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Skyline Lake Snowshoe

Central Cascades

Location

Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - West
View map below

Length

3.0 miles, roundtrip

Elevation

Gain: 1100 ft.
Highest Point: 5100 ft.

Rating

4.25 out of 5

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

None
 
 

Skyline Lake is a wonderful, short snowshoe route with enough elevation gain to be great exercise. The lake is on Heather Ridge (also known as Skyline Ridge), which is the mountain on the north side of the Stevens Pass. On clear days the lake and ridge offer expansive views of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to the south and the Glacier Peak Wilderness to the north. Early in the trip there are nice views of Cowboy Mountain and Big Chief Mountain towering over the Stevens Pass ski area. Comparable views are much harder to achieve with other snowshoe trips in the area. On partially cloudy days, the trip is often spectacular with clouds moving through the pass area, partially obscuring the views, and resulting in beautiful light conditions for photographers. The lake is a popular winter camping destination.

The location at the top of the Stevens Pass helps when seeking good snowpack early in the winter season. When other locations are wet and slushy due to warmer weather, this is often a great place to enjoy dry snow conditions. The route to Skyline Lake has limited avalanche risk, so it can also be a good destination when other options are too dangerous. However, slopes west and east of the service road are avalanche-prone, so it is important to stick to the route. Overall, the route is suitable for beginners, but is fairly steep compared to some other beginner options, such as Gold Creek Pond or Hurricane Ridge. Because the ascent is entirely on the service road, it only requires fitness and is not in any way technically challenging.

Starting from the north Stevens Pass parking lot (just east of the pass), the narrow and steep service road leads to two radio tower locations. The road starts between a few cabins west of the parking area. There are two ways to get to the service road, one road starts at the foot bridge across the US 2, the other road is more north halfway the parking area. After entering the actual service road, the road soon crosses under transmission lines. The road is occasionally groomed.

The route is used by many different winter recreationists, mostly snowshoers, but also skiers heading for the Moonlight Bowl (the slope to the east) and backcountry skiers heading to the backside of the ridge and Tye Peak (Pt 5476). It is also common to see groups for avalanche courses in this area. Where possible, try to maintain a separate snowshoe track next to the skin track made by skiers. The lower section of the road is also used by families for sledding.

After about 800 feet on the trail, at 4875 feet of elevation there is a radio tower. This is the only radio tower you will encounter on this trip. From it, follow the service road for three more switchbacks, after which the road noticeably flattens out at 5050 feet. The route to Skyline Lake is northwest from this point, leaving the service road. There is usually a track, but if you’re the first in fresh snow, then head northwest, gently ascending for a quarter of a mile to reach Skyline Lake. From the point where you left the service road, the road continues in a northeast direction for a quarter of a mile to a second radio tower. If you do happen to continue to that tower, just backtrack a bit to find the route to Skyline Lake.

Skyline Lake at 5092 feet has a great view of Cowboy Mountain and Big Chief Mountain, with many summits of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness just barely peeking over this ridge. To the left (southeast), the Chiwaukum Mountains are just visible, and to the right (southwest) you can now see Mounts Daniel and Hinman. Avoid traversing the lake, because the ice is not always thick enough to hold the weight of a person.

While the views at the lake are gorgeous, it is highly recommended to continue to the gap on the ridge northwest of Skyline Lake. This adds about 100 feet of elevation gain, but opens up the views to the north, where you can see Glacier Peak, Mount McCausland, the impressive vertical rock of Lichtenberg, and many more peaks. The beautiful Monte Cristo group is visible northwest, and east there is the Nason Ridge with Rock Mountain and Mount Howard. Far south you can clearly see Mount Stuart and more summits of the Enchantments.

From the gap, you can follow the ridge west for a quarter of a mile to a beautiful rock garden just before a steep high point on the ridge. The rock garden features enormous rocks, some house-sized; these are beautiful when covered in snow. But it’s best to admire the scene from a distance, because there can be dangerous open spaces around the rocks below the snow. This short ridge walk adds another 100 feet of elevation gain, but is absolutely worth it.

The route is 1100 feet of elevation gain to the lake, and 1300 feet to the rock garden on the ridge.

The snowshoe trip can further be extended to Tye Peak (Pt 5476) by descending into the drainage north of Heather Ridge, but this is strictly for experienced snowshoers and requires some expertise in route finding and evaluating the avalanche risk. This extension more than doubles the total elevation gain.

 

Skyline Lake Snowshoe

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 47.7472, -121.0882 Open map in new window

Trailhead

Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - West

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Skykomish Ranger District

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Snowshoe Routes Washington

Dan A. Nelson

The Mountaineers Books

USGS US Topo: Labyrinth Mountain

Stevens Pass

Buy the Green Trails Benchmark Mtn No. 144 map

Buy the Green Trails Alpine Lakes West-Stevens Pass No. 176S map

Download a map to plan your hike

Getting There

Park at the top of Stevens Pass, in the northern parking lot, just east of the pass. No passes are necessary (in winter or summer), but the lot fills up very quickly when the ski area is open, so make sure to arrive early.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

None
 

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Skyline Lake Snowshoe

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