I love a good mountain hike that ends at an alpine lake. Around Seattle, generally the only time these types of trails are hikable is in the summer and early fall. After a great summer for hiking last year, I’ve spent most of the spring not-so-patiently waiting for the snow to melt so I could start hiking some of my favorite trails. I’m still waiting in most cases. In the meantime I’ve put together this list of some of my favorite summer hikes that are close-ish to Seattle, although I hope to add some new ones this summer.
The best source I’ve found about hikes in Washington is the Washington Trails Association website (wta.org). Hikers’ trail reports give helpful information about current conditions and when trails are snow free. The site also has directions to each hike and tells you what pass you need to park at the trailhead (almost all hikes require either a Discoverer or a Northwest Forest Pass).
All of these hikes get crowded, and I try to be at the trailhead no later than 8 am to beat the crowds and get a spot in the parking lot.
Annette Lake (Snoqualmie Pass) –While not the best reason to like a hike, this one’s on the list primarily because it’s less than an hour from my home, it’s a relatively short hike to a pretty alpine lake and I can stop by the office and work on the way home if I need to (yes, this is sad but true – it happened several times last summer after this hike and others). The trail provides a good workout but isn’t too tough, and the lake really is nice, particularly if you arrive early and get to the lake while it’s still flat before the wind kicks up. There also seem to be some nice camp sites at the lake if you’re into that sort of thing. The trail is also mostly in the forest, so it doesn’t get too hot.
Bandera Mountain (Snoqualmie Pass) – You want to do this one when the bear grass is blooming and blankets the final steep climb to the summit. It will make the slow climb (at times on all fours – at least for me) much more bearable (no pun intended). The views are awesome both on the way up and at the top, though the downside is there isn’t a lot of tree cover near the top and it can get quite hot. Once at the top you will see Mason Lake, which you can also hike to. Doing both took me about four hours one hot afternoon. If you only do one, I’d do Bandera if the bear grass is in bloom; if it’s not blooming, it’s a toss up. The trail to the lake is certainly less strenuous. If you have a giant truck or car, I wouldn’t recommend taking it to this hike. I’m pretty sure the truck parked next to me wasn’t able drive very far down the access road, which was filled with cars on both sides and barely cleared by my Camry after I left the parking lot after a hike during bear grass season.
Denny Creek/Melakwa Lake (Snoqualmie Pass) – I really love this one. I think it’s the variety of the trail – natural water slide, two big waterfalls, classic alpine lake – and the fact that after I do it I feel like I really earned my post-hike cheeseburger. Lots of families just do the first mile to the water slide and bring a picnic. The falls are about a mile further. After that it’s all about rocky slopes and steep climbs until you reach the lake, which is stunning.
Lake 22 (Mountain Loop Highway) – This is another hike that I like primarily because it’s quick. If I don’t walk around the lake I can do it in less than two hours. But the lake really deserves to be walked around if you have the time. This is another one of those hikes that gives you a workout but isn’t too tough.
Lake Serene (Index) – This lake really is serene, and once the sun gets high enough in the sky on a clear day, the lake turns bright blue. Do yourself a favor and hike this one on a sunny day so you can see that; it’s just not the same on cloudy day. In the summer I rarely take the side trip to Bridal Veil Falls because after the snow melts the falls aren’t that impressive, and all that detour does is delay my post-hike lunch at Zeke’s.
Mt. Pilchuck (Mountain Loop Highway) – The turnoff for Mt. Pilchuck is less than an hour’s drive from Seattle, but then it’s another 20+ minutes up a bumpy mountain road to reach the trailhead. I like to do this hike once a year for the views. The key is to find a clear but not too hot day because the last half of the trail is fully exposed. The fire lookout at the top is worth the climb, although the last scramble up the rocks always freaks me out a little bit.
Poo Poo Point (Issaquah) – This is a good after work hike for me on a summer evening, the big draw being the views of the lakes and mountains to the west and watching the paragliders jump off the top. The parking lot gets full quickly and the paragliding bus always seems to be blocking it, but if you can find parking somewhere it’s a good short steep hike.
Rachel Lake/Rampart Lakes (Snoqualmie Pass) – Like Mt. Pilchuck, this slightly violates my “within an hour of Seattle” rule because it’s a little bit east of the pass. I’ve only done this hike once and it was in the fall, but this is a really pretty hike I need to do again soon. It’s tough too – really steep with lots of rocks and roots (plus a dicey stream crossing if I remember correctly) – but getting up to the lakes is totally worth it.
There are some hikes I’m willing to really drive for. Here are some I’ve discovered so far.
Blanca Lake (Skykomish) – The turnoff for this trail is near Skykomish on Highway 2, but then you still have almost another hour on forest roads until you get to the trailhead. Then you have a pretty steep climb both up and down before you reach the lake, which really has to be seen to be believed. It’s been pretty each time I’ve gone, but I am still waiting for the perfect set of conditions to see the incredible shade of azure (?) blue I’ve seen in some pictures. I’ve heard the best chance of this is early afternoon on a clear day in the summer.
Blue Lake (North Cascades Highway) – For this hike I violate my standard rule of thumb to not spend more time driving than I spend hiking – I have driven three hours each way for this very short (four mile) hike because I find the lake so pretty. Sometimes I even drive the extra hour round trip to go to Winthrop for an ice cream cone.
Colchuck Lake (Leavenworth) – I just discovered this hike last summer and I am in love. The lake took my breath away when I first saw it, and it’s the only hiking destination so far that was so pretty I almost wanted to camp there so I could truly savor it. Good thing camping permits are so limited that I will never really be tempted. The first part of this trail is shared with the trail to Stuart Lake, and after I hike to Colchuck, I like to hike toward Stuart Lake for a bit to get to meadows that offer expansive views of the mountains. This adds about 45 minutes round trip to the hike and is almost completely flat so it’s a no brainer to me.
Ingalls Creek (Blewett Pass) – I wouldn’t drive all the way over there just for this hike, but if it’s wildflower season, it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area. The WTA site recommends an 11 mile hike, but I think you can hike in less than an hour and then turn around and still feel like you saw a lot of great wildflowers. I did the 11 miles and got really bored after awhile.
Time to pack my bags for a short trip to Leavenworth for some wildflowers and Colchuck.