The Snow Lake trail, tucked in the mountains of Snoqualmie Pass, is one of the most beautiful hikes in Washington, and it’s only about an hour outside of Seattle! The hike takes you to a stunning alpine lake that shimmers with shades of turquoise and is surrounded by mountains – so whether you’ve lived nearby for years or you’re just visiting, this is one Seattle favorite that everyone should hike.
This guide will tell you everything you need to hike the Snow Lake trail – how to get there, when to go, and more.
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Table of Contents
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About the Snow Lake Trail
Here’s what you need to know before you hit the trail!
Snow Lake Stats
Length: 6.7 miles (10.8 km) out and back
Elevation Gain: 1699 feet (518 meters)
Popularity: This is a really popular hike – you’ll see a lot of people on the trail. But, it’s easy to avoid crowds once you get to the actual lake – I’ll tell you how later in this guide!
Hike Time: When I hiked this trail, I continued on to Snow Lake, so my hike was longer. The entire thing took me 8 hours and 9 minutes, but the portion of the hike just to Snow Lake and back takes about 4 hours. You can check out my hike on Strava!
Leave No Trace on the Snow Lake Trail
Anytime you’re outdoors, whether you’re a beginner hiker or an experienced adventurer, it’s essential that you practice Leave No Trace (LNT). LNT is a set of seven principles that help us understand our impact on the outdoors – because while we usually have good intentions, the environment is more fragile than we think, and one snap-second decision can cause damage to the environment that will take the earth years, even decades to repair.
Leave No Trace means enjoying the outdoors without disrupting nature, as much as it’s possible to do so. Here are the 7 principles of LNT, and how they apply when you hike the Snow Lake trail!
- Plan ahead and prepare – read this guide, make sure you know have the right gear, and be prepared for any weather.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces – stay on the trail to avoid trampling grasses and plants! If you’re camping, make sure you pitch your tent in designated campsites.
- Dispose of waste properly – don’t leave trash, or anything else, behind. Pack it out!
- Leave what you find – I know it can be tempting to take a cool rock or leaf, but leave these things where they belong! Animals often use these, and if everyone takes one, the trail won’t be as pretty.
- Minimize campfire impacts – no campfires are allowed at Snow Lake.
- Respect wildlife – don’t approach wild animals, and never feed them. There are a lot of pikas, and you might get lucky and see a mountain goat!
- Be considerate of other visitors – yield to other hikers, and be respectful – no speakers or loud music.
The Best Time to Hike the Snow Lake Trail
The best time to hike this trail is July through October. Since Snow Lake is in Snoqualmie Pass, the mountains usually stay snowy until about mid July, and Washington is known for being rainy so it’s always a good idea to bring a rain jacket. It’s definitely possible to do this hike in the snow (and there will be much fewer people around), but make sure to bring snowshoes, and you also need experience navigating avalanche terrain.
I recommend hiking to Snow Lake on a weekday, as it’s a very popular trail and the parking lot can fill up on weekends!
Don’t Forget Your Pass!
Snow Lake is located in a national forest, and a pass is required to park at the trailhead. You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass, and you can buy a day pass at the trailhead. But, if you hike often, an annual Northwest Forest Pass might be a good idea – it costs $30.
If you have an America the Beautiful Pass (an annual pass to all of the national parks), this is also accepted in national forests, so you don’t need to get both! If you visit national parks often (or at least more than twice a year), I definitely recommend getting this one. It’s an annual pass that will get you into every national park in the country for an entire year, for just $80, and you can get it online!
What to Bring to Hike the Snow Lake Trail
When you hike the Snow Lake trail, here’s what you’ll need to bring!
- Hiking Shoes – this trail is steep, so make sure you’ve got something with grip. I prefer hiking in sandals and wore my Chacos for this hike, but boots are a good idea for more ankle support. I love my Danner boots – and they come in men’s and women’s.
- Layers – it’s going to be colder as you go higher, so a lightweight windbreaker or a fleece is a good idea. I also recommend always bringing a rain jacket for Washington hikes, because the drizzle can catch you by surprise!
- Backpack – you’ll need a backpack for water and snacks. I use an Osprey Hikelite 26L.
- Bathing Suit – the lake is amazing to swim in, so I definitely recommend a bathing suit for this hike!
- Hiking poles – the hike is a little steep, so if you have knee pain going downhill, poles help a lot with that!
- Water – water is a must, always. I always bring my water bottle and 2L hydration pack.
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Directions to the Snow Lake Trailhead
The Snow Lake trail begins at the Alpental Ski Area in Snoqualmie Pass. If you’re flying in to Washington to explore the park, the closest airport is SeaTac, in Seattle.
Expedia is a good way to find flights and rental cars, I also super recommend signing up for Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) – they send you amazing deals, so you can find cheap flights to Seattle, and to destinations all over the world. The free account is great and totally worth the few minutes it takes to sign up, and I do recommend the premium account too!
You need a car to get to the Snow Lake trailhead, so if you fly into Washington, you can rent a car through Discover Cars or Rental Cars. But, a great alternative to a rental car is a tiny home on wheels! With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans. Another option for vans is to use Outdoorsy, which is more like Airbnb for campers – you can rent a van, RV, or trailer from a person in the area.
To get to the trailhead, you’ll take I-90. From Seattle, you’ll go east towards Snoqualmie Pass. The Snow Lake trailhead is located at Alpental, which is a popular ski area in the winter.
Snow Lake Trailhead Coordinates: 47.44542, -121.42353
Hiking the Snow Lake Trail
Once you’ve parked and are ready to start hiking, here’s what you can expect on the Snow Lake trail!
Snow Lake Trailhead
One of the best things about this hike is that you have incredible views pretty much the whole way, and this starts right at the trailhead. Once you park at Alpental, you’ll have gorgeous mountains around. Make sure to get a pass if you didn’t buy one ahead of time, and walk left of the parking area (away from the cabins) to get to the trail!
The hike begins in the forest, but quickly opens back up to gorgeous mountain views – most of this trail is pretty exposed, and there isn’t much shade. About 1.6 miles (2.6 km) in, there’s an option to take a detour to Source Lake. There’s a sign pointing to it, and if you decide to go this way, you’ll get a view of the lake, which is pretty small but surrounded by mountains.
Right around this junction, the trail gets a little steeper, and the switchbacks start soon after. When you get to the stairs, you’re almost done going uphill! Soon, you’ll be at the top of a hill, with a sign that says “Alpine Lakes Wilderness” greeting you. If you go left and climb up those rocks, you’ll have a great view of Snow Lake down below. Then, continue down the trail to get to the water.
Down to Snow Lake
Once you start going downhill, it’s about another mile (1.6 km) down to the lake. You’ll have great views of the blue water below! There’s a pit toilet close to the end of the trail if you need it, and soon you’ll find yourself at the shore of Snow Lake.
But, Keep Going!
While this is a beautiful place to stop, I actually recommend that you go just a little further! The first little beach you get to will inevitably be pretty popular, with lots of people around. So, if you keep walking, you can get to a few more private, quiet locations. There are a few places where you can sit by the lake, so feel free to explore! If you go over the log bridge, you’ll start ascending away from Snow Lake, so unless you’re continuing on to Gem Lake, stop somewhere before then.
The lake is incredible, and the water feels so good to swim in after the hike.
Back to the Trailhead
Once you’re ready to leave, you’ll go back the way you came. You’ll need to go uphill a little, and after that you’ll be going down to the Alpental Ski Area.
Where to Stay Near the Snow Lake Trail
You can turn your hike into a little getaway, and stay somewhere close by! Here are my favorite options for places to stay in Snoqualmie Pass.
Glamping, Cabins, & Yurts
For a unique place to stay during your trip, check out Hipcamp! It’s like Airbnb for campsites – and you can find yurts, cabins, glamping sites, and more.
You can even get $10 off your first booking here!
A Camper van
With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans. Another option is to use Outdoorsy, which is more like Airbnb – you can rent vans, RVs, and trailers from people who live nearby!
Find a Campsite
Whether you car camp, tent camp, or rent a tiny home on wheels, The Dyrt is the best way to find campsites! There are plenty of official campsites, but since you’re in the national forest, there are also tons of places where you can camp for free!
There are lots options for free camping near the trail – for tips on finding the best ones, check out this guide.
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Cabins and Rental Homes
Snoqualmie Pass is a great getaway anytime of year, so there are lots of cute cabins and rentals that you can stay in. VRBO is a great place to look, with so many options nearby, like this gorgeous A frame or this house right on the slopes!
Booking.com is another good place to find lodging, with hotels, inns, and rental homes. For places to stay, check out this map. Make sure to change the dates, and zoom out to see all of your options!
More Adventures Near the Snow Lake Trail
Have you hiked this trail, or are you adding it to your bucket list? Let me know in a comment below!
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