Snowshoe to Coal Lake

Rate this Adventure 13 miles 1600 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Brian Darmetko

A full day of snowshoeing at an easy pace with amazing views along the way. This popular scenic highway just north of Seattle transforms into a majestic winter wonderland. out at the Deer Creek gate of Mountain Loop Highway the road is flat and uneventful for the first 2 miles or so, though it does offer some great views of the Big Four as well as a few other peaks and the babbling south fork of the Stillaguamish river. The highway is closed for the winter months and well packed down by frequent foot traffic as well as a few snowmobile tracks so snowshoes are not necessary while walking along the Highway. Just past the Big Four Ice Cave areas where most people would be heading is NF 4060 (Coal Lake Rd.) on the left side of the Highway.

I had remembered Coal Lake as an awesome and easily accessible camping location from the summer 2 years prior, we had stopped to check it out before hiking the Independence and North Lake Trail. The lake is only maybe 100 yards from the parking area, and had peaks on 3 sides jetting up about 1000ft making for a rather dramatic scene. I thought this would make for a great setting for some winter photography, and an easy road/trail to follow for someone new to snowshoeing. The road begins as a hallway of snow covered evergreens, as you make your way down the trail the ceiling gives way to open skies, before really opening around 2200ft when the west side seemingly drops away allowing for some amazing views of mountains for almost 180degrees from Morning Star and Del Campo Peak to the SE, to Devils Peak to the NW. It is easy to lose time here stopping to take photos and take in the views. Also use caution in these areas as the steepness of the road cut into the side of the mountain means that the East side of the road could pose some risk of snow coming down particularly in the folds of the mountain and inner corners, check the NWAC forecast and use your best judgement.

I had estimated the lake to be about 3.5-4 miles from the highway, I was wrong and after double checking after the trip it was closer to 5 miles on Coal Lake Rd plus the 2 miles or so on Mountain Loop Highway. Unfortunately a combination of not knowing the exact mileage, being new to traveling on snowshoes (not knowing how fast or slow I would be moving), and stopping to take lots of photos added up to me not making it to the lake before I had to turn around so I could make it to work on time.

While it is a somewhat longer trip, the gradient is not steep at all, and the trail/road would be hard to loose as it is still wide enough for cars or trucks if it wasn't covered in a few feet of snow. I would encourage people to start early and stay out late (just bring a head lamp) to capture the awesome light of the sunrise and sunset.

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