It was early October and I had made arrangements for a weekend away with my husband. My mother was going to watch our daughter and we were hoping to go backpacking. However, the weather called for rain and temperatures into the 30’s at night in the mountains. I was looking for something rugged and adventuresome to see the larches in the high country but also with an opportunity to be warm and cozy, not to mention enjoy a hot meal prepared out of the rain! I booked a night at the Scottish Lakes High Camp, an outpost off Highway 2 near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at about 5,000 feet altitude. They shuttle you up to a rustic cabin and provide a basecamp in the high country for hiking in the summer and fall and snow sports in the winter.
We arrived around 9 am and were greeted by our hosts, who kindly took us and our gear up the 8 mile dirt road to the camp. This yielded beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. This is a heavily logged area, but the silver lining to the loss of forest is the ability to access high country and provide amazing ski and snow terrain. There was plenty of room for our cooler full of luxuries, including some fancy cheese, smoked salmon, a bottle of wine, and more than enough food for two days! The vintage suburban had plenty of room for us to throw in a banjo and fiddle as well, for the cold dark night. Our guide and host oriented us to the history of Scottish Lakes High Camp and the available hiking and activities that awaited us while we bumped up the dirt road.
We arrived at our romantic hideaway, a darling A-frame cabin complete with cooking facilities, a little table, a large wood burning stove, a double bed, and an upstairs loft with two additional beds in case we wanted to return with our offspring someday. A ‘comfort station’ was a quick walk out the door. After a quick tour of the grounds we helped ourselves to some of the maps provided and headed off on a dayhike. We headed up past Stegosaurus Rock onto McCue Ridge, entering the Alpine Wilderness. We veered right onto some game trails and followed a ridge past Lake Julius and Loch Elleen until we reached a gorgeous meadow nicknamed ‘The Hanging Gardens’. By then the skies had turned grey and a few snowflakes had flurried around us. This only made the colors more beautiful and dramatic. Hanging gardens is a rainbow sprouting from the rock, with the larches in gorgeous golden yellow and other foliage in bright red shades. We even found some blueberries ready to pick and eat! This was our favorite spot during the entire weekend. The meadow looked straight at Baldy Mountain so we easily traversed a wide slope to summit the 7,132 ft peak. This provided great views of the surrounding area, including Larch Lake nearby. We then traversed back to the meadow and picked our way down to Lake Elleen, following an established trail to loop back to Scottish High Camp. We hit some heavy drizzle on the hike back and I have to admit I was glad I wasn’t trying to set up a tent and backpacking stove. Our entire loop with summit was probably around 10-11 miles.
Upon arrival at camp we enjoyed some hors d’oevres and wine followed by a lovely dip in the wood burning hot tub. We also enjoyed the time alone to play some tunes on the banjo and fiddle we packed, eventually moving over to the lodge to share the music with other guests (and borrow the guitar we saw there!). This is a rare treat, as my three year old is still learning not to be jealous of my fiddle. The poor fiddle has been attacked more than once in my attempts to play it while my child would rather I play with her. I have to admit I can’t resist a good banjo player, so I took my hubby back to our romantic (and very warm) cabin for a night sans enfant. The wood burning stove did a great job, almost too great, as we had to open the windows to let out some of the heat.
After a delicious night’s sleep in our cozy cabin we woke to hot coffee in the lodge. I whipped up some oatmeal on our little cabin stove and we packed up for another day hike to the famous Larch Lake, a ten mile out and back. This is a beautiful trail that follows McCue Ridge before dropping down to Chiwaukum Lake. The trail then gently rises to Larch Lake, which true to its name was surrounded with gorgeous Larch trees in golden yellow. We enjoyed a beautiful sunny day on this hike on a well-established trail, encountering only 2 backpackers the whole time. (They were hurrying back to Scottish Lakes High Camp for a dip in the hot tub.) After another delightful day hiking among the beautiful firecracker colors of fall around Larch Lake we enjoyed another dip in the hot tub, followed by a session in the wood burning sauna we had somehow overlooked the night before. Relaxed, hiked, and happy we packed back into the Subaru for the shuttle back to our car.
I would highly recommend the Scottish Lakes High Camp for the fall larch season, and we hope to get back to enjoy the snow this winter. My only hesitation for winter is the outhouses – they are very nice as outhouses go, but they are bound to be pretty cold in the winter!! I have to say the décor enhances the outhouse experience. My favorite theme was the “Tie-light Zone”, full of fun and vintage ties.
Scottish Lakes High Camp does a great job of providing information on a wide range of hikes, from 2 to 11 miles, for all levels of adventurers. In winter they have sleds and snowshoes available and also have some family weekends and deals. You can check out their website at www.scottishlakes.com.