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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Know for

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

Nearby

Reviews

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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!

🥉Contributor

almost 6 years ago

There is a wonderful campsite above the lake to make this an amazing overnight trip! Also Brook Trout can be caught in the lake.

1326 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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