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Snow Lake (Image: Lisette Wolter-McKinley)

Best Alpine Lakes to Take a Dip in this Summer

When the temperature starts to rise in the city, do what any smart Seattleite would do and head for the mountains! With an endless supply of day hikes running up and down the I-90 corridor, I can't think of a more picturesque place to cool off this summer than an alpine lake. These simple days spent in the mountains are truly some of the best days of my life. With just the sound of birds chirping, a warm breeze against my back and my heart thumping in my chest, I feel most alive after a day spent in the mountains. Here are a few of my personal favorites alpine lakes to take a dip in this summer, but make it a point to create your own list of favorites, as well!

Make sure to check out Washington Trails Association website to check social distancing rules and guidelines, along with possible trail and park closures before you go.

Snow Lake

  • Getting there: From Seattle, drive east on I-90 to exit 52, signed for Snoqualmie Pass West. Turn left (north), crossing under the freeway. Take the second right, traveling 1.3 miles to the end of the road at the Alpental Ski Area parking lot.
  • Length: 7.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 1,800 feet

Although Snow Lake is the most visited lake of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, it is a place that never disappoints. With towering snow-covered cliffs as a backdrop to the lake and plenty of shoreline for everyone to easily gather around, it is the type of lake you will dream about visiting again and again. And swimming in its icy water is the punctuation mark to any hot day. As an added adventure, you can set up camp at one of the many well-established spots dotting the lake. Or for those looking to add even more miles hike onto Gem Lake for fewer crowds and even more breathtaking scenery.

Insider tips: This is a VERY popular trail. Make sure to hit the trail mid-week by heading there early in the morning or late in the evening to social distance most responsibly. I can attest that having the trail all to yourself is worth the early morning wake up call or late evening hike in.

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Talapus Lake

  • Getting there: From Seattle, head east on I-90 to exit 45. Turn left, and drive under the freeway on FR 9030. In 1 mile, follow the road around to the right at a junction. Continue straight on a gravel, sometimes severely potholed road to the trailhead at the road's end.
  • Length: 6.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 1,220 feet

Talapus Lake is one of those trails where getting there is half the fun. With most of the trail covered in shade, it is a welcome place to be in the heat of the hottest of summer days. There are countless creek crossings along the trail, and even a fun human-made bridge to cross. Although the shoreline isn't as easily accessed as Snow Lake, there are still a few hidden spots where you can enjoy a quick picnic lunch and then a dip in the cool, refreshing water of the lake.

Insider tips: Because this is the starting point to several different hikes, this is a VERY popular trail. Make sure to hit the trail mid-week or early in the morning to social distance most responsibly. If your legs are up for the challenge, continue onto Ollalie Lake or even Pratt Lake.

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Denny Creek

  • Getting there: From Seattle, head east on I-90 to exit 47 Denny Creek/Tinkham Road. At the top of the exit ramp, turn left and cross over the freeway. Go 0.2 miles and turn right at the stop sign onto Forest Road 58. The road crosses under the freeway, after driving 0.2 miles, turn left. Continue straight on for 2.9 miles, and about a half-mile past the Denny Creek Campground, there is a large paved parking lot on the right that can accommodate about 60 cars. The trailhead can be accessed via a trail that begins near the bulletin board in the parking lot. The Denny Creek parking restrooms are closed, but the restrooms at Franklin Falls are available to hikers.
  • Length: 2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 400 feet

Although this is technically not an alpine lake, it is the closest thing you can get to a natural water park. With water streaming down slippery rocks and collecting in tiny pools, Denny Creek is way less intimidating than jumping into an icy lake. With minimal effort, this is the perfect hike for beginner hikers or those with little ones. As a mother to three, I think Denny Creek is a million times better than battling crowds at any splash park, beach, or wading pool in Seattle. For the more adventurous, you can continue on another 0.7 miles to Keekwulee Falls, which is not only beautiful scenery but a fantastic way to ditch the crowds.

Insider tips: This is a VERY popular trail for families with little ones. Make sure to hit the trail mid-week by 8 a.m. to social distance most responsibly.

Note: Whenever you spend time outdoors, it is important always to be prepared and to leave no trace. Adjust your packing needs based on the type of adventure you're heading out on. Even on a short day hike, it is important to carry the 10 essentials:

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: including foot care and insect repellent
  5. Knife: plus a gear repair kit
  6. Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  7. Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
  8. Extra food: Beyond what you expect to eat
  9. Extra water: Beyond what you expect to drink plus a water filter device is always a great addition in the Summer months
  10. Extra clothes: Beyond what you expect, you will wear. Temperatures in the mountains can vary widely in a day. When deciding what to bring, consider factors like your experience level, weather, difficulty, duration, and distance from help.