Snow Lake Trail: Helping an Iconic Trail Step Up Sustainability
How WTA trail crews, volunteers and member support are helping one of Washington's most popular and iconic trails carry increased boot traffic while protecting the beauty that makes it so special.
by Jessi Loerch
Snow Lake, off of I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass, is an iconic trail and convenient access point to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It’s an extremely popular hike, and for many hikers nearby, it’s one of their first experiences with the beauty that can be found on trail in Washington state. It's also a jumping off point for a variety of backpacking routes in the area.
Allie Tripp, of WTA, appreciates the beauty of Snow Lake so much that when a friend moved to the area, it was the first hike they took together.
“I was excited to show her the beauty that you can find such a short distance from Seattle,” Allie said. “That was just the first of many hikes for her in Washington.”
Snow Lake is one of many trails that exemplify our Trails Rebooted campaign, which aims to support popular trails by making them more sustainable for the future and offering hikers alternative adventures to lessen the pressure on our state’s most popular trails. Helping hikers learn to become stewards of places like Snow Lake is also a key part of the campaign.
This year, we were excited to continue trail work on the Snow Lake Trail. The beginning of the trail featured a set of steps that were falling apart and eroding. The steps were becoming hazardous and hikers were walking around them, causing erosion to the trail. It was also setting a bad example at the beginning of the hike by encouraging hikers to veer off-trail. Given the popularity of the trail, replacing these steps was a priority — but the Forest Service, didn’t have the funding to complete the work. Luckily, a WTA donor stepped up (pun intended) to fund the work.
Dick and Anna Armstrong have fond memories of hiking this trail over the years, including a year of exceptional huckleberry harvesting. They loaded up with berries and took them home to make the best pie. Restoring this trail supports their personal passion for introducing people to the joy of hiking.
In 2019, crews began work on the project. They built steps and created a rock wall. Although COVID restrictions slowed down work this year, however, our Leadership and Inclusion Crew made great progress on the project in the fall. They spent 8 days building 14 more steps — a massive project that dramatically improves the trail for hikers, while also making it more sustainable.
WTA’s Jeremy Tarife worked on the project with the crew. He said that the trail’s popularity was clear, even on weekdays. Often the parking lot was more than half full by the time the crew was heading to the worksite.
“There were a lot of grateful folks,” he said. “They know that the work we’re doing is important to create a sustainable trail.”
This project is a great example of WTA volunteers, crew members, donors and the U.S. Forest Service working together to create a much needed solution for a popular place. But Snow Lake is only one of many trails that are part of our Trails Rebooted campaign. With the support of hikers like you, we’re helping rethink the future of trails across the state.
Winter warning: avalanche danger
Snow Lake, while a beautiful and iconic summer hike, is dangerous in the winter. One large and several smaller avalanche chutes cross the trail and pose danger for hikers. Unless you have training and experience navigating avalanche territory and the appropriate safety gear (like an avalanche beacon and shovel), it's better to save it for summer. (Read up on winter safety tips.)
Here are a few other trails you might consider exploring while Snow Lake is covered in snow. Some of these options are in the same vicinity and some are in others areas around the greater Puget Sound.
- Amabilis Mountain snowshoe: This snowshoe route in the Snoqualmie Pass area takes you to beautiful views over Kachess Lake. Note that this route uses the Cabin Creek Sno-Park for parking, so you’ll need a sno-park permit — and it’s not a huge lot so consider a weekday or arriving early. (And have a backup plan if the lot is full.) Be sure to follow good etiquette and don’t snowshoe in the ski tracks.
- Twin Lakes: This route in the Snoqualmie Pass area requires some careful route-finding, and offers a pretty, wintery trip through the woods. Note: You’ll park at Hyak Sno-Park (which can fill up on weekends), so make sure you have your sno-park permit, and consider a weekday or arriving early.
- Schmitz Preserve Park: This park in West Seattle offers a pleasant surprise: old-growth trees. You’ll also enjoy plenty of greenery and may even spot some wildlife. It’s a lovely stroll and, if it’s close to home, doesn’t require much travel. It’s also likely to be snow-free most of the year.
- White Chuck Bench Trail: WTA has done a lot of work on this trail outside of Darrington. Wander through lots of trees and along the river and watch for peek-a-boo views of the nearby peaks.
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