Hike to Summit Lake

Details

Distance

5 miles

Elevation Gain

1250 ft

Route Type

Out-and-Back

Added by Nick Lake

From the summit, take in 360-degree views of the Cascades including four volcanoes and unparalleled views of Mt. Rainier.

Summit Lake, nestled in a small basin just north of Mt. Rainier National Park in the Clearwater Wilderness, has everything a hiker could want in a day-hike or easy overnight backpack. The views, the well-maintained trail, and a perfect distance make this hike a must-do for anybody in the Pacific Northwest.

Begin at the Summit Lake Trailhead (#1177) at the end of NF-7810. The road is rough, so a high-clearance 4x4 is recommended, though not required if drivers are careful. The trail ascends from the parking lot steadily along a few short switchbacks that lengthen into a moderate climb through second-growth forest. The trail is well-kept and easy to follow through this section, cutting back to the west as it ascends into the lake basin. Stay left at Twin Lake and continue up the path.

Upon reaching the bowl, Summit Lake comes into view below a wall of cliffs and a peak a few hundred feet above. The trail emerges from the forest into a meadow that slopes gently to the lake's southern shore. Stay to the right to circle the lake counter-clockwise passing a backcountry privvy. Backpacking sites are available in the lake basin, though it is prohibited in the meadows and campfires are not allowed.

Continue on the trail and it climbs steadily to the high point on the northwest side of the lake. Be sure to take in the views between the trees along the eastern lip of the basin of the Stuart Range and the foothills to the east. Further up, breaks in the scrub pine reveal views to the north of Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak and the North Cascades stretching to the Canadian border.

As you emerge atop the peak, you'll be greeted by 360-degree views of the Cascade Range, the Olympic Mountains, Seattle (including the Columbia Tower peeking up beside the Puget Sound), Mt. St. Helens and, of course, Rainier just to the south. The cliffs along the ridge above Summit Lake are perfect for enjoying a picnic lunch or a sunset with Summit Lake, Bearhead Mountain and Twin Lake the only things between you and the Northwest's iconic peak. Keep quiet to hear the sharp cracks and rumbles of Carbon Glacier shifting and calving.

Things to keep in mind:
  • A northwest forest pass is required to park at the trailhead
  • The road up can be very rough; be sure to have a spare tire and a jack in case of a flat
  • Be sure to bring a bear canister or rope to properly tie up or store food if spending the night at Summit Lake
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Reviews

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over 2 years ago

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

6-17-19: Great hike, pretty easy IMO. Snow is really well melted out. A little at the top so bring waterproof shoes. Gravel road leading to it is awful though. Highly recommend high clearance vehicle.

Beautiful Hike- bring snow spikes

A really nice out and back hike. The road up there was extremely rocky, must have 4 wheel drive vehicle. We went in mid- June and were surprised that there was so much snow. We definitely were not prepared with snow spikes. We only barely made it up to the lake, and we weren't going to try to navigate the steep summit for extra views without proper snow gear. Must go back to catch the awesome views. We did catch great views of Mt. Rainer though. So it wasn't all lost. Also, the trail is pretty straight forward, but we would recommend getting a map that covers north of the national park.

almost 4 years ago

Absolutely gorgeous views

Hiked this at the end of October, it was in the 50s so the snow had melted. Don't stop once you get to Summit Lake, keep going for about another mile and you have the most extraordinary view. Literally, most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

about 4 years ago

Fantastic Easy Day Hike

Easy, not long hike with stunning views. I only give this a 5 due to its extreme popularity, a plus if you are a solo hiker and want the comfort of other people present, but otherwise be prepared for a noisy, but beautiful, rest at the top. Definitely make the last little hike around the lake to get to the top of the summit on the north side. We made it down the road in a regular car but it did take quite some time. A great hike to take some out of town friends on.

Explorer

about 4 years ago

Great Hike!

This is one of my go to areas, close to home, good views and can be a snow shoe trip in the winter Update 6/26/17- Had a great overnight trip to Summit Lake with my 6 year old daughter. Snow still covered the lake and most of the trail but it was compact and easy travel with no post holing. Beautiful views of Rainier, Coplay Lake, Bearhead Mountain. Weather was clear enough to see Tacoma, Seattle, Puget Sound, Mt Baker, Glacier Peak , and the top of Mt. St. Helens.

Great Day Hike Or Backpacking Trip

My wife, 4 yr old son and I just got back from this location 2 days ago. We went in on Friday and stayed till Sunday morning. First things first: I highly, HIGHLY recommend driving a four wheel drive vehicle or at the very least a car that is high off the ground. I did not know very much about how God-awful the road leading up to the trailhead is until I was there. My car made it ok but it was nerve racking and I would never do it again. I would definitely rent or borrow an SUV or appropriate vehicle. This is a busy location on the weekends, especially during the summer, so if you want a good camp site overlooking the lake, get there early!!! The hike from the trailhead to the lake is very accessible and child/pet friendly. Definitely hike up to the upper ridge to get the incredible views of the lake and Mt Rainier. You'll want to go on a clear, sunny day to see everything. Take scent proof bear bags and sling them up away from your camp. Didn't see any bear but can never be too careful. There is no fresh water sources but we used our LifeStraw bottles in the lake and it was great. Water is extremely cold and didn't taste bad at all. We were told there was one toilet but we never saw it so be prepared to squat if necessary. This is an incredible location that doesn't require a difficult hike to access. Highly recommend!

Best on a clear day!

Reached the summit on the 4th and caught a small glimpse of Rainier. The hike was great and the extra push to the summit was short and steep but worth it! Amazing views and can't wait to make it back on a clear day!

almost 6 years ago

Stunning!

The National Forest Road-7810 leading to the trailhead is unpaved, and I highly recommend taking a vehicle with four-wheel drive (or hitchhike). If you are going in the winter season, prepare to get there early. With enough time, you could also add the hike up Bearhead Mtn. The hike to the lake is 6 miles round-trip and there's great camping areas around the basin.

about 6 years ago

great hike! scored a nice campsite overlooking the lake. the lack of rain left a beach around the water. stayed 2 nights and did a hike to bearhead mtn. as well - best Rainier hike not in the National Park!

about 6 years ago

We traveled with our trusty Subaru and our 2 smaller dogs for our first trip on the trail! It was a bit rainy and beautifully misty - thankfully we packed warmly. Recommend doggie sweaters at night especially with the rain! We had a light layers and gloves/hats and we're fine. The night time mountain view from the woods above the basin were amazing. Plenty of shade and camping close or away from the water. If you hammock tent, it would have worked as well. Sadly, the weather and our smaller dogs limited us from going around to the peak for the views. Must go back!

1337 total saves

4.5/5

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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