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Seattle, WA: Rainy Lake

This little-known 8.8-mile trail an hour outside of Seattle weaves through lush forest to the stunning and secluded Rainy Lake beneath the east face of Preacher Mountain.

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For a quiet hike with an unchartered edge, check out this abandoned trail deep in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley. It’s likely a hiker will bushwack for a few minutes here and there, but gritty navigation is complemented by the softly rolling Rainy Creek. Rewards of reaching Rainy Lake — a destination for adventurous hikers and elk alike — include a photograph-worthy view of Preacher Mountain and a perfect oasis to gather water and refuel. 

Depending on the time of year, finding the trail can be tricky. It begins at the Middle Fork Trailhead, crosses the Gateway Bridge and then heads to the right following the river downstream toward Stegosaurus Butte. Although the Forest Service has abandoned the trail, brush is routinely cleared in many places, and a good portion of the path is tagged with ribbon. Continue hugging the riverside for about a half a mile, passing over remnants of the steps and bridges that once graced the trail, until you encounter Rainy Creek. Keep an eye out for some orange tags leading towards a trail on the other side. This is your turnoff, and it can be easy to miss. Note that the trail continues onward to a log that has been converted into a makeshift bridge – if you’ve reached this point you’ve gone too far.

Crossing Rainy Creek may be difficult depending on the water levels, but once across, the trail is lovely. Follow the narrow bootpath through lush forest and mossy undergrowth. Rainy Creek is your constant companion as you follow it ever upward toward the lake. The path alternates between brutal inclines and occasional plateaus, over occasional blowdowns and straight up talus fields. Still, for about three-quarters of the journey, friendly tags help guide the way when the trail disappears. The occasional views of Mount Garfield are excellent and the faint trail lends a pleasant feeling of seclusion. Eventually, however, above snow level, the tags stop appearing. At this point, during winter, follow the creek and the path of least resistance straight up the mountainside. Likely, when the snow has melted, there will be something of a path that can be followed to the lake.

Rainy Lake lies beneath the exposed rock face of Preacher Mountain. For the adventurous, there is a scramble route that can be followed around the east side of the lake to the top of the mountain, but it’s reportedly very overgrown and something of a struggle to navigate.

Overall, the route is hard and not for everyone, but the reward may be worth it. Certainly, Rainy Lake would be a great base camp for those that want to summit Preacher or the Pulpit, but it is also a peaceful destination in itself. If you’re looking for a physical challenge capped off with some solitude, Rainy Lake is a great choice.

PERMIT: Northwest Forest Pass required.

-Mapped by Jeremy and Nathan Barnes,

To Trailhead

From Seattle, WA, drive east on I-90 E. In 32.2 miles, take exit 34 and turn left onto 468th Ave. SE. In about a half-mile, turn right onto SE Middle Fork Rd., also known as FS 56. Follow until the pavement runs out, and then walk 11 miles on a gravel road to the Middle Fork Trailhead.

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