Gem Lake

Trail review

Alpine Lakes Wilderness


Last week was our big backpacking trip for the year. 4 days and 3 nights with my two boys and a couple friends and their boys to a couple different lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It's an area north of Snoqualmie pass. I've hiked several different trails in the area and it never fails to amaze me. 


We started out on Wednesday evening and hiked the 3.25 miles to Snow lake. Wednesday, it turns out, is a good day to go to Snow lake. More on that later. Snow lake is a good sized lake with a fair amount of good camping spots around the south east side of the lake. There are at least a couple pit toilets around that make things a bit easier as the ground isn't super easy to dig. The lake basin is filled with huckleberries and they were perfectly ripe last week. The water is clear and the deep blue of snow run off. Great for swimming... After some acclimation.  

We camped there that night, awoke to make pancakes for breakfast, broke camp and headed to Gem lake. The trail winds around Snow lake, giving you a spectacular view of the lake from all angles. 1.7 miles later you get to Gem lake. As soon as you get a peek at Gem lake, you know how it got its name. It looks like a sapphire set in the rough mountains around it. Beautiful, clear and blue. But don't stop there. The view from the east side of the lake is so much better. It would be a shame to get to the lake and not get the view from the east side. 

We swam in the lake, replenished water and did a little laundry that afternoon. The next morning my oldest son and I made the .33 mile trek to the top of Wright Mountain. The trail is about 1/3 scramble over rocks lead by cairns. The trek is steep, but well worth the trip! You can see for miles in every direction. Mostly it's more rocky peaks and glacier carved valleys as far as the eye can see. You can see Gem lake, Snow lake, upper and lower Wildcat lakes and couple other smaller lakes. 


In an effort to make the last days trek out not as hard, we broke camp that morning and headed back to Snow lake. We had originally wanted to stay at Gem lake 2 nights. Actually I wouldn't have minded staying at Gem lake for two weeks... But the idea of a 5 mile hike out the next day with the smaller members of the group already pretty exhausted didn't seem like a good idea. So we headed back to Snow lake, enjoyed another swim there and stayed the night. 


There are good stretches of the trail that are pretty rough. Liam made the trip with a broken arm. What a tough dude... He didn't complain about anything, but he did slow down quite a bit when he got tired. Another member of the group and I would occasionally take his pack so he could pick up the pace.


Snow lake is amazing, well worth the trip. But I would HIGHLY recommend going during the week. Friday night there was at least one pretty loud group staying the night. Up laughing and yelling until at least 4:30 am. Not cool, guys. The next day, Saturday, we counted over 500 people on the trail going up to the lake as we hiked out. Pretty crowded... Very different from our experience on Wednesday. 


In our down time at camp we enjoyed a few rounds of checkers on the Cabin Fever bandana. Rocks vs. Pine cones. This bandana always comes in handy, especially on a trip where you know you'll have time at camp and don't want to carry any extra weight. 

Over all the trip was amazing. Enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Washington never ceased to amaze me. Driving through Snoqualmie pass, I would never had guessed such amazing views were just a few miles off the main road. Such a blessing to live in a place like this. 

Have you backpacked in this area? What are your favorite trails to hike?