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TR: Snow & Gem Lakes

Posted by gck Monday, August 16, 2010

This is one in a series of trip reports that I’m back posting.

10 miles, ~2300 ft elevation gain
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

A less popular area of Snow Lake.

Snow Lake is a really popular hike and for good reason. The trailhead is at the Alpental parking lot, which means it's not too far down I-90 and there's a huge parking lot. And it's a big, beautiful lake that you can get to by hiking only about 8 miles with 1300 feet of elevation gain. It's crowded and loud getting to the lake basin (a NWHikers trip report referred to this as the "Conga line"), but most people stop there. Even if you follow the trail up a little around the right side of the lake, you can find a segment of the lake where you'll be relatively undisturbed. On a hot day like I had, it's really tempting to jump in the cool water (and a lot of people were). But if you like pain, you'll decide that the 1300 feet aren't enough and head towards Gem Lake.

Left: trail to Gem Lake. Right: Looking down at Snow Lake.

It's only about 1.5-2 extra miles to get to Gem, but you get some nice elevation gain that starts to hurt really quick. It goes like this: "Ooh, a puddle. Is that Gem Lake? No. Ooh, I see blue water, is that Gem Lake? No, that's still SNOW LAKE. Grr... Ooh, a bigger puddle...." But despite all that, this part of the trail is probably the most beautiful segment. There are little sections of alpine meadow with small tarns, mountain views, plenty of flowers and bushy beargrass, views of Snow Lake from above, and some nice rock paths that couldn't have been easy to put together. And there aren't nearly as many people who go this far. Gem Lake is much smaller than Snow Lake, maybe a little less showy. But it's peaceful and the water's pretty.

Left: Gem Lake (a real gem!). Right: Butterfly.


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