Highlands Lake Loop Trail

Hours

Every day Never Closes

Review

Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
The Lake Loop Trail of the Roche Harbor Highlands circles Roche Harbor Lake which until only recently was known as Briggs Pond, named after a pioneer family. The loop provides access to scenic views of the lake, an abandoned farm site, and the spindly lichen draped fruit trees of a once prolific orchard. In addition to wonderful opportunities to study the local flora and fauna, there are a number of convenient connections to other popular hiking destinations.

A short distance from the trailhead, the path becomes a virtual gravel highway through the forest. Climbing gradually the reason for this industrial path is not readily obvious. Beneath the grass and gravel tread, a large water pipeline supplies potable water to the growing community of Roche Harbor. The locked gated entrance only allows authorized maintenance vehicles to use this road so the only traffic you can typically expect will be fellow hikers, bikers, or equestrians; all are welcomed to travel this loop. Despite the wide open roadway, the surrounding forest can seem exceptionally dense and quiet.

At a turn in the road, a small maintenance building related to the water supply is encountered. Beyond it, somewhat visible, is your first view of the gentle rising sweep of the earthen dam. Due to marshy (and messy) ground below the dam and its fragile earthen structure, continue on the trail a short distance to a major path on the right that properly leads up to a large lakeside meadow above the dam. In consideration for the water quality of the reservoir and protection of the earthen dam, humans and their animals are asked not to enter the water or cross the dam.

Facing south and west, this area can be warm and sunny on a cool day and despite early dew or recent rain can dry out more quickly than the shaded forest areas. The gently sloping meadow once provided an idyllic farm for an early pioneering family. On the upper end of this sunny slope, a carefully tended orchard made excellent use of sun and water to produce an abundant crop of delicious fruit. Now withered and heavily hung with lichen, their spindly and uncared for limbs still struggle to offer an annual crop. Some years, the stressful conditions allow the formation of tiny shriveled fruit, not pretty to look at, but of intense flavor and potent sweetness. A treat not unnoticed by the local wildlife.

Follow the grassy meadow path along the forest border past the orchard and attractive low-lying rock outcrops or go back and continue on the main trail; they both meet again in a short distance. Just beyond this junction, a short spur leads back through the forest to the shoreline of the lake. Possibly one of the best lake viewpoints, the narrow opening provides a natural blind, allowing you to observe the wildlife without alerting them to your presence. Dramatically appearing, wild swans drift in and out of the light gray lake fog that rises briefly early each morning.

The Lake Loop continues south, circles the lake and leads north back toward your starting point. There are few lake views along the way but interesting variations in the habitats and associated plant and animal life can be seen. Short and sometimes rough, unconnected segments of the Briggs Lake Trail may be evident looping down toward the brushy and forested lakeshore before returning to the main trail. There are also outward leading trail connections that allow exploring other areas of the Highlands as well as nearby Young Hill and Mitchell Hill both part of the National Park English Camp (see articles this website). Be observant of signs, some connecting trails restrict the use of bicycles or the entry of horses.

As the Loop Trail passes near the lake one last time, take a moment to enjoy the view across the dam of the meadow and orchard where you first encountered the lake. The trail continues downhill but on this other side of the natural drainage from the lake. Before long more trail junctions are encountered. Choices include a longer hike to English Camp or one of several possible shorter routes back to the trailhead and parking lot.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 10/15/2009

Directions

The main trailhead is located on the south side of Roche Harbor Road at the junction with West Valley Road. This is about 1 ½ miles from Roche Harbor. The large gravel parking lot can accommodate horse trailers. Across the street on the north side of the road is a large, easy to see, electrical power substation.

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