Snowshoe to Source & Snow Lakes via the Alpental Access Trail

Rate this Adventure 4.8 miles 1350 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Matt Klemsz

Access backcountry views surrounded by epic lakes and jagged peaks while avoiding dangerous water crossings and minimized avalanche prone terrain.

It’s no surprise to outdoor enthusiasts in the PNW just how popular the Alpine Lakes Wilderness can be.  With numerous access points, this terrain is unlike any around; offering those who enter a combination of alpine views, crystal blue lakes, lush forest canopies and untouched natural terrain.

During the summer months, the trail leading into Source and Snow Lakes is considered one of the heaviest trafficked routes in the entire state.  Due to its close proximity to Seattle, these lakes also become an ever so popular place to snowshoe in the winter as well.  However, when covered in snow, the summer trail becomes extremely more hazardous with an array of technical water crossings and the passing under highly avalanche prone terrain.  

What many don’t know, are the lakes can still be easily accessed in the winter from approaching the south side of the Snoqualmie River and following what’s known as the Alpental Access Trail.

Not only does this trail shorten the hike to a total of just under 4.8 miles (as opposed to 7.2) it also skirts the multiple water crossings and highly avalanche prone spots located along the summer trail.  This winter route becomes a much safer and stable trail for those still looking to access the lakes and enjoy the backcountry views of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The beginning of this hidden gem begins at the Upper Parking Lot of the Alpental Ski Resort. 

The first .5 miles of the trail follow the cat track of the Alpental Ski Resort. It’s important to note that skiers and snowboards alike can be travelling at high speeds along this section as they re-enter the groomed portion of the ski resort.  There are multiple signs to remind you of this, and advise you to stay on the right hand side of the cat track in order to lower potential congestion. 

Once the cat track ends, the trail turns back into a more traditional hiking trail.  After a fresh dumping of snow, it can be a bit trickier to navigate, but for the majority of time the trail is well compacted thanks to backcountry skiers. This traditional trail continues for .75 miles, slowly climbing a few hundred feet in elevation as you approach Source Lake, with constantly sweeping views of the valley besides you and the jagged edges of Chair Peak peeking through the trees just before you. 

As you exit the thinning trees and lay eyes on Source Lake for this first time, you finally get to take in the full beauty of the basin.  Depending on the snowpack and time of year, Source Lake may or may not be fully frozen over, but it still makes for a great spot to take a breather and get your snack game on as you fully appreciate the scenery around you. 

Sitting at 3,800 feet, this spot also proves to be the perfect location to scout out the mountainside and choose your route up to Snow Lake.  While there are endless ways to approach the ridgeline, the easiest is to simply continue climbing north (gaining roughly 800 feet in elevation in .5 miles) until you reach the saddle, then jaunt over the knoll until your gazing down upon the lake.  Due to the pitch of the terrain, this is the one section of trail where being cautious for avalanches proves major.  If for any reason the snowpack looks dangerous or there are signs of recent avalanches, it’s best to play it safe and come back another day. You can also check the NWAC report before your trip to get a better understanding of current conditions and forecasts for the Snoqualmie Pass region.

Back to the hike! Once on top the knoll that overlooks Snow Lake, you can easily switchback down to the lakeshore (losing roughly 400 feet in elevation in .35 miles) where your hike ends.  Thanks to conquering this trail in the snow you will more than likely get to experience the views all to yourself.  Once you’ve had your fill, simply retrace your steps back to the Upper Parking Lot. 

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