Hikers beware–Valentines Day is nigh and you never know where Cupid will strike. Like the couple we heard about who met on a hike at Mount Rainier National Park so love-struck they slipped away from the hiking party and didn’t return, hopefully to live and hike happily ever after.

As for me, I met my sweetheart at a Mountaineering Oriented First Aid class over 30 years ago (I still remember how my heart leapt as he practiced CPR on my supposedly unconscious body). Never mind that there was a 25-year hiatus before we re-connected via the Internet.

A sweetheart at Heart Lake
A sweetheart at Heart Lake

A few winters ago we started up the Mount Si trail and were puzzled by red rose petals scattered along the way. The rose petals continued to the base of the Haystack where a wedding party was in progress; complete with bride wearing a wedding dress and veil, both bride and groom in hiking boots and passing out red roses.

When we recognized the pair as fellow Seattle Mountaineers that made the scene even more delightful (yes, they are still hiking together). On another hike near North Bend we were passed by a giddy file of young women, one wearing a bridal veil that were on their way to a bridal shower further up the trail.

Since its Valentine’s Day have you ever wondered how many Heart Lakes there are in Washington? Or sought a romantic sunset after a hike with your sweetheart? A search on The Internet turned up several Heart Lakes including Heart Lake (Anacortes), Little Heart and Big Heart Lake (West Fork Foss River), Heart Lake in the northern Olympics and a Heart Lake in the Goat Rock Wilderness.

True, most of those hikes are best done as a summer hike or backpack but there’s one lake you can visit year-round – Heart Lake which lies within the Anacortes Community Forest Lands near Anacortes. The 1.5-mile loop around the lake is a family favorite and the lake is also popular with fishermen.

Hiking counterclockwise you’ll pass several intersecting trails, but you’ll be mostly on Trail 210 (if in doubt keep the lake on your left). Trail No. 210 seldom ventures from the lake and on the south shore you’ll enter ancient forest with Douglas firs and Western Red Cedars that will snag your attention (note the thick, charred bark from forest fires on the fire-resistant Douglas firs).

Heart Lake with Mount Erie in the background
Heart Lake with Mount Erie in the background

Near the end of the loop (if you are hiking counterclockwise) you’ll be on Trail 212, which puts you back on the Heart Lake Road across from the Mount Erie Road. Note that the trail there is signed as the Pine Ridge Loop Trail (unless you are a local familiar with the numbered trail system, acquiring the ACFL map is a necessity).

Here you can cross the Heart Lake Road and follow the trail system (use the map) back to Heart Lake from the base of Mount Erie rather than walking the road back to Heart Lake. We opted to walk the road (for photographs of the lake) as traffic was light. However, the connector trails are safer–especially on weekends. The Heart Lake Road is narrow with little margin for hikers to err; watch for traffic.

After you finish your hike you can sweeten the experience by driving the road to Mount Erie and with luck catch climbers practicing their arts on the cliffs below. Campbell Lake lies below and to the west are views of Cornet Bay, Puget Sound and more. On our recent visit it was a foggy day and suffice it to say that Mount Erie was eerie. Do be on the alert for ticks on the rocky outcroppings – they have already been reported this year (how unromantic is that?!).

For a romantic sunset after your hike you can drive further south on State Route 20 (toward Deception Pass State Park) to the Deception Pass Bridge. Park and walk across the bridge and feel it vibrate under your beating heart as you gaze out to the west for views of Puget Sound and (hopefully) a sunset. You will need a Discover Pass to hike trails inside Deception Pass State Park.

Viewpoint under the Deception Pass bridge
Viewpoint under the Deception Pass bridge

Sunset views closer to Seattle include Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe, Mailbox Peak, Pratt Mountain, Granite Mountain; all strenuous trips where hiking back to the trailhead often necessitates headlamps and/or flashlights. In February you will also need to be prepared for snow. Easiest to hike is the “Owl Spot” on the Mount Washington Trail though the view shrinks a little more each year as trees grow taller. Another hike off I-90 with a potential for sunsets is Grand Prospect via the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail.

Let’s not forget Paradise – pack your snowshoes or skis and head to Mount Rainier National Park (Nisqually Entrance). If conditions are favorable hang out for the sunset. Start from the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center and head out on any of the winter recreational trails (pick up printed hand-outs at Longmire for those winter routes, the visitor center is closed in winter).

Remember that the gates between Paradise and Longmire close early; sometimes the road to Paradise is closed all day at Longmire when road conditions are hazardous or there is a major storm. Tire chains are required to be carried anywhere inside Mount Rainier National Park between November 1 and May 1.

If you miss the sunset at Paradise you can often catch one on the drive back to Seattle: Park near Alder Lake (you’ll drive by it on State Route 7) and further along on State Route 161 is little Wildwood Park (near Eatonville) where you can enjoy a last-minute view of Mount Rainier, rosy with alpenglow.

Memorial Bench at Mount Erie
Memorial Bench at Mount Erie


Getting to Heart Lake: From Seattle head north on I-5 and get off at Exit 230 and go west on State Route 20 about 12 miles to a spur that continues (left) on State Route 20 and in another couple of miles turn right onto Campbell Lake Road, continue another 1-1/2 miles to Heart Lake Road (turn right) and continue about two miles to the Heart Lake trailhead/boat launch (left). The trailhead/boat launch is a little north of the Mount Erie Road.

Note: At the Campbell Road/Heart Lake Road junction is a grocery store where you can purchase a set of maps for the Anacortes Community Forest Lands ($10). You will need these maps to further explore the complex trail system which includes about 50 miles of trails. The maps are well worth it as we can guarantee one visit to the Anacortes Community Forest Lands will not be enough.

Additional Information (Heart Lake): The Heart Lake Loop is 3.1 miles with about 150 feet of elevation gain. Dogs must be leashed on trails within ACFL. Trails are also open to bicycles, horses. Two-wheeled motorcycles are allowed only in limited areas. For further information visit City of Anacortes (Anacortes Parks and Recreation) website or call 360-293-1918.

Additional Information (Mount Rainier National Park): For up-to-date information on fees, rules and regulations, current conditions call Mount Rainier National Park (360-569-2211) or visit the MORA website. Paradise is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. All vehicles are required to carry chains inside the park November 1 through March 1. Call the Northwest Avalanche Conditions hot-line at 206-526-6677 for the latest avalanche conditions or visit the NWAC website.

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