Carbonado, Washington

Hike to Summit Lake

5 Miles Total - 1250 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

Originally 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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Tags

Chillin
Photography
Snowshoeing
Backpacking
Hiking
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Forest
Lake
Romantic
Scenic
Wildflowers
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

This is a great hike with stunning views of Rainier and the surrounding area. It's not very long which makes it a good option if you don't have a ton of time but still want to reap a lot of reward with little effort. It's also just outside of the National Park, so your doggy buddies can join in here as well. There are fantastic campsites near the lake and stellar sunset views from the ridge above the lake. Definitely bear country here so be sure to take proper precautions to both you and the bears safe! It's also accessible throughout the year as a snowshoe trek, assuming your car can make it up the road, which is full of big rocks and bumps and generally not well-maintained.

Sam Kelly

over 4 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!

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!

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