Varden Lake

Varden Lake and Silver Star Glacier

Varden Lake and Silver Star Glacier

In the dog days of summer here in the Methow Valley sometimes the only escape from the heat is up. Up into the mountains and into the many amazing high mountain lakes situated there within. Varden Lake is definitely one of those places. Located a fairly tough six miles up the “Varden Cr.” Trail #476a about 5 miles north of Mazama at the base of Washington Pass Varden lake is not for the faint of heart, but the views, fish and solitude can be totally worth it.

Cedar Cr. Drainage

Cedar Cr. Drainage

I had been to Varden about seven years prior with another close friend of mine and on that occasion we had day hiked it which was something I didn’t want to do again for a couple of reasons, one the hike is fairly tough with some off trail at the end as you cross over a small pass above Mudhole “Lake” and down a pretty steep rock section about 900ft down into the lake. The second and more pleasant reason for not wanting to leave was the fishing and the beautiful views.

Varden Lake

Varden Lake

About 40 yards up the Cedar Cr. Trail you see a beaten up little path that takes off up the side of the ridge to your right. Luckily the Forest Service does a pretty good job of keeping the trail as far as Mudhole Lake. The first part of the trail moves pretty quickly up the shoulder of the ridge above the Cedar Creek drainage, soon you can see back into the Methow Valley to Mazama and Goat Pk.

Varden from camp

Varden from camp

As you gain the top of the ridge the trail begins to follow along its crest revealing amazing views of the Cedar Cr. Drainage, Gardner Mountain and many other neighboring peaks. For the most part there is a lot of shade on the Varden Cr. Trail. By late summer however there is no water until Mudhole Lake so bring plenty and leave early to beat the heat. You can filter water at Mudhole Lake which is about 5miles in which should keep you until the lake on the other side of the short steep pass which lies between.

Thomas with a big fish first cast

Thomas with a big fish first cast

Take your time getting down and up the other side of the pass above Mudhole and don’t forget to stop at the top to enjoy the panoramic views of Silver Star Glacier. Once at the top of the pass I usually traverse and descend slightly left, be careful as the rocks are very unstable. There are a few places to camp around the lake; one established one that is very nice.

Varden Lake Westy

Varden Lake Westy

I usually find fish at Varden Lake to be very well fed yet still very excited to see a terrestrial hit the water. Big ants, hoppers and dragon flies work well and the like to hear the splat so don’t be afraid to slap it down. The mean depth of the lake is probably only 12ft’ and gin clear so fish can see bugs hit from a surprising distance and will come running, flipping out of the water. Most fish we caught where 15-18 inch diploid westslope cutthroat, however there are some triploid cuts in this lake which my friend Thomas and I caught which were in the 11-12 inch range.

Morning on the flats

Morning on the flats

I recommend a float tube or pack raft, however you will find a few place to cast from the bank. It’s also worth noting that there was an intense evening bite from about 7-9pm which left us grinning ear to ear and fishing well into the dark.

Thomas head hunting

Thomas head hunting

Varden Lake is a tough hike but well worth it. I recommend taking a partner on any hike like this, pace yourself, know your physical limits and just be careful. Never forget you can see 4 seasons in a day in the high country so make sure you can stay dry and warm. Enjoy the high country it will cleanse your soul.