If there's such a thing as a wilderness superhighway, this is it. The Snow Lake Trail is Washington's most heavily used trail within a designated wilderness area. On any given summer weekend, you can expect to share the area with upward of two hundred hikers. Fortunately, midweek the route is virtually deserted, and after Labor Day the number of weekend hikers drops to more reasonable levels. Why is it so popular? It's a combination of easy-to-access wilderness trail and a route to one of the most picturesque lakes in the water-rich Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Snow Lake is surrounded by high granite peaks and is visited by deer, mountain goats, and a host of small critters and birds. What's more, the lakeshores are lined with wildflowers in early summer and juicy huckleberries later in the year. All in all, the crowds are justified--few places that are so easy to reach offer such a stunning wilderness experience. Find the trail at the northeastern corner of the broad parking area (directly across from the ski lodge) and start up the long trail as it climbs a series of crib steps. These wooden "cribs" backfilled with dirt earn curses from some hikers, but they were necessary improvements. Volunteers added them in the late 1990s to reverse the ravages of erosion that plagued the trail. As you walk up the steps over the first 0.5 mile or so, take time to admire the workmanship and intensive effort that went into rescuing this trail from destruction. The steps may not match your stride perfectly, but the alternative would be a lost trail. After that first 0.5 mile, the trail traverses the slope above the upper South Fork Snoqualmie River, rolling through forest and occasional alder-filled avalanche chutes for nearly 2.5 miles to a trail junction at that headwall of the valley. A secondary path leads off to the left, contouring around the headwall and leading to Source Lake. The trail to Snow Lake goes right and climbs long, steep switchbacks up the headwall to a high saddle between Snoqualmie Mountain and Chair Peak. As you climb, you'll enjoy increasingly fine views of the craggy peaks of the Snoqualmie Pass area. The long ridge to the southwest starts with Chair Peak at the end of the ridge you're climbing, and south from there is Bryant Peak, The Tooth, and Denny Mountain. At about 3.5 miles you'll crest the meadow-covered ridge (elev. 4400 ft) and start a moderately steep descent over the last 0.5 mile to the lakeshore. You can stroll all the way around the sprawling lake on boot-beaten trail, but please don't create new paths--or widen any of the other faint way trails that have been kicked into the heather by hikers' boots.
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