Trail: Snow Lake
Length: 7.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 1800ft
Trail condition: good
Snow Lake is a popular Seattle-area summer hike. It’s easily accessible via I-90 and Snoqualmie Pass, is more open and sunny (and thus provides more views) than the typical trail on the western side of the Cascades, and as a reward at the end of a hike, offers views of a picturesque mountain lake. The trail is popular enough, in fact, that it suffers from a sort of “rush hour” between about 11am and 3pm on busy summer weekends.
The trailhead, unlike so many in the area, offers ample parking, thanks to the Alpental ski area. It can be reached by taking Alpental Road from Snoqualmie Pass, and following it a couple of miles until it terminates. You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass ($5/day or $30/yr, available at the ranger station at Snoqualmie Pass) to avoid getting a parking ticket.
The trailhead begins in a pleasantly shady forest, and climbs via a set of steps for a couple of hundred feet, before leveling off somewhat and beginning a very gradual ascent which lasts for about half the trail’s length. The trail weaves in and out of copses of trees, but stays sunny more often than not. Occasional views in many direction provide visual interest.
Due to its location on the south side of a ridge, this part of the trail is usually quite warm; bring plenty of water. At about the half way mark, the trail forks, and the right fork starts up a series of switchbacks to the ridgeline above the trail, beyond which it descends a few hundred feet to Snow Lake. The left fork leads to Source Lake, which is the source of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River.
The switchbacks that lead you to Snow Lake grow shorter, steeper and rockier as you approach the ridge. At the top of the ridge you cross the boundary into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area and are greeted by a stunning panorama of Snow Lake about 400 feet below you.
The lake is cold, and on the shady north side of the ridge. As a result, there is often a difference of 10 degrees or more in temperature in just a short distance as you cross from the ridge’s south side to the north. Earlier in the hiking season (often into mid or late July), there will be patches of snow on this part of the trail and along the lake’s edge, which give the lake its name. You can continue down to the lake’s shore to refresh yourself before starting back; some hikers continue on deeper into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
On the return trip, you can see the trailhead parking lot far below as you descend down the switchbacks.
Snow Lake trail offers an excellent combination of forest, sunshine, views, good trail conditions and ease of access; it’s a good bet all summer long.