This page profiles the trail to Snow Lake in King County, Washington. The Enchantments' side-by-side "Snow Lakes" are located in Chelan County, Washington, farther north in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, while Mt. Rainier National Park's "Snow Lake" is located south in Lewis County, Washington.
Aptly named, Snow Lake remains frozen and snow-bound well into summer each year — often as late as July. Nevertheless, its picturesque setting and relative ease of access render it the most popular hiking destination in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness during its brief summer. The rocky trail climbs moderately and then steeply up the ridge that forms the rim of the lake’s massive mountaintop basin before descending nearly as sharply to the lakeshore. Along the way, the trail alternates between evergreen forest and the talus slopes that are the Alpental Valley’s many winter avalanche chutes — seventeen in all. Hikers and snowshoers are encouraged to avoid this trail when snow is present; during autumn, winter, and spring, be sure to check trip reports and avalanche forecasts to ensure that current conditions are safe. Although one should expect to share the trail with others, weekday afternoons and moody, overcast days can provide opportunity to enjoy the lake in solitude.
At approximately 1.75 miles/2.80 km from the trailhead, the Source Lake Loop branches left from the main trail and provides a view of tiny Source Lake, the inconspicuous headwater of the South Fork Snoqualmie River. For most, the detour is but a brief respite from the final ascent to Snow Lake; however, the loop trail actually continues beyond Source Lake, providing not only an increasingly sweeping view of the Alpental Valley below but also an alternate route to the lip of Snow Lake’s basin, where it rejoins the main trail. Just beyond Source Lake, the loop trail requires a bit of scrambling where it crosses the steep slope of shifting scree that is one of the valley’s largest winter avalanche chutes, which discourages most hikers from continuing and results in a surprising bit of backcountry quietude away from the throngs teeming the main trail a short distance away. Balance, sturdy ankles, and, perhaps, trekking poles will help to traverse the slope and attain the ridge above, along with keen eyes for spotting the small cairns that mark the way.