Hike Up This West Coast Trail For Incredible Lake Views

Just being near water can have an ultra-calming effect, particularly when you disconnect from social media and just take in the scenery. Adventure into the West Coast wilderness and hike the Summit Lake Trail for incredible views of an alpine lake, and to discover a little rejuvenating solitude.

The Summit Lake Trail is located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, between the Canadian border and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. The sprawling forest, which covers over 1.7 million acres of Washington State, is only an hour from the bustling city of Seattle. Despite this fact, your trip up the Summit Lake Trail will leave you feeling a long way from civilization. This 6.1 mile loop leads hikers through various landscapes of the Cascade Mountain Range over three hours, while gaining 1,300 feet in elevation. The highlight of the moderate route is the panoramic views it provides of Summit Lake, a 511-acre freshwater lake known for its painting-like, pristine appearance. Knowing what you can expect as you traverse the Summit Lake Trail can help you make the most of your outdoor adventure.

What to expect on your hike

To access the Summit Lake Trail, you'll first have to buy a Northwest Forest Pass; day passes cost $5.00 per car to park at the trailhead. The road leading to the trail's parking lot is marked, but traffic there can be extensive — especially during summer and fall, which are considered the best seasons to make the hike.

As you set off on this nature-rich path, you'll first pass through younger woodlands, soon reaching an old-growth forest filled with lush fir and hemlock trees. At this point, you'll have to climb a set of switchbacks that will lead you to a spot where the Carbon River Trail and Twin Lake intersect. You can take a detour down an unmarked path to Twin Lake, but it doesn't offer the same impressive sights you'll find at Summit Lake.

From here, the route quickly becomes steep as you follow the ridgeline. Around 2.5 miles into your trek, the dense trees open up to inviting meadows blanketed by colorful wildflowers during warmer seasons, and an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain (and active volcano) in Washington. As you reach the summit of the hike, you'll finally be able to take in expansive panoramas of the lake's crystal clear waters, and mountains for miles. The rest of the Summit Lake Trail encircles the lake before you traverse back down the mountainous path.

Activities near Summit Lake

In addition to nature viewing, the Summit Lake Trail offers prime opportunities to view wildlife in their natural habitat. Deer and elk are regularly spotted in the area, along with bears. Summit Lake is not just for viewing, but it's a perfect spot for partaking in watersports. Mostly during summer months, visitors enjoy boating, tubing, sailing, paddling, and swimming in the 90-foot-deep lake.

Not only is the Summit Lake Trail sought out by day-trippers seeking a short getaway, but backpackers also frequent the trail for a lakeside retreat. Several tent campsites on both the northeast and south sides of Summit Lake allow you to further explore the rocky region. In total, there are 38 campsites within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and these sites can be reserved online. Offering solitude and one-of-a-kind vistas, the Summit Lake Trail is a quintessential hike for outdoorsy travelers visiting Washington.