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Hike to Mirror Lake and Cottonwood Lake near Snoqualmie Pass
Posted On August 22, 2020
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If you’re looking for a mellow hike to an alpine lake, or a short and not too steep backpacking trip near Seattle, the hike to Mirror Lake is a great option as long as you don’t mind driving on a very rough road. Mirror Lake lies along the Pacific Crest Trail and can get busy on summer weekends. Cottonwood Lake you’ll pass only about a mile from where you parked and it’s much quieter. This is a perfect first time backpacking spot or gear shake down. Round trip from where you park to Mirror Lake is 4 miles with 900 feet of elevation gain.
Mirror Lake and Cottonwood Lake are on the homeland of the Duwamish, Snoqualmie and Wenatchi people.
The biggest challenge with hiking to Mirror Lake is the road to get there. The last bit is VERY rough and a single lane that can get busy. The last half mile of the road to the actual trailhead is not passable (that distance is counted in the hike distance here but might not be in other trip reports). There is a sign for the Mirror Lake trail at the point you can’t drive past.
This is a great place to take a first timer backpacking (either Mirror Lake or Cottonwood Lake) since it’s not a long distance and the trail is in good condition.
Mirror Lake can get busy on summer weekends but Cottonwood Lake is much less so. There are plenty of places to camp around both lakes.
If you’re looking for a similar experience without the rough road (and with less people), try Lodge Lake instead.
When is a good time to hike to Mirror Lake?
July through September or October will give you a snow free experience and a refreshing lake swim if you’re into that! July and August will be warmer and dryer, but later in the summer and fall there are a lot less bugs!
Where is it?
Mirror Lake is located just east of Snoqualmie Pass. To get there, take Exit 62 from I-90, which is signed for Kachess Lake and Stampede Pass. Off the exit, head towards Stampede Pass and the Crystal Springs Sno park (closed in summer).
After about a mile you will make a right turn on Forest Road 5480, a gravel road. You’ll parallel and then cross the Iron Horse Trail, and then Lost Lake. After about 6 miles from the turn there is a sign for Mirror Lake. Do not drive past that point! As you approach, I recommend parking as soon as you see a wide enough spot off the road once you start seeing other cars parked. It can get congested and frustrating at the end of the road with lots of people turning around and trying to find parking.
Once you park, make sure that you are out of the way so others can continue to drive past you. Then, head up the road until you see the sign for Mirror Lake. Turn left here, heading uphill for half a mile to the actual trailhead on the left.
Once on the trail, you’ll be passing through the forest and climbing gently for just under a mile to a short spur on the right to Cottonwood Lake. This is a less busy lake to sit and relax by or set up your camp.
Back on the trail, the next section is the steepest bit of the Mirror Lake Trail. In just over half a mile from Cottonwood Lake, you’ll come to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail just before Mirror Lake. A few steps ahead and the lake comes into view!
I recommend taking the time to walk a bit further to the left around Mirror Lake. There are places to set up camp all along the lake. There are also lots of places to enjoy lunch or jump in for a swim.
Mirror Lake gets busy on summer weekends but there are plenty of places around the lake to spread out.
When you’re done enjoying your picnic, swim or overnight camping trip, head back the way you came.
Bakeries and Breweries near Mirror Lake and Cottonwood Lake
Snoqualmie Pass doesn’t have a bakery and could really use one! Instead of that, grab a coffee or hot chocolate at Bob’s espresso (look for the green trailer between the DOT rest area and the convenience store). Bob’s espresso also has amazing handmade corndogs! I don’t even like corndogs but these are AMAZING. I am also a big fan of the pizza at Pie for the People which is inside the convenience store by Bob’s.
Dru Bru has outdoor seating with propane fires for some local beer (get Pie for the People delivered from across the street). If you’re looking for some classic pub food, get that next door at Commonwealth.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!