Seattle Area Hikes

Snow Lake
By Scott Leonard
Page 3 of 4   |  

The Hike
Everything about Snow Lake seems larger than life. The lake is one of the largest lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a respectable honor. The big basin absorbs the large crowds that make the trek. Big meadows and bigger peaks add to the scenery. It’s all large and all exceptionally grand. Part of the lake’s high popularity is due to its easy accessibility. The trail is not difficult and works well for families with kids. The hike is nice even if cut short and offers great options for a longer adventure.

Snow Lake Trail gently works its way up the valley to a junction with Source Lake Trail (1.5 miles). This section of trail has an easy grade but repeatedly crosses open rock slides—hiking boots work better than sneakers. These open slides provide great views of the jagged ridge of Denny Mountain, The Tooth, Bryant Peak, and Chair Peak. Already this is a great hike.

At the junction, turn right and begin the hike’s main ascent, a series of sharp switchbacks up the exposed hillside, climbing 700 feet in 0.6 mile. The trail crosses the wilderness boundary (2.2 miles) and levels out at the pass (2.3 miles), home to some large mountain hemlocks. This saddle offers good views of Snow Lake below and poses a dilemma. To reach Snow Lake requires giving up 400 feet, so this is the turnaround spot for those who don’t feel like hiking down to the lake.

From the saddle, Snow Lake Trail drops to the shores of Snow Lake (2.8 miles). It’s easy to understand why the lake is so popular—fields of granite, large meadows, and rugged peaks surround the lake. Chair Peak is the most prominent pike of the ragged ridges. There are numerous spots around the lake for a picnic. The lake is one big swimming hole in the summer, but its chilly waters reflect its name. The lake is popular with anglers, too.

Snow Lake isn’t the only lake in this basin. For a longer trip, High Lakes Trail accesses a pair of backcountry lakes and is a great addition to this hike. The weekend crowds thin out considerably past Snow Lake. At three miles on Snow Lake Trail, near the northeast corner of Snow Lake, turn left on signed High Lakes Trail. The maintained trail crosses Rock Creek and climbs 800 feet to Gem Lake (5.0 miles) before dropping 1,000 feet to Lower Wildcat Lake (6.9 miles).

From Seattle, drive east on I-90 to Exit 52/West Summit. Turn left (under the freeway) and left again on Alpental Road. Drive 0.2 mile and turn right on Forest Service Road 9040. Drive 1.5 miles to a large gravel parking lot on the left. The trailhead is on the right.

Information and Contact
This trail is accessible July–October and is open to hikers and leashed dogs. A federal Northwest Forest Pass is required to park here. A free wilderness permit is also required to hike here and is available at the trailhead. For a map of Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, contact the Outdoor Recreation Information Center at the downtown Seattle REI. For topographic maps, ask Green Trails for No. 207, Snoqualmie Pass, or ask the USGS for Snoqualmie Pass. For more information, contact Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, North Bend Ranger Station, 42404 Southeast North Bend Way, North Bend, WA 98045, 425/888-1421.

Published: 2 May 2006 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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