The Calm Waters and Lazy Trails of Bead Lake

Our trip to Bead Lake began with a 1.5-hour drive from Spokane to the Eastern Washington-Selkirk Range in late May, but the relatively low-elevation hike makes for an excellent fall adventure. My boyfriend and I had decided the 11.4-mile round-trip out-and-back trail around the lake was an ideal pick for our one-night backpacking trip.

We skipped past the boat launch and began our hike at the trailhead above that runs parallel to the launch. While the trail was mostly shaded throughout, the heat of the late May sun still found its way through the trees, making the lake look more and more inviting with each passing hour. With little elevation gain (only 400 feet), we had plenty of opportunity to gaze out dreamily over the still water, imagining it to be cool and refreshing. The lake beckoned to us for hours, daring us to take the plunge, but when we dipped in our hands as a quick test, it told us all we needed to know: This mountain runoff was shockingly cold. A quick dip in the early hours of the morning would be doable, but it was already late afternoon and we’d be hard pressed to find enough time to dry off and stop shivering in the shade before the sun went down.

Although the opposite side of the lake was dotted with cabins and docks, the lake itself was devoid of human activity, giving the entire trail a private and secluded feel. The lake was distractingly beautiful; it was easy to forget to stop and explore the richness of growth nearby. Bright yellowish-white stalks of cauliflower-shaped fungus sprouted next to the trail, along with eerily beautiful purple blooms of fungus larger than my hand. About 3 miles in, a grove of cedar trees became visible. One stood sentry in the middle, with a trunk so wide that we could barely touch hands when wrapping our arms around it.

After two hours on the trail, we realized we were not alone — lying across the trail was a large canine tooth the size of my thumb amidst patches of blood-streaked, wispy white fur. Some unlucky small mammal was on the menu tonight. But better it than us.

Bead Lake can easily be hiked in a day, but it is well worth the overnight stay. If you do choose to backpack, you have three campsite options: two in the first two-thirds of the trail and one at the very end of the trail. While the last campsite is worth the final stretch for both privacy and beauty’s sake, it is small, and if someone has beaten you to it, prepare to get cozy with your neighbor. We opted for the last site, and another couple soon joined us. We all spent the night chatting happily, sharing our campfire and gazing up at the lighted night sky.

Look for fall colors on a day hike or overnight along and above Bead Lake, including larch and various shrubs and deciduous trees. //

Elena Gardner loves to explore, travel, and write, and her favorite camp meal is instant coffee. Read more of Elena’s writing at

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