On Saturday, August 12th I set out to Gem Lake as a solo hike. This was my second official Hike-a-Thon hike for the month. I am trying to commit to at least one hike a week. So far I have raised $224 which goes towards supporting our trails in Washington via the Washington Trails Association. This hike gets a lot of heavy traffic especially on the weekends and the work the WTA has done is evident in easy water crossings with carefully placed rocks, and bridges, as well as a well maintained path. Please consider sponsoring me during the Hike-a-Thon month especially if you are someone who uses the trails on a regular or semi-regular basis.
The trail starts out at the Snow Lake Trailhead at the Alpental Parking Lot. Part of this trail’s popularity is due to it’s easy access, as well as it’s beauty.
Here are the Stats:
10 miles round trip, 1800 feet elevation gain, high point 4857 feet
Pass required: Northwest Forest Pass
For driving directions and more trail information see:
I arrived at the Snow Lake Parking lot at 8:30 and it was already half full. I recommend getting to this trail early, especially on the weekend. Heading over to the ridge to Snow Lake it felt like there was a train of people going up. This train stops at Snow Lake. I highly encourage continuing on past the main point where most people stop, even about 10-15 minutes makes a difference. Even better go to Gem Lake if feeling really energetic you can go to Wildcat Lake.
I always forget how long the first section of this hike is before you get to the switchbacks going over the ridge. Coming back, I kept thinking, I must be almost there… On the first section the trail climbs gradually up through the forest. There were a few creeks, which after our dry spell were mostly dried up, but even so they would be easily crossed. The flowers were mostly done. there was some fireweed and yarrow, and a few other put the peak for flowers has passed. In roughly 1.75 miles from the trailhead you will reach a set of rocky switchbacks which climb 500 feet to the Saddle. When the switchbacks start, you will see a sign for Source Lake. I inquired about this trail, and per another hiker it isn’t worth it…a small pond. So keep on the trail with the crowds, heading to Snow Lake.
On Saturday it was drizzling on the way up which felt great. It was nice and refreshing. It helped with the dust and the bugs at Snow Lake. Once you reach the saddle, the trail descends 400 feet on another set of switchbacks down to Snow Lake. Two reminders for fellow hikers – 1. Do not cut the switchbacks. If you do this you can cause erosion and you may be harming plants along the trail. 2) Uphill hikers have the right of way. Let them pass. You will get your first views of snow lake from this section of trail. Below is a rainy view from my trip in and a sunny view from the trip out.
Rainy view on the way down
Sunny view of Snow Lake on the way back
Most hikers stop at the Snow Lake. Keep going!!! You will cross a creek, and you will need to keep an eye out for where the trail drops down by the lake…don’t stop here…Keep going towards Gem Lake. You will get more views of Snow Lake plus some valley views. If timed right you may even get a treat of huckleberries. From this point, the trail dips up and down a bit following Snow Lake and is very pretty…and you may find some solitude.
After the trail dips down, you will have an easy log crossing then the trail mostly climbs up towards Gem Lake, but the Snow Lake views continue. My day was half in the rain half in the sun…here are some contrasting photos (somewhat out of sequence). The huckleberry bushes are abundant in this section of trail. However, they are all still currently green. In a few weeks they should be good eating.
Small pond near Snow Lake
Small Pond near Snow Lake
The trail as a whole is pretty rocky, which makes hiking slow-going. You will eventually get to a big rock slide area. This is where the mosquitoes became very bad on the day I was out. Once you pass this nasty area you are almost there. Listen for the picas along the trail they will “eep” to you along the way and encourage you along.
I swear there is a trail here
Once you pass this rocky area you will have a short section with slight relief from the rocks…then it gets rocky again. You will see a sign saying something like, “No Camping Beyond This Point,” my tip to you is to veer left on the side trail and follow this to the lake rather than continuing on the rocks…then hooray you made it! There were several campsites a the lake and there were quite a few backpackers heading up as I was going down. If planning an overnight, again I recommend getting an early start to get a good spot. The mosquitoes were VERY bad at Gem Lake…I even got to use my nerdy bug net. I was pretty tired after a rocky 10 miles, but it was worth it.
How the lake got it’s name
My nerdy bug net
No nerdy bug net.