We’re slowly but surely falling into a rhythm out here, doing our best to explore at least one day each weekend together as a family. We’re slowly chipping away at our bucket list, getting out early, and finding our way to some of Washington’s most beautiful locations to see, explore, and do as much as possible before our time here is up. We have quite a few hikes on our list, but this weekend felt like the perfect time to head back towards Mt. Rainier National Park to spend the day hiking Snow Lake Trail together. After failing the first time we tried to go to Emmons Moraine, and then seeing what the line to get into one of the park gates was like a couple weeks ago, we decided to head out early, and we arrived at Mt. Rainier National Park around 8:45 AM.
Thankfully, both the time and the other entrance to the park (towards Stevens Canyon area) made for a much quicker entry into the park, and we took our time soaking in the incredible views on either side of the car before making it to the trailhead around 9 AM. Unlike some of our other hikes where there are camping areas and facilities right by the trailhead, there were no facilities by the entrance. The parking lot, too, is small, and we were lucky to snag a spot even early in the morning. Some spots are claimed by campers spending the night by the two bodies of water on the trail – Bench and Snow Lakes – and some were simply claimed by other early morning hikers. Nevertheless, we snagged our spot and headed out on the trail.
Snow Lake Trail is beautifully marked, albeit a bit more rugged than some of our more recent hikes. The start of the trail, however, was a nice, gradual incline, so we decided to let Mieke walk a little bit before popping her in the Deuter to settle in for the hike. She walked about five minutes before her little legs got tired, but she was so happy to move, and it was fun to see her take that trail in stride and enjoy the feel of the dirt beneath her feet, as well. Once she was settled, we headed on our way, and the sun gradually got warmer and warmer, bathing us as we cleared the covered area of the trail and entered the beautiful valley, flanked by mountains and peaks on every side.
Hiking Snow Lake Trail was a little different than some of our last hikes. While the trail is well-marked, it was definitely rockier, more rooted, and the elevation gain, while not that much, definitely kicks your butt at certain sections. There is also a small series of petite switchbacks (albeit nothing like we experienced at Lake Serene) that definitely challenged all of us. It was well worth the prize though, and we headed straight to Snow Lake, a glimmering turquoise gem that’s as clear as many of the other lakes we’ve seen lately. As per usual, we knew we wanted to take a dip, but there’s no real easy way to get into Snow Lake on the side we set up on. It was jump or dive, and that was it.
Jump, it was. We have bold little boys who like to jump in, too, but we told them we needed to see how the water was first, and I’m glad we did. Guys. It was COLD. I have to wonder if it felt colder because of the hot sun but, regardless, it was significantly chilly, and it definitely took our breaths away. We’d guess it was closer to 54-55 degrees (much colder than both Spider Lake and Emmons Moraine), and it was probably right on par with Deschutes Falls. Just like there’s no easy way in the water there though, there’s no easy way out, so we decided the boys shouldn’t go in – just in case it was too cold for them, and they found themselves struggling. So, we stopped, Ryan and I did a couple quick and painful jumps, ate a trail lunch, then packed up for a sun-soaked journey back the way we came.
Overall, it was a beautiful hike. It wasn’t too long, not too short, not too long, not too hard, not too easy. Just right. You can combine it with a quick trip to the slightly less spectacular Bench Lake, but we decided to stick to Snow Lake since Mieke fell asleep on the way back. Honestly, it was a perfect trip for our little family, and it was just challenging enough for Porter. I highly recommend it! If you want to spend a day hiking Snow Lake Trail, here’s what you need to know:
Trail Length: AllTrails clocks this at 2.7 miles roundtrip when combined with Bench Lake. We only did Snow Lake and traversed around part of the lake, and our GPS had us at 2.7 to Snow Lake, partially around, and back.
Level of Difficulty: Overall, it’s a pretty easy hike, but for young children, I’d say it’s moderate with the climbing sections. As I mentioned though, the trail is definitely more rugged than some of the last ones we’ve done, and for littles who like to shuffle, rather than pick up their feet, it can be tricky. Overall though, it’s definitely on the easier side of hikes. If you want to see a bit more of what it looks like, I’m sharing some videos on my instagram.
Cost: You need an America the Beautiful Pass, which is free for military. You have to show your ID at the entrance to the park. If you’re not military, you can buy your pass at the entrance.
Dog-Friendly: No. We saw some dogs on the trail, but it should be noted that dogs are not allowed at Mt. Rainier National Park.
Tips: Bring bugspray! There are a lot of biting flies on this trail – more than mosquitoes. Also, be prepared because there are no facilities at the trailhead. There’s a camp bathroom up by the Snow Lake campsite near the lake, itself, but you have to make it there first. Overall, this was one of the cleanest trails we’ve seen, by the way.