Area: French Creek

Length: 2.1

Elevation: 3700 +1500 -120

Condition: bad, horrible, pretty good

Solitude: usually good

Appeal: very high

Features: scrambles, stunning views, great camps

Difficulty: high

Administered: nominally USFS, Wenatchee River R.D.

Trailhead: Icicle Creek

Connects to:
    French Creek

Guides: 100Alp

   Green Trails Stevens Pass
   USGS Jack Ridge
   USGS Cradle




Go to the Icicle Creek trailhead, and hike the Icicle Creek trail to the French Creek trail, 1.9 miles. Pass the French Ridge Backdoor trail at 5.4 miles, and finally wet your feet at 7.4 miles to cross Klonaqua Creek and reach the start of the trail. These first 7.4 miles are astonishingly mild. It's just setting you up for what lies ahead. This trail is the only one in the area officially designated as "hiker only." Not even the rugged Backdoor Trail shares this honor.

Despite being the most "popular" hike in the area, Craig Romano guides overlook it. This is not entirely without reason. Everything for which the Backdoor Trail is so often maligned — this trail fully deserves it. Though it never receives proper maintenance, it could not be allowed to decay completely because of "contractual obligations" for access by the water district commandos who manually operate the outlet gates on grandfathered water management inholdings. Today, those gates are about to be automated, with telemetry to monitor water levels and solar converters to operate the valve mechanisms. Whether this hearkens more extreme degradation of the trail and ruinous fluctuations in water levels remains to be seen.



The first section drives into the creek valley, a bit above the creek, across classic stony avalanche slopes. You can hear the waterfall spilling at the end of the valley. Basically, there was never any soil to speak of, and the "ground" is decomposed debris and sand accumulated in the gaps between large irregular boulders. The brush is the typical sprawling, fast growing, moisture-loving brush so typical of creek valleys, crowding the tiny ditch that is called a trail as it weaves its way over roots and rocks. This continues for about 0.7 miles, gaining about 600 feet elevation. You will reach a comfortable little bench beside a tributary creek, a few feet off trail to the right. So much for the easy part of the trail. You would be well advised to relax here for a few moments and grab a snack, to prepare for what is ahead.

Beginning the climb

Start of upper trail


The trail switches back to the left, and begins a distinctly different kind of climb on forested slopes. You must gain the next 700 feet in 0.6 miles. Both brush and tread are somewhat better, but the trail is distinctly more strenuous, winding back and forth and up and up on short switchbacks. Elevation gain is irregular, with milder sections and then steeper ones. There is a section where a trail blockage cut off some switchbacks decades ago, never repaired, and boots beat a truly steep and rough bypass almost straight up the slope.

Fortunately, it does not last forever. The next 0.4 miles improve dramatically, with better tread and grade. Old guidebooks report a camp in this area. Pass across a tiny side creek, and on a few more gentle switchbacks gain about 250 feet more elevation at a comfortable rate.

The boulder field

Start of upper trail



The trail now begins to swing right, to cross below cliffs and above a giant boulder field. There is minimal additional elevation gain. The trail rejoins light forest and passes over the rounded edge of the ridge, then slides down about 120 feet on the other side to reach Lower Klonaqua Lake near the controlled outlet. Welcome to God's Flush Basin, supposedly one of the most productive fishing sites in the area. There are camps nearby.

The Lower Lake

Lower Klonaqua Lake


The right way and the RidgeRat way

Both ways are the same. Forget that last 0.4 miles of main trail, even though trail conditions are the best you have seen. When you find the location in the photo where you are about to pass the rock field, make a 180 degree turnabout. You will see a steep and imposing slope of mineral soil and pine needle duff on your right hand side. Backtrack a short distance down the trail, away from the cliffs, to the point where this slope starts to retreat and become somewhat less steep. Leave the trail here, and carefully climb the slope into sparse forest, being careful not to chop up the soft mineral soil. After gaining about 80 feet elevation, veer left, follow the contour, and head in a SW direction. You are likely to locate a meager foot path to follow; but if you don't, no harm. Stay on this course 0.1 miles, where the grade eases to the left.

Bob Lake

Start of upper trail


Descend to a small creeklet, and cross on stones. In a few more feet of travel, arrive at the corner of Bob Lake. You will certainly find a foot trail along the lake shore here. As you follow along, you will find how this place came to be called Bob Lake — I won't spoil this mystery for you. Just beyond, find a small sunny high meadow and a perfect, gorgeous camp location above the lake.

If you are nervous about the off-trail navigation, but don't mind some stones and brush, there is an alternative route. Follow the main trail down a little lower, then leave it to ascend the moist and stony crease on the left side. There is likely a little creek with a trickle of water. You may even find bits of a foot path or game trail along this way. It is a rougher and more brushy way to go, but it gets you to the same place.


What to do in heaven

The lake is perfectly fine for a swim in later August. OK, not really, you are likely to freeze off one or two body parts, but sometimes this sacrifice is worth it. However, you will want to thaw eventually, and explore the local area — or beyond. You have lots of choices, all wonderful.

  • Walk back across the lake outlet creek, circling the lake in a counter-clockwise direction. After you pass beyond the brush, pick an easy route up the small stable boulders, and climb diagonally across the slopes to the southwest, toward the smooth open boulders. You will have an easy time reaching the top of the ridge separating Bob Lake from the lower Klonaqua Lake. You can find bits of the scanty foot trail there, and can follow to the right along the ridge top to rejoin the main trail at Lower Klonaqua Lake.

  • Route to Upper Klonaqua Lake

    Saddle above Bob Lake


    Or, having reached the ridge, follow it left, down to a saddle. There you will see a faint and gentle path. A short distance to the right along this path is a high grassy meadow. Continue across the meadow and down to the natural rock dam that separates the upper and lower Klonaqua Lakes. There are delightful camps perched on top, and you might even consider skipping past Bob Lake, as appealing as it is, to set up your camp.

  • Follow the foot path back through the meadow and continue straight past the ridge. At first it takes you on a level course; then it plunges suddenly straight down the slope, dropping 200 feet back to the south shore of Bob Lake. The path continues around the lake in the counter- clockwise direction, and brings you back to camp — a loop!

Saddle above Bob Lake


Upper Klonaqua Lake




The simple fact is, you both want and need a multi-day packing trip, not just to get to this area, but to spend some time there.

Allow yourself some extra time. On the first day, instead of making this trip a death march, leave late, and cover only the 6.5 miles from the Icicle Creek trailhead to the camp just before the junction with the Snowall Creek trail. That leaves you only one mile short of Klonaqua Creek. You will feel much better about the harsher trails in the cool of the morning, with a whole lot fewer miles remaining to reach your destination.

At the end, the nine-plus return miles will feel much easier with lighter packs and in the downhill direction. However, you could also employ the same stopover trick in reverse, using the last few afternoon hours to move your camp down to French Creek, so that your mileage is shorter on your final day.

If the flatlander approach from the Icicle Creek trailhead is a little too lackluster for your taste, it is also possible to reach Klonaqua Lakes from the Paddy-Go-Easy trail. I suggest going an additional mile beyond the French Cabin site, and camping overnight in the undeveloped but pleasant area before the next ford of French Creek. That leaves 3 more enjoyable miles to reach Klonaqua Creek the next morning.