|Mountain views; lake views; wildflowers
|2.60 miles / 4.20 km
|Mt. Rainier National Park - Stevens Canyon Area, Washington South Cascades
Ancestral lands of the Nisqually, Mishalpam (Upper Nisqually), and Taidnapam (Upper Cowlitz)
|From the southwest (Nisqually) entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park:
|National park pass or equivalent for national parks and federal recreational lands
|Additional Trail Info:
|U.S. National Park Service
Washington Trails Association
|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.
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.
© 2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.