You are here: Home Find a Hike Hiking Guide Surprise and Glacier Lakes

Surprise and Glacier Lakes

» REI » Amazon

A portion of all book sales from the links above benefits WTA and helps protect and maintain our trails.

Wedged between craggy Thunder and Spark Plug mountains, these two lakes are set in a truly electrifying environment, flanked by towering evergreens and slopes of shiny granite ledges and talus. But even more stimulating than these aquatic gems is the forest that lines the trail leading to them. It's one of the finest tracts of old growth along the US 2 corridor.

Begin by walking a short distance up a powerline service road. In 0.2 mile turn left onto real trail, and real nice trail at that. On good tread, sturdy stairs, and solid planking, head up the narrow Surprise Creek valley through a magnificent forest of ancient cedars and giant hemlocks. Soon enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, its designation guaranteeing that those giant arboreal elders' lives won't be cut short.

At about 1.3 miles the trail crosses cascading Surprise Creek on a big log. Note previous log crossings strewn about in the creek's bed. Then skirt beneath avalanche slopes and undulate between patches of brush and groves of majestic primeval forest as the trail continues upvalley. Tumbling Surprise Creek, always nearby, provides constant visual and audio delights.

At about 3 miles begin climbing more steeply. At 4.5 miles, after winding around talus and ascending steep forested slopes, reach a trail junction just shy of Surprise Lake. The trail left climbs briskly toward Trap Pass to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Continue right, traversing a marshy meadow and a precarious creek crossing to reach Surprise Lake.

A popular backpacking destination with its numerous designated campsites, the lake is well-loved by day hikers too. Treat it well. Find a quiet shoreline ledge or boulder to soak rays or feet. While away the afternoon here, or continue farther to bigger and prettier Glacier Lake by continuing south along the trail, climbing a rib between Surprise Lake on the right and a cascading creek on the left.

About 0.5 mile beyond Surprise Lake, reach a junction with the PCT (elev. 4900 ft). Left goes to Trap Pass. Continue straight. Come to a big granite talus slope just after passing a tarn tucked below on the left. Locate an unmarked but obvious trail heading right. Take it, passing an old Snoqualmie National Forest sign and dropping steeply 50 feet or so to granite-bound Glacier Lake (elev. 4800 ft).

No glaciers, lots of granite, this lake along with Surprise are also known as the Scenic Lakes. Can't argue with that moniker.
Driving Directions:

Drive US 2 east to the small town of Skykomish. Continue for another 10 miles, turning right (just after passing the Iron Goat Interpretive Site) into the old railroad community of Scenic. Cross the railroad tracks and turn right, following a narrow and bumpy dirt road 0.3 mile to the trailhead (elev. 2200 ft).

Improve or add to this guidebook entry

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

Recent Trip Reports

Hiked here recently? Submit a trip report!
There are 208 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Surprise and Glacier Lakes — Jan 23, 2014 — emosewa
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
Expand report text Hide report text
Got a late start, noon. Wore microspikes the entire way. Only put snowshoes on to access surprise la...
Got a late start, noon. Wore microspikes the entire way. Only put snowshoes on to access surprise lake which is about 500 feet from the well marked trail. Trail was easy to follow, is well packed down from multiple hikers & in some spots ski tracks. The two short switchback spots have multiple boot tracks but all end up back on the main trail. Got to surprise lake at 2:30 & decided not to continue to glacier. On the way down about a mile from the trailhead we noticed a tree on the trail that had fresh cat scratches on it that weren't there on the way up. We looked for the mountain lion but never saw it, it probably saw us though. Arrived back at the car at 4:30. Got a little sun at the lake.
Read full report with photos
Surprise and Glacier Lakes — Jan 05, 2014 — notes.from.the.backcountry
Snowshoe/XC Ski
Issues: Snow on trail
Expand report text Hide report text
With the beautiful forecast we headed out Highway 2 to Surprise and Glacier Lakes. The turn off Hwy ...
With the beautiful forecast we headed out Highway 2 to Surprise and Glacier Lakes. The turn off Hwy 2 is really easy to miss, we ended up having to turn around on the highway after initially missing the turn. The road crosses over the train tracks and immediately on the other side there were some less snow capable cars parked. We drove down the road all the way to the trailhead, it is only about a quarter mile down from the railroad tracks. We were the first car there at 9am but two cars quickly pulled in behind us.

The trail starts out up what is more of an access road and passes under the power lines but then quickly turns off into a very well maintained trail. For the first three miles the trail gains some elevation but is more or less a nice rambling trail. The trail is really well stomped out and easy to follow. There are a very creek crossings but easy to get across on the log bridges.

At about three miles the trail gets a little harder to follow and we put on our snowshoes at this point. The trail really started to climb until you pop out at a narrow avalanche chute area that the trail climbs directly up. This area is incredibly step and presents a challenge both up and down. Just after making it up the chute you come across Surprise Lake. It is completely frozen over with trails zigzagging across it.

We stopping in the sunshine for a quick lunch. There were three or four other groups up at the lake when we stopped for lunch. After our quick break we continued on. We traversed the lake and followed a trail back behind the lake. Following our GPS we realized the tracks we were following we headed off in the wrong direction so we turned and cross countried it up and over a ridge down to frozen Glacier Lake.

Once at Glacier Lake we decided to turn around and head back to the car for fear we might run out of daylight.
Read full report with photos
Surprise and Glacier Lakes, Surprise Lake Snowshoe — Dec 24, 2013 — mbravenboer
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
Expand report text Hide report text
We (me and my dog) did a nice snowshoe to Surprise Gap today. I was hoping for views of the Glacier ...
We (me and my dog) did a nice snowshoe to Surprise Gap today. I was hoping for views of the Glacier Peak, but there were some very persistent clouds in the Stevens Pass area that blocked all views. The valley of the Surprise Creek itself was clear though, so still some great views! The snow conditions where very good, so very enjoyable overall.

Some notes on the conditions:
- Parked at the railroad
- I started using snowshoes after the log crossing. Before that, snow does not always cover the entire trail.
- The trail is very nicely packed until the switchbacks. The switchbacks themselves had fresh snow that obscured the trail a bit. Fortunately, two friendly skiers left from the parking area at roughly the same time and they were kind enough to break trail on the switchbacks. The skiers were the only people I met during the day. From the tracks I saw on the way back, it looked like they went in the direction of Trap Pass.
- After Surprise Lake, there were no indications that other people have been in the area. Breaking trail was not too bad though: under the trees there is a solid crust, and in the open area there is ~0.5-1 foot of powder snow on top of a very solid crust. Overall quite pleasant.
- The Surprise Gap area had a couple of small avalanches (see photos), but there is not a ton of snow, so it didn't seem dangerous to me. It's pretty steep to get up there, so I left a nice trail of switchbacks.

I left the trailhead (with my brave dog) at 7:30am. I was at Surprise Lake at 10:30am, and at Surprise at 1pm. Back at the car at 4pm.

More photos: http://www.flickr.com/[…]/
Read full report with photos
Surprise and Glacier Lakes — Nov 02, 2013 — Vik
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail
Expand report text Hide report text
Even though forecast for Nov 2 was 100% rain and wind gusts, me and my friend decided to do it with ...
Even though forecast for Nov 2 was 100% rain and wind gusts, me and my friend decided to do it with the intent of turning back if weather turns too bad. The turn to trail head is - Second right turn after milepost 58 on highway 2 (about 10 miles from Skykomish heading east). After turning of, of highway 2, you will cross a rail track. After crossing rail track, turn right and be very careful since there is a big pit just after right turn. It was dark when we reached there and its difficult to see the pit in dark. I could still see it though and was able to avoid it. The pit is more on the left side of road.

We started hiking at 7.50 AM, did both Surprise and Glacier lakes and got back to trail head by 2 PM. The trail was in good shape, though there are lots of tree roots you have to go through. It was raining all the time and as we hiked higher, rain turned in to snow fall.

You will encounter the first intersection just before Surprise lake. Keep right (left goes to trap pass. There is a sign board which clearly tells that). As soon as you head right, trail splits again. One goes straight and other goes right. Take the right and you will descend a few feet, cross a creek, climb few feet and get the first glimpse of Surprise lake.
we spent only 10 minutes there and decided to head to Glacier lake.

The trail to Glacier lake from snow lake is well marked. There was snow around snow lake but no snow on the trail except the fresh snow that was falling in at that time. Trail to Glacier lake is a bit of a climb. Its very easy to miss the final turn to Glacier lake. Here is how you get to it. On the trail to glacier lake, you will cross a junction. Keep going straight and you will pass a tarn (small lake) on your left. Right after the tarn, there are granite rocks on your left. Right there, you will see a right turn descending down. Right in front of turn, you will see a sign "Camp sites" on a tree. However we had missed the sign the first time. Descend down about 50 to 80 feet and you are at Glacier lake.

Around Surprise lakes, we saw signs hanging on ropes on the side of trail about a conservation project and not camping and walking through the area. At first, we were surprised whether we were hiking in restricted area. To us, it seemed like those sign were for area on the side of trail. Plus these sign first appeared just 10 feet away from Surprise lake. I guess, if it were really a restricted area, they should have put such sign at trail head than at the lake.

Both lakes are pretty but we both found Glacier lake prettier than Surprise lake.

Read full report with photos
Surprise and Glacier Lakes — Oct 15, 2013 — BigButtDon
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
Expand report text Hide report text
With the promise of a dry and partly sunny day, Geezer Patrol generously consumed the pre-hike Aleve...
With the promise of a dry and partly sunny day, Geezer Patrol generously consumed the pre-hike Aleve in hopes of warding off the physical effects of an anticipated 9 miles RT and 2400' elevation. It almost worked.
The trail was in primo shape but that still means plenty of rock and root for your feets and nuthin but UP. We were all by ourselves, however, less one young'un who blew by us early in the route. 3.5 hours UP and 3.25 hours down for this gang, the similar times being a unique attribute of this group's physical status.
The first 3.5 miles gain half the elevation load and the last 1.5 miles had one of us (the author?) almost crying for Mommy with several steep sections just before emerging on the plain of Surprise Lake. Plenty of enroute water availability can reduce your pack load. All energy expended was well worth our aging efforts efforts.
The trail takes one down the East edge of the lake which had a lot of sun protection from tree heights and thus some minor snow from the prior weeks storms. Plenty of places to enjoy the water, views and lunch however. The rock pile at the inlet provided some tanning opportunities after lunch which we consumed looking for other trails around the West lake side and for jamming one of our replaced knees. Nuthin that a little narcotic from the med kit couldn't assuage.
Our nubile trailmate who blew past us on the way in , did the same on the way out. She "ran" to the top of Trap Pass and reported lots of snow - enough to soak the feet - but worth it for the views. Lots of color on the hillsides and the mongo trees in this part of the Wilderness were to die for.
So, ramble on before the snows fill in this great hike and leave it to those who like walking in the white like they have a load in their pants.

Read full report with photos
surprise lake.jpg
Surprise Lake. Photo by Gabi Fulcher.
WTA worked here!
2010, 2013
Location
Surprise Lake (#1060)
Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - West
Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
Statistics
Roundtrip 11.0 miles
Elevation Gain 2700 ft
Highest Point 4900 ft
Features
Lakes
Waterfalls
Old growth
Mountain views
Established campsites
Guidebooks & Maps
Green Trails Stevens Pass No. 176

Improve or add to this guidebook entry

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

Map it
Red MarkerSurprise and Glacier Lakes
47.7078 -121.1567
  • Trail Work 2013 Frontcountry
  • Trail Work 2010
(47.7078, -121.1567) Open in new window
Document Actions
  • Print this
  • Share
Get the Guidebooks

Mountaineers three booksSelect content from The Mountaineers Books' guidebooks is featured in this Hiking Guide. Sales of the books from this website help protect and maintain trails.

> Shop Now

More hikes » Hike of the Week
Diablo Lake Trail (Apr 17)

Diablo Lake

North Cascades

Follow the Diablo Lake Trail up and across talus slopes on the flanks of Sourdough Mountain to impressive cascading waterfalls and stunning views. This hike in the North Cascades Institute's backyard makes a great option for an early season hike in stunning North Cascades National Park, much of which is inaccessible during the winter and spring.

Get Trail News

Subscribe to our free email newsletter for hiking news, events, gear reviews and more.

What's Happening
GiveBIG 2014 May 06, 2014 Donate to WTA during The Seattle Foundation's GiveBIG event and grow your impact on trails!
Hiker Potluck in Vancouver May 28, 2014 Come out for an evening of great food, meet other hikers and learn what is happening on trails near you.
More »