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

Pack List

  • Northwest Forest Pass
  • Hiking Shoes
  • Snowshoes or Yak-tracks for winter hikes
  • Camera and tripod
  • Tent and sleeping bag if backpacking
  • Headlamp (for hiking down after sunset)
  • Bathing suit (on a hot day)
Show More
RT Distance 5 Miles
Elevation Gain 1250 Feet
Activities Chillin, Photography, Snowshoeing, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Year Round
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Forest
Lake
Romantic
Scenic
Wildflowers
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

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.

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.

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.


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