Snow Lake is one of the busiest trails in Washington State and is very popular with Seattle hikers. I don’t often recommend super busy hikes, but Snow Lake is totally worth it! I like to save this hike for late September or early October, when the fall colors on the vine maples and berry bushes are at their peak, the bugs are gone and it’s (somewhat) less crowded.
At 6 miles round trip with about 1700 feet of elevation gain, this is a challenging hike but it never gets extremely steep for too long. You can make your hike longer by adding the side trip to Source Lake, or going further around Snow Lake before enjoying your lunch.
Cell phone coverage: Good for the first half. Limited to the ridge and limited to non existent in the lake basin and at the lake.
Restrooms: Pit toilets at trailhead. There are also two backcountry toilets (no building around them) at Snow Lake.
Accessibility and Mobility: The Snow Lake hike was renovated in Summer 2022. Many washed out and rooted areas are greatly improved. This is still a challenging trail with lots of rocks and several sets of steps in the steeper areas. There are some muddy sections in wet weather and the trail near the lake has rocks and roots.
Snow Lake is located in Mt Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest land directly across from the Alpental ski area at Snoqualmie Pass.
To get there from Seattle, take the first Snoqualmie Pass exit and go left at the end of the ramp to the Alpental ski area.
When is the best time to hike to Snow Lake?
Late September and October are the absolute best time for this hike! It’s a VERY popular summer hike and extremely crowded. It’s still crowded in the fall but it’s not quite as bananas as summer. Late September and early October have beautiful fall colors in the form of vine maples and berry bushes turning bright red.
If you are doing this hike after any ice or snow has fallen, be extremely careful as there are some steep dropoffs in some sections of the trail.
The Snow Lake trail crosses several avalanche chutes and is not safe when the snow flies. Snow lingers at the ridge and in the lake basin until early or mid July most years.
Where do you park for Snow Lake?
Parking for the Snow Lake hike is the parking lot of the Alpental Ski area. The parking area is huge, but this trail is also really busy so the lot is often full on sunny days, even in the fall. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
From the parking lot, you’ll see the Forest Service Information Board for the Snow Lake trail across the road and on the opposite side of the parking lot from Alpental. Before you hit the trail, there is a pit toilet to your left on the same side of the road as the parking lot.
A set of steps takes you up the first part of the trail, before you start a long traverse that climbs a bit though not steeply. You’ll hike through the forest up the valley on the side of the mountain. There are also some open rocky slopes through this section (gorgeous vine maples in the fall!).
The more open sections have increasingly good views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains.
About a mile and a half from the parking lot, the main trail makes its first switchback to the right. If you continue straight here, it takes you to Source Lake. This is a worthwhile 1.5 mile side trip if you want to make your hike longer. Source Lake is the head of the Snoqualmie River and the water supply for Snoqualmie Pass, so you can’t go to the edge of the lake. You’ll have a nice view of Source Lake and the valley from the end of that trail, just under a mile from the switchback junction.
Back on the main trail, or taking the main trail if you skip the Source Lake side trip, you’ll start up a series of switchbacks on a steeper section. This section of the trail is where much of the recent trail work to prevent erosion has happened. Take a moment to admire the blasting and water management construction work, it’s impressive! Take care in this area of more steps and some loose rock.
After three quarters of a mile of climbing, you’ll reach a saddle along a ridge between the valley and the Snow Lake Basin. This is the highest point of your hike and has an excellent view of your destination, Snow Lake!
From here, you’ll begin steep switchbacks downhill to the Snow Lake basin. The main trail goes to the right around the lake, with several signed paths that take you to the lakeshore. There are also areas for setting up camp as well as a couple of backcountry toilets.
If you’re camping, make sure to pay attention to the sign showing where camping is allowed (it is not allowed at the lake shore). If you’re doing a day hike, find a spot along the lake to enjoy your lunch and perhaps a swim or some time to relax.
When you’re ready to head back to your car, return the way you came. The main trail continues another two miles up to Gem Lake and other destinations beyond, so the main trail doesn’t end at Snow Lake.
Where to stop after your hike to Snow Lake
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.
Another option is the Laconia Market, which has some grocery items as well as tasty sandwiches.
Electric Vehicle Charging
Fast charging for EV’s is available at the Summit Deli and gas station at Snoqualmie Pass. There is also fast charging available in North Bend, Cle Elum and Ellensburg.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years and I still spend lots of time there every year. I've been a tour guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington and am a field editor for the Milepost. 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 adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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