Exploring Mayfield Lake and Surrounding Valley

We’ve driven over this picturesque lake many times on our way to Mt. St. Helens but never really considered pulling off and exploring its shoreline. Big mistake!

Mayfield Lake

Mayfield Lake is a reservoir established by the construction of Mayfield Dam. Prior to the construction of the dam, the Tilton River joined forces with the Cowlitz River within this landscape. The dam, designed to forge the energy of this river confluence into electricity, was originally proposed in 1948. After 15 years of legal struggles, which ended in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, it was constructed and became operational in 1963. In this same year, Washington State Parks began to manage recreation along its shorelines.

The dam is a 250-foot-high, 850-foot-long concrete arch and gravity dam located near Mossyrock. It can generate a maximum of 162 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply about 58,000 homes. You can get a great look at the damn if you take the backroads that lead to the supply route.

Ike Kinswa State Park

The last couple of years, Theresa and I have been busy exploring Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. St. Helen. After so much time on exploring the Pacific Northwest by sea kayak, it’s been a fun process finding inland wonders. We often drive over Mayfield Lake to get to the area and I’m always commenting on how picturesque it is.

Last month we decide to look for somewhere new to camp and I decided to see what were the options on this lake. That’s when we found Ike Kinswa State Park. I wasn’t sure what we were going to find but the reviews looked promising.

The park sits directly on the lake and although we were visiting in the offseason I’m sure it’s a popular destination during the summer season. There’s fishing, apparently you can catch tiger muskie, largemouth bass, kokanee, and rainbow trout. And the boat ramp provides for all the usual lake activities.

The original name of the park was Mayfield Lake State Park. However, in 1971 the name was changed to Ike Kinswa State Park in honor of Ike Kinswa, a well-respected Cowlitz Indian who lived along the shores of the rivers’ confluence. Over the years the park has grown in popularity as a camping and water recreation destination in central Lewis County.

We found the place quiet and most sites provide a good sense of privacy. We were lucky enough to find a site right on the lake and enjoyed the sunsets over the lake from our campfire.

Tilton River

For all the area has to offer what we enjoyed the most was hiking the Tilton River. The river originates in the Cascade Range and joins the lake near the north edge of the park. As we hiked upstream the surrounding hills closed in and we found ourselves briefly in a breathtaking canyon.

Go far enough and the terrain levels out again. We never found the end of the trail as the short days forced us to turn around but I’m sure we’ll be back soon to continue the exploration.

We’ve driven over this picturesque lake many times on our way to Mt. St. Helens but never really considered pulling off and exploring its shoreline. Big mistake!

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Cloud reflection on Tilton River
Reflection of clouds in the Tilton River about 3 miles north of where it empties into Mayfield Lake

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james tilton

This is a little off topic but it’s such an interesting story I had to share it. The Tilton River is named for James Tilton who was the first Surveyor General of the Washington Territory and served as such from 1854 to 1861.

Tilton had brought a 12-year slave named Charles Mitchell. Although the majority of residents in the territory were anti-slavery lacking statehood they couldn’t vote a referendum against slavery.

However, in 1860 Charles was approached by members of the Crown Colony of Victoria and a plan was hatched to have him stow away on a ship bound for that port.

On September 24 of that year, with help, he sneaked aboard the Eliza Anderson and was hidden in the pantry. However, he was discovered by the Captain and forced to work for his passage until the Captain could return him to Tilton.

Mitchell was locked in the lamproom so as to prevent him from touching British soil where he could claim his freedom. The plan would have worked except for the community which met the Eliza Anderson once she docked. The Victora Sheriff took Mitchell into his custody and then quickly granted him his freedom.

Back in Washingon, Tilton filed a formal complaint and the ensuing international incident that follow makes for quite a read. It’s much too long for me to go into detail and Lorraine McConachy does a much better job of telling the story then I could. You can read the whole story here.

Dinner cooking over Solo Ranger firepit
Dinner cooking on our Solo Ranger firepit.
Campfire Cajun Shrimp and Sausage
Nothing ends a day of exploring on the trail like a hobo campfire meal of Cajun Shrimp and Sausage.
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