Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA: Snow Lake and Source Lake Overlook
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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We try to follow one simple rule when choosing a hike: avoid climbing a peak on a cloudy day. So, when sunshine didn’t appear in the forecast this week, we headed toward Alpental and Snow Lake, which our friends had raved about for years.
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, the trail leaves the trees to wind across talus fields and cascading streams. Thousands of visitors every year keep the trail 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 before entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at the top.
From the ridgeline, the trail descends to the shores of Snow Lake. At a mile long, Snow Lake is large for an alpine lake; placid waters wrap around Chair Peak, the mountain’s slopes obscuring its western reaches. Remnants of a cabin – chunks of low stone walls and the remains of a fireplace – crumble on the lakeshore, 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 wilderness near the water.
On the hike back out, we decided to spend some 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. The side trip added 2 miles to the 6.5-mile round-trip trek to Snow Lake.
Snow Lake is not only beautiful, it’s 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 minutes 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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