oriented hiking options is the Briggs Lake Trail. While the popular Lake Loop (see Highlands Lake Loop Trail article, this website) is most often traveled, it provides few and only limited views of this long lake. Within this outer loop however, segments of the Briggs Lake Trail offer intimate views of the lake particularly at its secretive and remote southern end. Keep in mind that the lake is a drinking water reservoir and while visiting and hiking is permitted, humans and their pets must not enter the water.

Originally the land now covered by Roche Harbor Lake was an open marshy area. Pioneer farmers hand dug ditches to drain the marsh and develop a wide pasture for farm animals and hay production. In time the value of fresh water became greater than pasture and the ditches were blocked by earthen dams forming what was then called Briggs pond. Eventually even greater fresh water demands led to the expansion of the pond to become the large reservoir that visitors see today.

The increase in water has pushed the lake shore far to the south in what was formerly a narrow boggy wetland. The transition taking place is one of a small forest of drowned trees and unusual wetland plants thriving on the narrow fingers of land and shallow shorelines that have been formed. Similar to the process naturally created by dam loving beavers, the environment is exceptionally diverse. The segment of the Briggs Lake Trail that passes by this southwestern end of the lake offers a look into a setting of surreal beauty that can blur the boundaries of land and water.

The sun bleached tree snags spearing skyward from the shallow lake provide excellent habitat for animals. Furthermore, the natural moats of the waterways are welcomed protection for the rearing of young. Unusual plants can be found at the border where the world of land meets water. Buzzing about, colorful insects can be seen in the summer months. So remote is this location that when fellow hikers are quiet, one can literally hear the wing beats of darting dragonflies. Sometimes the sounds of nature may be more intense, the croaking of lovelorn frogs being especially loud during the spring.

Beyond the shore, views across the lake are often shrouded in fog that forms on the surface of the lake. Long past sunrise, wild swans can frequently be seen gliding in and out of small openings in the mist. So often are native swans seen here that some believe these may be descended from transplanted stock that remain in this location year-round, never joining their migratory kindred. As the mist rises and dissipates, look among the taller trees surrounding the lake. Unexpectedly an osprey or even an eagle may suddenly appear; diving down to rake the surface of the lake with talons, hoping to catch a fish; possibly to feed their young.

The trail continues through regenerating forests and passes a large open “bald” presenting the most expansive lake views and an enticing place to pause. The other side of the lake is far enough away that waterfowl often continue to feed and glide about unperturbed by the presence of humans. Try to use care while passing through these balds. The minute and delicate plant life that is limited to these special areas holds onto their perch by the thinnest slip of soil. There are choices beyond the bald for following more segments of the Briggs Lake Trail but the best views are now behind you. Most hikers follow the tread directly uphill a short distance and regain the main Lake Loop.

While often rough and rustic the views and wildlife observations can be extraordinary. Due to the lack of signage and rough ground, this is not a simple walk in the park. Yet, for those tolerant of such conditions, a visit to a special and even mysterious natural area is sufficient reward.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 6/30/2011

Directions

All segments of the Briggs Lake Trail can be accessed from the Highlands Lake Loop Trail; see article, this website. Follow the directions to the lake. For the most scenic trail segment continue southeast on the main loop. As you near the south end of the loop but before the trail begins to turn north, look for a rough but obvious trail entrance on your right that leads down to the lake shore.

Map

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