Bench Lake and Snow Lake
(Mt. Rainier National Park)

Trail Highlights:Mountain views; lake views; wildflowers
Round-trip Distance:2.60 miles / 4.20 km
Location:Mt. Rainier National Park - Stevens Canyon Area, Washington South Cascades

Ancestral lands of the Nisqually, Mishalpam (Upper Nisqually), and Taidnapam (Upper Cowlitz)
Directions:From the southwest (Nisqually) entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park:
  • Eastbound on State Route 706 (on some maps shown as National Park Highway), enter Mt. Rainier National Park just east of Ashford, Washington
  • Continue into the park onto Paradise Road (on some maps shown as The Road to Paradise) and proceed 15.00 miles / 24.10 km to Stevens Canyon Road
  • Turn right onto Stevens Canyon Road and proceed 2.70 miles / 4.30 km to the parking area on the right, signed for "Snow Lake"
  • Directions to Other Trailheads
    Required Pass:National park pass or equivalent for national parks and federal recreational lands
    Additional Trail Info:U.S. National Park Service
    Washington Trails Association
    Note:This page profiles the trail to Bench Lake and Snow Lake in Mt. Rainier National Park, rather than the Bench Lake in the Yakama Nation, the Snow Lake in King County, Washington, or the Snow Lakes in Chelan County, Washington.

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    Bench and Snow lakes nestle at the feet of Unicorn Peak (left) and Foss, or, Manatee Peak (right), seen here in a sunset view from the park’s Paradise Inn. Paradise Inn, Mt. Rainier National Park, August 16, 2023.

    The short trail to Bench and Snow lakes carries hikers into a lesser known corner of Mt. Rainier National Park, offering up-close views of features in the Tatoosh Range. Along the way, it traverses the broad “bench” of relatively flat terrain that stretches between the Tatoosh Range on the south and Stevens Canyon on the northeast. The bench’s apparent flatness is deceptive, as the trail undulates across several rolling hills and dells, resulting in small but relatively steep climbs in both directions between level stretches. As its name implies, Bench Lake perches on the ledge about 0.70 miles/1.10 km from the trailhead. Throughout, the trailside alternates between open meadows and close woodland, flecked with wildflowers during the brief mountain summer. At 1.10 miles/1.80 km from the trailhead, the trail reaches Snow Lake just where forest gives way to treeless alpine stone at the foot of Unicorn Peak. The trail branches left across the logjam at the lake’s outlet to Snow Lake Camp (two campsites that can be reserved with permits obtained from a park ranger station) and right to a small headland that juts into the water on the other end. Beyond the lake, the trail continues into a rocky meadow and on to unmaintained climbers routes up the surrounding peaks.

    Snow typically lingers on the trail well into summer. Be sure to check for up-to-date conditions at the “Additional Trail Info” links above before heading out. Even after the snow has melted, some may prefer trekking gear, as the well-used trail is quite worn, especially in its steeper sections and on the short side trail to Bench Lake. The trail can be quite popular during the park’s peak visitor season; expect to enjoy it with others or consider hiking early in the day or later in the season. Regardless, you’ll experience another aspect of the park and a bit of backcountry beyond its more familiar sights.

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    The trail traverses the broad bench at the foot of the Tatoosh Range, passing beneath Foss Peak (also known as Manatee Peak) (right) before it reaches Bench Lake and then angles up to Snow Lake on the flank of Unicorn Peak (center). Stevens Peak rises in the distance beyond (left). Snow Lakes Trail, August 15, 2023.
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    Shortly before the side trail to Bench Lake, a high point on the main trail glimpses the lake’s northwest tip and, just beyond, the treeline where the bench drops away into Stevens Canyon. Bench and Snow Lakes Trail, August 15, 2023.
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    The way is worn from heavy use and can be dusty or muddy, depending on weather conditions. The side trail to Bench Lake is especially degraded. Be prepared with your trekking wear of choice. Bench and Snow Lakes Trail, August 15, 2023.
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    Bench Lake boasts a perfect view Mt. Rainier. Here, too, note how the thin treeline just beyond the lake’s far shore indicates where the bench disappears into Stevens Canyon. Bench and Snow Lakes Trail, August 15, 2023.
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    Watch for wildflowers dotting the wayside woods and meadows, including, clockwise from top left, lovage (Lingusticum sp.), scarlet paintbrushes (Castilleja miniata), mountain paintbrushes (Castilleja parviflora var. oreopola), green corn lilies (Veratrum viride), sickletop louseworts (Pedicularis racemosa), woodland beardtongues (Nothochelone nemorosa), western pearly everlastings (Anaphalis margaritacea), fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium syn. Chamerion angustifolium), subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens), and mountain gentians (Gentiana calycosa).
    Bench and Snow Lakes Trail, August 15, 2023.
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    Unicorn Peak rears above Snow Lake, while West Unicorn Peak peers over its shoulder. At lakefall, the trail branches. The right fork continues along Snow Lake’s west side to a vantage point on its far shore and then connects to unmaintained climbers routes to several Tatoosh peaks. The left fork crosses the logjam at the lake’s outlet, shown here, and climbs briefly to Snow Lake Camp on its northern end. Bench and Snow Lakes Trail, August 15, 2023.

    © 2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.

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