We really lucked out on this one. We inquired about the Snow Lake Trail upon our arrival to Mt. Rainier National Park, but the ranger told us that it was still impassable due to snow. However, the next day, the park updated their website and stated that the trail was now “open”. So we jumped on our chance to hike this very scenic trail.
The hike begins from a roadside parking area known as “The Bench”, located east of Paradise on Stevens Canyon Road. From the trailhead you’ll enjoy some awesome views of Mt. Rainier and Little Tahoma Peak.
I would estimate that at least three-quarters of this hike passes through open terrain, which means you’ll enjoy some great views along much of the route. Not far from the trailhead we had a great view of 6917-foot Unicorn Peak, which rises out of the Tatoosh Range.
Once back on the main trail we continued descending down towards a beautiful meadow along the valley floor. After crossing over a small creek the trail began ascending towards Snow Lake. Roughly one mile from the trailhead we reached our first snow field. From this point forward we hiked across hard-packed snow all the way to the lake. Because so many hikers had already reached the lake over the prior days and weeks, the route was very easy to follow. This lingering snow, which often rings the lake until late summer, is very likely the inspiration for its name.
At 1.2 miles we finally reached the end of the trail at Snow Lake. The views from the lake, which is tucked in a cirque below 6917-foot Unicorn Peak, are simply outstanding.
Here’s a view of Snow Lake looking towards the northeast:
On our way back to the trailhead we enjoyed sporadic views of Mt. Rainier:
Trail: Snow Lake Trail
RT Distance: 2.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Max Elevation: 4679 feet
TH Location: The Bench – east of Paradise
Map: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails Illustrated Map
Day Hike! Mount Rainier uncovers the best trails for the day tripper, whether you’re a newbie hiker or a veteran with hundreds of miles on your boots. Northwest outdoors expert and Seattle Times's Trail Mix columnist Ron Judd reviews more than 50 of the best day hike trails in Mt. Rainier National Park, from Paradise and Sunrise to the lower foothills. The book describes classic routes - from easy to moderate to extreme - giving hikers the choices they want.