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Snow Lake

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If there's such a thing as a wilderness superhighway, this is it. The Snow Lake Trail is Washington's most heavily used trail within a designated wilderness area. On any given summer weekend, you can expect to share the area with upward of two hundred hikers. Fortunately, midweek the route is virtually deserted, and after Labor Day the number of weekend hikers drops to more reasonable levels. Why is it so popular? It's a combination of easy-to-access wilderness trail and a route to one of the most picturesque lakes in the water-rich Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Snow Lake is surrounded by high granite peaks and is visited by deer, mountain goats, and a host of small critters and birds. What's more, the lakeshores are lined with wildflowers in early summer and juicy huckleberries later in the year. All in all, the crowds are justified--few places that are so easy to reach offer such a stunning wilderness experience.

Find the trail at the northeastern corner of the broad parking area (directly across from the ski lodge) and start up the long trail as it climbs a series of crib steps. These wooden "cribs" backfilled with dirt earn curses from some hikers, but they were necessary improvements. Volunteers added them in the late 1990s to reverse the ravages of erosion that plagued the trail. As you walk up the steps over the first 0.5 mile or so, take time to admire the workmanship and intensive effort that went into rescuing this trail from destruction. The steps may not match your stride perfectly, but the alternative would be a lost trail.

After that first 0.5 mile, the trail traverses the slope above the upper South Fork Snoqualmie River, rolling through forest and occasional alder-filled avalanche chutes for nearly 2.5 miles to a trail junction at that headwall of the valley. A secondary path leads off to the left, contouring around the headwall and leading to Source Lake.

The trail to Snow Lake goes right and climbs long, steep switchbacks up the headwall to a high saddle between Snoqualmie Mountain and Chair Peak. As you climb, you'll enjoy increasingly fine views of the craggy peaks of the Snoqualmie Pass area. The long ridge to the southwest starts with Chair Peak at the end of the ridge you're climbing, and south from there is Bryant Peak, The Tooth, and Denny Mountain.

At about 3.5 miles you'll crest the meadow-covered ridge (elev. 4400 ft) and start a moderately steep descent over the last 0.5 mile to the lakeshore. You can stroll all the way around the sprawling lake on boot-beaten trail, but please don't create new paths--or widen any of the other faint way trails that have been kicked into the heather by hikers' boots.
Driving Directions:

From Seattle drive east on I-90 to exit 52 (signed for Snoqualmie Pass west). Turn left (north), crossing under the freeway, and continue to the end of the road at the Alpental Ski Area parking lot.

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Recent Trip Reports

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There are 495 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Snow Lake, Snow Lake Snowshoe — Jan 21, 2014 — scoi89
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail | Avalanche danger
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My puppy and I got to the trail head around 9 AM today, it was a little cloudy but was clearing up f...
My puppy and I got to the trail head around 9 AM today, it was a little cloudy but was clearing up fast. We made great time as the weather and temp were perfect for hiking, not to warm or cold. At the second rock field there was what looked to be a fairly big avalanche recently. About 4,800ft up larger chunks of ice and some snow started falling from above as the sun started to come out around 9:45, the trail was a little harder to spot as it looked like no one had really been up there recently and with chunks falling we decided to turn around, didn't want to risk being caught in an avalanche! It was a perfect day up there though! Highly recommend micro spikes, snow shoes were for sure not needed due to lack of new snow. Not too much ice on the trail but tons of hard, compact snow. CHECK AVALANCHE REPORTS BEFORE HEADING UP THERE!
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Avalanche Mountain, Snow Lake — Jan 05, 2014 — Jeb
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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This small subpeak of Snoqualmie Mountain provides surprisingly expansive views of the surrounding C...
This small subpeak of Snoqualmie Mountain provides surprisingly expansive views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains considering it's prominence is barely over 400'. Situated NE of Snow Lake, the shortest approach is via the High Lakes Trail from the Alpental/NWFS Parking Lot. I was a little sore after climbing Mount Townsend with Maverick the day before, so the short approach and reasonable elevation gain as well as a chance to see Snow Lake completely frozen over made this one an easy choice for a clear sunny day. Within the first mile and having seen nobody on the trail I was beginning to regret leaving both dogs behind, but a fair amount of exposure on the narrow ridge to the summit and several off leash dogs on the trail during our descent changed that thought.

Very little snow below 4500' meant that the lifts at Alpental were closed. The parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived at a leisurely 7:30, not a common sight on a fair weather Sunday in January. While gearing up we chatted with two groups of 2 that had pulled in just after us and both mentioned that they would be climbing Chair Peak. At the last switchback before the saddle to Snow Lake we stopped after hearing what I thought sounded like a bear cub crying (or maybe a human in agony) in the valley below. We watched someone move around a snow field directly below Bryant Peak and discussed the possibility that someone could be in need of help. After about 15 minutes they began to climb around on some icy cliffs and we decided that if the noise we heard was someone calling for help, it would not have stopped after just a few calls. Before continuing on Colin noticed four distant dots climbing above Source Lake toward the NE Ridge of Chair Peak. We watched their progress over the next few hours as we moved in the opposite direction.

I knew that the usual route leaves the High Lakes Trail at the creek just past the cabin foundation and cruises around (or over, depending on conditions) a tarn before ascending via the South Ridge. Rather than continuing down the trail into the lake basin, Colin suggested we instead climb East along the ridge between Chair Peak and Snoqualmie Mountain and attempt to pick up the South ridge of Avalanche where it began. Our target came into view as we climbed the narrowing ridge until snowy slopes gave way to jagged rock, then took a break to plot our route from there and watch the progress of the Chair Peak climbers. At least two separate paths were visible in the snowy basin below crossing over each of two frozen tarns, respectively, one of them gaining the ridge just beyond the last of the cliffy section we needed to bypass.

We back-tracked to a mellow slope and plunged/slid down to the closest snow trench just as a group with a few dogs descended toward the main trail. We followed the freshly packed trench through the basin and across the smaller tarn into lichen-covered timber. Only 2-3 inches of powder covered the iced over tarn compared to the 2-3 feet elsewhere. Snow conditions really could not have been much better, we could sink our boots a few inches into the steep slopes for solid traction and we never longed for snowshoes even in the afternoon sun. Once atop the ridge we were greeted with views of Burnt Boot, Mount Thomas and the jagged ridge from Chimney Rock to Chikamin Peak.

A few short sections of the ridge became narrow and slightly exposed on the East side. Near the top we opted for bare rock over exposed lee slopes where possible. The low winter sun's heat was mostly negated by persistent winds but stellar mountain views kept us at the summit for a good 30 minutes. The footbridge to Goldmyer Hotsprings was visible in the Middlefork Valley below.It was particularly cool to see all four of the peaks Colin and I had climbed together over the weekend we had first met last summer. We were both pretty convinced that we could make out movement at the summit of Chair Peak.

For a little added ease and confidence we swapped microspikes for crampons before descending the ridge, then swapped back for a long full-speed glissade back into the basin. On the way out we left the trench just past where we had first joined it and cut our own route back to the trail at the saddle. We cut the first few switchbacks and passed a couple groups with kids and dogs and arrived back at the parking lot before sunset, stoked on another fun summit trip that provided more than we expected.

8.5 miles round trip
~3000' elevation gain
9 hours car-to-car

pics, video, and route map @ http://www.jebsjourneys.com/[…]/avalanche-mountain-1-5-2014.html
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Snow Lake — Dec 27, 2013 — mtoyama
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Hiked the Snow Lake trail with the intention to make it out to Gem Lake.I brought microspikes and sn...
Hiked the Snow Lake trail with the intention to make it out to Gem Lake.I brought microspikes and snowshoes because I was not sure about the conditions up the ridge and in the basin. The first 1-2 miles of the trail up the ridge are extremely icy. It would be very difficult to navigate without crampons or spikes. During the hike there was a lot of rainfall pooling on the trail, and since it's going to get down to the mid-twenties over night the trail will become even icier before tomorrow.

Snowshoes were not needed at any point during the hike to Snow Lake. The snow is packed, frozen, and stable. The trail heads into some fluffier snow in the basin on the way to Gem. I decided not to go on to Gem because of weather and time issues, so I can't comment on the trail conditions there.
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Source Lake, Snow Lake — Dec 26, 2013 — D.Baxter
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail | Avalanche danger
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The trail was packed down snow and ice all the way until the ridge above snow lake, no need for snow...
The trail was packed down snow and ice all the way until the ridge above snow lake, no need for snowshoes. Yaktrax/microspikes were very helpful to stay upright. Trail is packed down all the way to the old cabin site and easy to follow.

We crossed the stream with the goal of Wright Mountain. The trail traverses a very steep snow-loaded slope above the lake which we did not feel comfortable crossing. Instead, we climbed up onto the ridge and descended the backside to the junction with the Snoqualmie valley trail.

The log over Snow Lake outlet was piled high with very soft snow. We made a token attempt to scoot across but were worried the pile of snow would break free in the warm sun. Instead we found a nice spot and had lunch with the great views across the valley to Chair Peak.

On our way out we descended via Source Lake. Enough snow to snowshoe through here but coverage is pretty spotty still and snowbridges are thing. Also be sure to check with Northwest Avalanche Center before heading out to this area.
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Snow Lake — Dec 18, 2013 — jack4hike // jaSko
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Snow,snow all way up...one inch new on the trail just made easier to walk on rocks and ice area. 4 ...
Snow,snow all way up...one inch new on the trail just made easier to walk on rocks and ice area.
4 fellows there . no one went to the lk. down 400 feet. but I did..just seeing.
on the ridge before lake was windy,normal. but on the lk no wind and wormer.
lake almost all frozen.
trip up is 2h and return 1h 45min. do not remember distance..was there 20 times in last 5 years...but not for 2 years.
this is easier hike usually weekends are crowed.week day is ok.
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Snow Lake.jpg
Photo by Susan M. Mueller.
WTA worked here!
2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
Location
Snow Lake (#1013)
Snoqualmie Pass -- Snoqualmie Pass
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - North Bend District
Statistics
Roundtrip 6.4 miles
Elevation Gain 1000 ft
Highest Point 4400 ft
Features
Lakes
Waterfalls
Old growth
Mountain views
Ridges/passes
Established campsites
User info
Good for kids
Dogs allowed on leash
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: Snoqualmie Pass (Nelson & Bauer - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Snoqualmie Pass No. 207

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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