Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA: Snow Lake and Source Lake Overlook

Take this hike to stunning Snow Lake, one of the most popular and easily accessible lakes within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This 8.5-mile out and back includes a side trip to Source Lake.
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Take this hike to stunning Snow Lake, one of the most popular and easily accessible lakes within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This 8.5-mile out and back includes a side trip to Source Lake.

We try to follow one simple rule when choosing a hike: avoid climbing a peak on a cloudy day. So, when sunshine did not seem to be in our future as we prepared ourselves for our hike this week, we headed toward Alpental and the hike to Snow Lake we had been hearing friends rave about for years.

Tucked on the slopes of Denny Mountain, Alpental is only the most recent resident to this area of Snoqualmie pass, having operated there since 1967. Various landlords have held fleeting ownership long before, including the mountain’s namesake, Authur Denny, who staked mining claims in the area while prospecting for iron ore back in 1869. Following in Denny’s wake, mining claims proliferated throughout the valley including parts of Snow Lake. As the years passed, these claims were sold or abandoned, slowly becoming either part of Alpental or what would become the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The popular Snow Lake Trail #1013 begins mildly, cutting a long swath through fields of bracken fern and salmonberry before entering a forest of hemlock and fir. As you slowly gain elevation, navigate your way across talus fields and cascading streams. Enjoy the well-trod path, beaten down by tens of thousands of boots every year keeping it clear of debris and encroaching brush. At two miles, the trail meets up with the signed Snow Lake Trail #1013.2, the Source Lake Overlook trail, which served as the primary route to Snow Lake before washouts prompted the building of a more direct route over the cliffs. Follow the new route to the right, switchbacking steeply up the rocky ridge, entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at the top.

From the ridgeline, the trail descends to shores of Snow Lake. At a mile long, Snow Lake is large for its breed; placid waters wrap around Chair Peak obscuring its western reaches. Remnants of a cabin – chunks of low stone walls and the remains of a fireplace – crumble on the lakeshore, as they have since at least the 1960s, though sadly no one seems to know the story behind it. The vegetation around the lake is riddled with footpaths, lingering evidence of the multitudes struggling to find their own private slice of solace near the water.

On the hike back out, we decided to spend the extra time exploring the Source Lake Overlook and were well rewarded. Largely abandoned since the new route opened, the trail is rough and unmaintained, making it difficult to navigate at times. However, the path takes your through small alpine meadows, past tiny lakelets, and under a small waterfall, and it is far less crowded that the main trail. By the time Source Lake is in view, the trail improves greatly, mostly by virtue of the adventurous clambering up the scramble route to The Tooth and Chair Peak located here.

Snow Lake is not only beautiful, its very accessible – just three miles to the lake and most of that distance is relatively flat – which is likely what attracts so many hikers year after year. It should be noted that if solitude is your goal, this hike should be avoided. We hit the trail quite early on a weekend, and although we enjoyed some relative peace and quiet on the way up, we had to fight our way back down the trail, stopping every few minute to dance around groups heading up to the lake. If you do decide to brave the crowds, we highly recommend exploring the Source Lake Overlook for a respite from the throngs.

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Trail Facts

  • Distance: 6.7

Waypoints

Alpental

Location: 47.445417, -121.4254904

Bridge across the South Fork Snoqualmie River that leads to the Alpental Ski Resort. The trailhead on the east end of the parking lot.

SL001

Location: 47.4455493, -121.4235182

Snow Lake Trailhead. The trail starts just east of the Alpental Parking area.

Trailhead Marker

Location: 47.4456492, -121.4233017

SL002

Location: 47.4505091, -121.4314874

Small creek crossing, and 10ft tall waterfall.

Talus Field

Location: 47.4530786, -121.435318

One of many rocky talus fields on trail to the lake.

SL003

Location: 47.4580931, -121.4479392

Junction with Source Lake Overlook Trail. Continue following the Snow Lake Trail, up and to the right.

Junction Marker

Location: 47.4581132, -121.4479566

Sign marking the path to Source Lake Overlook.

Rock Face

Location: 47.4597816, -121.4470983

A sheer rock face, opening the landscape to views of the valley and surrounding peaks.

SL004

Location: 47.4601771, -121.4469852

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Boundary

SL005

Location: 47.4607229, -121.4469434

Junction with Source Lake Overlook Trail. Continue to follow the main trail down to Snow Lake. On the return trip, take the Source Lake Overlook Trail.

SL006

Location: 47.4637995, -121.4455814

Junction with Lake Access Trail. Go straight to head toward the lake shore

Junction Marker

Location: 47.4637711, -121.4457035

Take the Lake Access Trail

Cabin Remains

Location: 47.4638581, -121.4465189

A stone fireplace and foundation walls are all that remain of the cabin.

SL008

Location: 47.4643516, -121.4466847

Snow Lake

Foggy Shore

Location: 47.4643223, -121.4469051

A hiker stands on the foggy lake shore in the early morning.

Lake From Above

Location: 47.4604199, -121.4481068

Looking down on mile-long Snow Lake. A lone kayaker paddles the lake in the mist.

Butterfly

Location: 47.4593754, -121.4535141

A butterfly on a thistle in the meadows.

SL009

Location: 47.4578567, -121.4562284

A waterfall.

Waterfall

Location: 47.4579173, -121.4563036

Water splashes down from Chair Peak as it heads down to Source Lake.

Overlook

Location: 47.4571049, -121.4554453

Looking down the valley and at Source Lake