NOTICE: DNR is in the process of installing new bridges at McCarty Creek and Bear Creek trail crossings in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area. These are locations where no bridges existed before. The trail remains open for public use during construction, but please use caution while hiking through these construction zones. Thanks for your patience while we complete the work.
Morning Star NRCA
This 37,842-acre mountainous conservation area protects outstanding examples of native plant communities and other ecological features, such as subalpine meadows, wetlands, and lakes. Six plant species rare to Washington state occur within these habitats. The site is also large enough to provide important habitat for threatened and endangered wide-ranging wildlife such as Pacific fisher, grizzly bear, and gray wolf. The NRCA protects the middle and high elevations around the Spada Lake basin, which captures warm moist air as it moves inland from Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean to create one of the wettest areas in the North Cascade Mountains. High precipitation and cool temperatures cause subalpine plant communities to occur at unusually low elevations in this region.
Mid-elevation and subalpine forest plant communities; mid-elevation wetland and bog; one state-threatened plant species; five state-sensitive plant species; marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher, and bull trout.
Ecoregion: North Cascades
Science, Research and Monitoring
Public and private universities, other research institutions, and individual researchers may contact DNR to propose a research project at the site. If you are interested in pursuing research at Morning Star NRCA, please contact David Wilderman, natural areas ecologist, at email@example.com
Examples of research and monitoring projects
Environmental Education and Public Access
The steep topography of Morning Star NRCA offers visitors expansive views of Spada Lake, the Puget lowlands and the Cascade Mountains. Several trails in the Mount Pilchuck, and Greider Ridge areas provide access to natural forests, prominent ridges, and subalpine meadows and lakes. Currently no formal educational programs are available at the NRCA; however, a number of wilderness trails can be accessed from various trailheads throughout the NRCA. The trails are not ADA accessible; however, accessible toilets are available at the Ashland Lakes trailhead and at the Boulder/Greider trailhead. For more information, contact the DNR Northwest Region natural areas manager.
- Dogs allowed on leash.
- Garbage service is not provided. Pack out what you pack in.
- Backcountry campsites are first come, first served. No reservations.
- Enjoy campfires in approved fire pits in designated campgrounds only. Check for burn bans.
- Don't Move Firewood: Help protect Pacific Northwest forests by preventing the spread of invasive species. Firewood can carry insects and diseases that can threaten the health of our western forests. Please purchase firewood near your campsite. Find more information here.
In September 2018, DNR and the Morning Star Trails Planning Committee completed the Morning Star Trails Plan
, the guiding document for safe and sustainable low-impact recreation in the area for the next 15 years. The agency evaluated existing trails in the area to determine to traditional and cultural use, renovation and potential expansion, and desired hiking, backcountry camping, and scenic viewpoint opportunities. The result is a plan that emphasizes restoring environmentally sensitive areas and redeveloping existing popular trails.
You can learn more about our collaborative trails planning effort for the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area and other recreation planning projects here
Low-Impact Recreation Sites
Ashland Lakes Trail is a beautiful 3.7-mile trail in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area that passes through mature trees, bogs and pristine alpine lakes, including Beaver Plant Lake, Upper Ashland Lake, and Lower Ashland Lake.
Directions: Start in Granite Falls at the intersection of SR-92 and Mountain Loop Highway. Go north on Mountain Loop Highway for 15.2 miles. Turn right on Forest Service Road 4020. Go 2.6 miles. Turn right on Forest Service Road 4021. Go 2 miles to site. Check with the Forest Service for road conditions
Lower Ashland Lake, at roughly 2,670-feet elevation, is a pristine lake in the backcountry wilderness of the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area. The roughly 2.7-mile trail starts at the Ashland Lakes Trailhead.
Directions: Use directions for Ashland Lakes Trailhead. From Ashland Lakes Trailhead, hike 3 miles to site.
Upper Ashland Lake, in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area, is a pristine backcountry lake at roughly 2,846 feet elevation. Hikers can start at the Ashland Lakes Trailhead and hike about 2 miles to the lake.
Directions: Use directions for Ashland Lakes Trailhead. From Ashland Lakes Trailhead, hike 2.5 mi. to site.
Beaver Plant Lake, in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area, is a pristine backcountry lake. Includes six backcountry campsites.
Directions: Use directions for Ashland Lakes Trailhead. From Ashland Lakes Trailhead, hike 1.5 mile to site.
Located in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area, Big Greider Campground offers three back country campsites near Big Greider Lake.
Directions: Follow directions for Greider Lakes Trailhead. Hike in to site.
Located at 3,706-feet elevation, Boulder Lake offers 9 backcountry campsites and fishing opportunities.
Directions: Start on US Highway 2 (.5 mi. east of Sultan). Go north on Sultan Basin Road for 13.8 miles. Go straight (middle) on SLS-4000 Road for 8.7 miles along Spada Lake to trailhead. Trailhead is accessible via Snohomish County PUD South Shore Trailhead.
Located in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area, Little Greider Campground offers backcountry camping near the Little Greider Lake. Site includes five campsites.
Directions: Follow directions for Greider Lakes Trailhead. Hike in to site.
Twin Falls Lake Campground is a backcountry campground located in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area.
Recreation alert: The Twin Falls Lake Campground and trail is closed due to a failed bridge.
Directions: From Ashland Lakes Trailhead, hike 4.5 mi. to site.
Starting at the Walt Bailey Trailhead, hikers can enter into the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area for a pristine hike through backcountry wilderness. The 4.5-mile trail take shikers to Cutthroat Lakes.
Directions: Use directions for Walt Bailey Trailhead. From Walt Bailey Trailhead, hike 4.5 miles to campsite.
Located in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area, Greider Lakes Trailhead provides access to alpine lakes. No camping November 1 to June 15.
Directions: Start on US Highway 2 (.5 mi. east of Sultan). Go north on Sultan Basin Road for 13.8 miles. Go straight (middle) on SLS-4000 Road for 8.7 miles along Spada Lake to trailhead. Trailhead is accessible via Snohomish County PUD South Shore Trailhead
This 4.5-mile trail, some of which is in the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area, leads to Cutthroat Lakes.
Directions: Start in Granite Falls. Go north on Mountain Loop Highway about 18 miles. At red bridge, turn onto Forest Service Road 4030. Follow Mallardy Ridge signs. Trail leaves the end of Forest Service Road 4032. Check with the Forest Service for road conditions
Gothic Basin at Morning Star NRCA
Gothic Basin is a glacially-influenced landscape located below the east face of Gothic Peak and the south face of Del Campo Peak. It includes Foggy Lake, a 19 acre glacial lake that forms the headwaters of Weden Creek. Gothic Basin was once known only to climbers ascending nearby peaks, and the site was not part of DNR’s portfolio of managed landscapes within Morning Star NRCA. The basin has become very popular with hikers and campers in recent years, and dispersed impacts to this subalpine area required that DNR add Gothic Basin to the list of formally managed sites within the NRCA. A backcountry toilet has been installed near the basin and site design related to trails and camp sites is underway (likely 2019 through 2022). Users can expect to see new signs, active trail work, campsite designation and restoration of inappropriately located former campsites, as well as recovery areas for currently braided trail networks in this fragile subalpine habitat. While camping is allowed in Gothic Basin, campfires are prohibited in order to protect fragile habitats.
Directions: The 3.3 mile trail to Gothic Basin, known as Weden Creek Trail, begins at Barlow Pass on the Mountain Loop Highway. The hike is challenging, starting at about 2,300-feet elevation and climbing steeply to about 5,000-feet elevation; and the old informally constructed trail includes bedrock scrambles and hazardous stream crossings where dangerous snow bridges can persist well into summer. From Granite Falls at the intersection of SR-92 and Mountain Loop Highway, follow Mountain Loop Highway for approximately 30.5 miles to Barlow Pass. Parking is on left, and the trailhead is on south side of Mountain Loop Highway (across from parking).
Directions to the Site
Ashland Lakes: From Everett, travel east on Highway 2. Take Highway 204 to Lake Stevens. Travel north on Highway 9 to Highway 92. Travel on Highway 92 to Granite Falls. Travel from Granite Falls on the Mountain Loop Highway approximately 15.7 miles to FS road 4020, and follow signs to trailhead.
Walt Bailey Trail: Same as for Ashland Lakes, except travel on Mountain Loop Highway beyond FS road 4020, to FS road 4030, and follow signs to trailhead. Note very limited parking at trailhead (end of road).
Boulder/Greider: From Everett, take Highway 2 to Sultan. Travel up Sultan Basin Road (just east of town) to Olney Pass. Bear right and travel on South Shore Road to PUD recreation site #3 (end of the road), which is also the trailhead for trails to Boulder Lake and Greider Lakes. Note PUD requires that all visitors entering the Spada Lake watershed register at Olney Pass.
A Washington State Discover Pass
is required for parking at all trailheads in Morning Star NRCA. This funding helps DNR manage these important natural areas across the state.