Snow Lake is very easy to reach from the Seattle area (1 hour drive via I-90). This adventure offers tons of wildlife and additional access to other fun-zones like Source Lake Overlook.

Summer is a great time to visit Snow Lake, but you will miss out on the true beauty of the area and the reason for its namesake. Winter is the perfect season to explore this area – not to mention you will skip the crowds!

Reaching the trailhead of Snow Lake is wonderfully simple. It’s located about an hour east of Seattle at the far end of the Alpental Ski Area parking lot. There is plenty of parking available especially before the ski season opens. The same principle also applies to non-peak ski days during the regular season. Despite the hike being 7.2 miles round-trip, it never seems very arduous. The grade is relatively mellow until the last mile, at which point, you ascend toward the rim of the lake basin. From the top of the basin you descend about 400 feet to the lake below. This elevation is regained on the return trip, however after reaching the high point, the trail is entirely downhill on the way back to the parking lot.

Along the trail there are tons of small waterfalls and viewpoints. At this point in the winter season, the trail can still be navigated in hiking boots. If you are the first person on the trail in the morning you will either be breaking trail through fresh snow, or you will be struggling to keep your footing on the compacted snow that has refrozen from the previous day. Icetrekker boot chains and/or trekking poles can be useful to avoid slipping.

Departing the trailhead in darkness is another great option. If the conditions cooperate, you will be treated to an amazing sunrise that illuminates the backside of the surrounding mountains. Moments like that are worth the reduced sleep!

The Lake is absolutely stunning, and upon reaching the rim of the basin your jaw might drop. When you reach the shores of the lake, the first thing you come across is the remains of an old cabin. What a prime spot for a lake house! Most people hangout right where the trail meets the lake, rather than continuing around the shores. The trail continues around the right side of the lake, however it gets buried after every snowfall. Breaking trail should not be a problem if you have snowshoes, however it wont be much fun in hiking boots. Beauty surrounds the lake, and at the opposite end stands Roosevelt Peak. The trail doesn’t end at the far side of the lake but instead reaches a junction that leads further into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Even in the winter there are still tons of birds around. They are very friendly and will usually land on an outstretched hand. The ice covering the lake was pretty thin, therefore I would not recommend walking on it under any circumstance. The lakes elevation is ~4000 feet which is not high enough to sustain adequately cold conditions in this part of the PNW. Another huge bonus of hiking to Snow Lake in the winter is its proximity to Alpental Ski Area. Just a quick walk across the parking lot and you’ll have access to both food and a post-hike beer.

Pack List

  • Snowshoes
  • Insulated/waterproof boots
  • Gaiters
  • Trekking poles
  • Warm beanie
  • Jacket
  • Pants
  • Gloves
  • Helmet
  • Goggles
  • 10 essentials
  • Lunch
  • Water
  • Camera
Optional:
  • Avalanche beacon
  • Shovel
  • Probe
  • Icetrekker boot chains
Show More
RT Distance 7.2 Miles
Elevation Gain 1800 Feet
Activities Photography, Snowshoeing, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Winter
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Adult Beverages
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Food Nearby
Forest
Groups
Lake
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Misleading and potentially dangerous representation.

First, the author doesn't seem to know where they are. Is this Snow Lake at Alpental, or Snow Lakes near Leavenworth? The author appears to believe it is both, but contrary to this story, they are not the same place. Second, the Snow Lake trail crosses several avalanche prone areas, so much so the Washington Trails Association states: "In winter, avalanche Danger is extreme on the Snow Lake Trail when snow is present. Have past experience with travel in avalanche terrain before hiking here when snow is present" Please use caution and check wta.org and nwac.us before heading into avalanche terrain. Just because a route is popular doesn't mean it's safe.

Not in the winter, not with the avalanche danger

The snow lake trail crosses a minimum of 3 avalanche chutes. 2 teenagers died this year when they attempted to get to snow lake and were swept up in an avalanche. Avalanches regularly occur in this area. Always know the conditions and terrain before you go. Stay safe and don’t die.

Such a beautiful hike with the snow. As mentioned, it is a very popular hike being so close to Seattle, but even with a full parking lot we still had some moments to ourselves of the best views. We did the hike in only hiking boots, but having microspikes would have been very helpful since so many people have hiked it recently that the packed down snow had turned icy. Pay attention to trail conditions so you know if you will need snowshoes, microspikes, hiking boots etc!


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