From towering old-growth giants to placid lakes with craggy mountain views, this hike has everything you want in a trail. Put this one on your list of places to explore along Highway 2.
Begin your day by hiking up an access road under powerlines for roughly 0.2 miles before finding the Surprise Lake trail sign on your left. Take this turn and enter a grove of old-growth. As you hike along, make sure to look side to side, keeping an eye out for these ancient trees that escaped the logging boom some 100 years ago. Soon, you'll pass a sign indicating you're entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This protected area gives those old trees a safe place to get even older and more majestic.
The trail climbs a bit at first, utilizing dozens of wooden steps to ease the grade. 1.3 miles from the trailhead, after crossing a few streams, you’ll cross Surprise Creek via a log bridge. While you're at this creek, look for the American Dipper, a bird that likes to dance around in the shallow pools. It's signature "dipping" dance is unmistakable.
Leaving the bridge behind, the grade eases a bit as the trail continues to follow the creek further up the valley. As you make your way up the valley, notice small waterfalls feeding the creek. These make nice photo ops if you need a break.
After 3 miles of this pleasant grade, the time has come to climb. Your efforts here will get you up and over the lip and into the Surprise Lake basin in 1.5 miles, but the way is steep (you'll gain 1000 feet in that 1.5 miles) and becomes rocky in places. Luckily, friendly, squeaky pikas that make the upper scree fields home will welcome you with their calls. Take breaks and listen to these sweet little creatures as needed.
Crest the lip of valley, where the trail grade evens out once again. Make your way towards the lake, which lies not much further ahead. But before the lake, you'll reach a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). To the left leads to Trap Pass and Trap Lake, while straight ahead lies Surprise Lake. Head straight on to the lake, which is clear and deep blue with Spark Plug and Surprise Mountain looming overhead.
There are overnight sites as well as a designated day use area at the lake. Wherever you decide to rest, treat it with respect as you would if you were a guest in someone's house. Pack out what you pack in, and if you are staying overnight, camp only in designated spots.
But you're not to your final destination! For Glacier Lake, continue past the day use area at Surprise Lake, then begin climbing again. It's steep but thankfully short-lived; Glacier lies less then a mile ahead. Pass another junction with the PCT and stay to the right to avoid climbing up to Trap Pass.
A half-mile from Surprise Lake enter a big talus slope and locate the evident, but unmarked trail leading down to the lake. Glacier Lake makes a great spot for overnighting or for a longer day hike. Settle down on the granite boulders that line the lake and take in the views of the towering peaks above.