Snow Lake

Overview

  • Difficulty: Moderate.  Steepest and rockiest for the last half mile outbound below the summit.
  • Total distance (Round Trip) – 7 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 1600 feet (1250 outbound, 350 returning)
  • Estimated time: 3-6 hours depending on your fitness and how much time you want to spend there. 

Snow Lake is the most visited of the lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and for good reason.  Its stunning views combined with easy access from Snoqualmie Pass make it a highly desirable day or half day trip.  We recommend avoiding weekends in the summer.  To enjoy the lake on any day of the week, a very early start is the best idea.  The parking lot is large but on a weekend midday it could still fill up.  By afternoon in summer, the trail gets hot, there are many visitors, and the mosquitos are more active.

Visiting Snow Lake in the winter is for those experienced in reading snowpack and with the correct gear.  The steep terrain below the summit presents a high avalanche risk when there is snow.  We recommend hiring a guide if you really want to go in winter and are not experienced.

Snow Lake Trail

Trailhead to Large Talus Field Crossing (1 mile and 365 feet elevation gain total)

Start up the log stairs to begin the hike.  The stairs continue for about 200 feet elevation gain and then the trail levels out and proceeds through the forest.

Snow Lake Trailhead
Snow Lake Trailhead
Start of Trail at Alpental
Start of Trail at Alpental

At 0.2 miles in, pass a small creek which drops off from the nearby cliff above in a waterfall.  On your left, you’ll see views of the South Fork Snoqualmie River valley and the Alpental Ski Area on the opposite side.  

Snow Lake Trail First Waterfall
Snow Lake Trail First Waterfall
View of Alpental from First Waterfall
View of Alpental from First Waterfall

At 0.7 miles in, cross a second small creek with a much smaller waterfall on your right hand side.  The ascent is continual but very gradual.  Cross a small talus field and then come to a large talus field 1 mile in.  The trail crossing the talus is a real trail, you don’t have to go boulder climbing.

Second Waterfall on Snow Lake Trail
Second Waterfall on Snow Lake Trail
Crossing Large Talus area
Crossing Large Talus area

Large Talus Field to Summit (1.65 miles and 900 feet elevation total)

After the large talus field, the trail begins to open up out of the trees and gets steeper.  After 0.25 miles, cross another very small creek.  In the summer it is filled with a beautiful variety of wildflowers.  

Beautiful Wildflowers in Small Creek Bed
Beautiful Wildflowers in Small Creek Bed
Snow Lake Trail Wildflower Closeup
Snow Lake Trail Wildflower Closeup

At 1.8 miles in and 720 feet elevation gain, you’ll reach the Source Lake Trail junction.  Left is the Source Lake trail which is a short visit to a ledge above Source Lake, which is the source of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River.  Proceed to the right for Snow Lake.  

From the junction, the trail makes a steep rocky climb to the summit.  There are great views of Chair Peak and Kaleetan Peak on your left.  There are a couple of climbs up boulders and the trail is wet and slippery in a few places but overall it’s not too bad.

Source Lake Trail Junction
Source Lake Trail Junction
Looking at Chair Peak and Kaleetan Peak
Looking at Chair Peak and Kaleetan Peak

At the summit, enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Off to the left is a path to a summit viewpoint.  The trail continues off to the right.  There are several campsites at the summit.  You’ll notice the striking Snow Lake immediately from the summit.  

Snow Lake Trail Summit 4400 ft
Snow Lake Trail Summit 4400 ft
Descending to Snow Lake
Descending to Snow Lake

Summit to High Lakes Trail Junction (1 mile and 350 foot descent total)

From this point on, the lake dominates the scene.  Descend steadily, but not as steep as the path up, until you reach a sign with a map of the Snow Lake basin.  There is a small pond and a restroom here.    

Snow Lake Basin Map
Snow Lake Basin Map
Small Pond at Snow Lake Basin Map Area
Small Pond at Snow Lake Basin Map Area

Off to the left is a very large area marked “Day Use Only”.  Below here is lake access.  There is a sign.  

Lakeshore
Lakeshore
Dog Looking back at Lake after ascent from Lake access
Dog Looking back at Lake after ascent from Lake access

After checking out the lakeshore, return past the “Day Use Only” area and take the other fork of the trail.  There are better views to be had!  Immediately, you’ll see a creek descending from the right with a small waterfall headed into the Lake.  There is beargrass everywhere in the summer.  

About to Cross Stream Emptying into Snow Lake
About to Cross Stream Emptying into Snow Lake
Field of Beargrass near creek entering Snow Lake
Field of Beargrass near creek entering Snow Lake

Watch your step and cross this creek.  You’ll then get more views of the lake.  It’s not as easy to get down as before the creek so continue along the trail to more lake access.

Dog Enjoying the Creek
Dog Enjoying the Creek
Snow Lake nearing Lake Level
Snow Lake nearing Lake Level

End up at the trail junction for Gem Lake (High Lakes Trail) and the Middle Fork Road – Goldmyer Hot Springs (Rock Creek Trail).  From here, you get the best views of Roosevelt and Chair Peak set behind Snow Lake.  Time to turn around unless you have something longer in mind such as a reservation at Goldmyer Hot Springs or a trip to one of the other High Lakes like Gem Lake.  There will be that 350 foot ascent on the return back over the summit.

Gem Lake Goldmyer Springs Trail Junction
Gem Lake Goldmyer Springs Trail Junction
Between the Pines Snow Lake
Between the Pines Snow Lake

Snow Lake Trailhead Location

From North Bend, get on I-90 Eastbound and proceed to Snoqualmie Pass.  Take Exit 52 (Summit West).  Turn left and cross under the freeway.  Take the second right (towards Alpental ski area) and proceed to the end of the road, about 1 1/4 miles.  Park in the Alpental Ski Area parking lot, a large dirt area.  You will see the trailhead sign for Snow Lake on the right hand side as you’re driving into the parking lot.  There is a restroom just across the dirt road from the bottom of the stairs at the start of the trail.