Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Snow Lake hike

The trail to Snow Lake is easy to find and extremely well-maintained trail, but very rocky and steep in some sections. (Molly White photos)

Snow Lake: fun, kid-friendly hike with big rewards along the way

This Alpine Lakes Wilderness hike is closed for the 2022 Summer season.

Update July 2022: This trail is closed for the summer due to ongoing construction. For more information visit the Forest Service page.

 

We decided to celebrate July 4th by taking a family hike in the beautiful Cascade Mountains. Our goal was to make it to Snow Lake (in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness) with our three young children. No small feat, given the 1,000-foot-plus elevation gain and significant length (over 4 miles). We knew it would be a rewarding and adventurous day regardless of whether we made it to the grand finale view at the top.

We loaded the three kids and all the gear into the car and departed from Northeast Seattle at around 9 a.m. By our standards, this was an early start. When we arrived at the trailhead 45 minutes later, we were happy to find plenty of available parking. This is a popular hike, but the Alpental lot is big. On sunny summer weekend days, the lot will eventually fill to capacity by around midday, but by that time there are also cars departing.

 

Sweet rewards en route to Snow Lake

This hike is wonderful for kids because it starts off shady and mellow, and then the scenic rewards coax everyone onward. Awesome views of jagged snow-capped peaks, fields of wildflowers, and cheerful creek crossings entertain young hikers within the first quarter-mile of the hike. Then, these rewards continue the whole way up.

Long sections of the trail are flanked by huckleberry bushes, so if you go in late summer, you will have this ready-made snack. Bring a little basket so the kids can pick some to take home. There is nothing better than huckleberry pancakes the next morning!

At 1.75 miles, you encounter a signed junction. Here, a short spur trail continues on up the valley to an overlook of Source Lake, the headwaters of the Snoqualmie River’s south fork. If your group has run out of steam, the view of Source Lake is a perfectly acceptable turnaround point. In fact, when my husband and I first attempted this hike with our kids two years ago, this is where we called it a day and headed home. But when we’re out in nature with our kids, our main goal is to foster their love and enthusiasm for the experience. We try to keep it lighthearted and fun. In fact, our kids never seem to care (or even notice!) whether we make it to any particular destination.

Snow Lake hike

Worth the work? Oh, yes.

The Grand Finale: Snow Lake

If your team can chug on, then skip the Source Lake spur and follow the Snow Lake trail up right for the final, steep portion of the hike. This last section of switchbacks gains 500 feet over two-thirds of a mile, and brings you to the wilderness boundary at the saddle overlooking Snow Lake.

Most hikers turn around at this saddle point, making the round trip hike a little less than 5 miles.

But if your group can handle a longer hike: The trail continues for another mile, taking you down to the banks of Snow Lake for views of Roosevelt Peak, and then across the lake’s inlet beyond the shoulder of Chair Peak. This final portion of the hike rewards you with even better views of the lake and surrounding peaks. Then, the trail ends at a junction with two more trails that lead to more mountain lakes and to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River.

This time, we did make it all the way up to the spectacular view of Snow Lake at the saddle’s high point. The kids were thrilled and relieved to reach the top, but honestly the view was not very important to them. They were more excited about the chance to play within the secret landscape they found up there: Scramble across the giant boulders overlooking the lake, glissade down the large sheets of snow and ice, and jump across the numerous trickling streams of snow-melt. It’s all about play for them!

Snow Lake hike: What to know

Getting there: From Seattle, drive east on I-90 to exit 52, signed for Snoqualmie Pass West. Turn left (north), crossing under the freeway. Take the second right, traveling 1.3 miles to the end of the road at the Alpental Ski Area parking lot.

Parking: Day fee is $5 (you can pay in cash, or by credit card via scanning a QR code that is posted at the trailhead); or a Northwest Forest Pass.

Details: There-and-back distance is 5 to 7 miles (depending on chosen turnaround point) with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

Terrain: Extremely well-maintained trail, but very rocky and steep in some sections.

How the kids did: Our 7-year-old managed this hike entirely on his own steam with a few sweet treats and a good Audible book to help keep him chugging. Our 4-year-old spent about 20% of the mileage on Dad’s shoulders, and I carried our 2-year-old in a backpack 95% of the way. With our gang it took about five hours to complete the hike. This included a lot of snack and potty breaks in the shade. Because of that, I imagine that athletic adults and teenagers would be able to complete this hike in as little as two hours.

Restrooms: Be prepared to pack out or bury any No. 2s (6-8 inches underground). I like to bring a little trowel, ziplock bags and biodegradable wipes. We usually bury the waste and pack out the wipes.

Snow Lake: More tips

Pets: Furry children are welcome, but must stay leashed and on the trail. Always bring stink-proof bags to pack out their waste, and never leave bags trailside to grab on your way down.

Pro tip: Bring bug repellent (bug dots, bandanas, or non-toxic spray) if you plan to take rest stops. We encountered no mosquitos, but biting flies caught up with us whenever we sat too long in the shade.

Safety: Multiple avalanche chutes cross the Snow Lake Trail, posing danger for hikers in the winter. If there is snow at the trailhead, change plans, let the kids play in the snow and wait until later in the season to hike. Also, always check road conditions and weather predictions at the site before heading out. Check WSDOT and NOAA sites for Snoqualmie Pass.

Nearby food: If you have time to relax and refuel post-hike, head to either The Commonwealth (locally sourced food, patio and kids’ menu) or Dru Bru (quality tap room with patio and food truck). Note: Both of these are reached before you get back on I-90.

Map and details: Check Washington Trails Association for a map and more details.

 

More outdoor fun:

6 great Seattle trails to hike this summer

Beautiful Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is full of wildlife

How to hike with a surly teen and tween

 

 

About the Author

Molly White

Molly White is a biologist and writer. She grew up in Washington, Alaska and Scotland. She currently lives in Seattle, where she and her three young children enjoy spending an uncivilized amount of time outdoors. On their adventures through the wild landscapes and waterways of the Pacific Northwest, they learn together about all the important things.