: 12.3-mile loop
: 4 Seasons
: Creeks, Forest, Lakes, Mountain Views, Views, Waterfalls, Passes, Bushwhacking, Scrambling, Campsites
: NW Forest Pass
: Hikers, Backpackers, Dogs
: US Forest Service
: I-90 East from Seattle: 1. Travel east on I-90. 2. Take Exit 47 for Asahel Curtis. 3. Turn left to cross the overpass. 4. Take a right after the overpass, following the sign to Denny Creek. 5. Take the first left after the sign (which is unmarked and comes up quickly). You will follow a narrow, forested road past several cabins, over a bridge and past a campground. 6. Turn left immediately after the campground. You will cross a one-lane bridge before arriving at the Denny Creek trailhead. SECOND CAR: I-90 East from Seattle: 1. Travel east on I-90. 2. Take Exit 52 for Alpental. 3. Turn left to cross the overpass. 4. Turn right after the overpass, then take a left onto Alpental Road #9040. 5. Follow this road past several ski lodges to a large parking lot near the well-marked Snow Lake trailhead. Overnight parking is allowed at both sites.
Adventurous hikers can bridge two popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness trailheads on this rugged and scenic loop. After ascending the Denny Creek Trail to Melakwa Lake, you will commence an off-trail traverse to picturesque Snow Lake. This route can be completed in one lengthy day or as a relaxed backpacking trip.
Set off on the well-traveled Denny Creek Trail. This forested route winds alongside bubbling Denny Creek before climbing to a series of boulder-strewn alpine meadows. You wil enjoy views of Keekwulee and Snowshoe Falls as you parallel the narrow gorge carved by Denny Creek.
You will delve back into the forest before reaching Melakwa Lake, 4.5 miles from the trailhead. This serene pool is framed by rugged peaks on two sides and offers lovely campsites and lunch spots.
Follow the trail as it wraps around the lakeshore towards a distinct saddle on the north side. Soon the trail will dissolve into marsh and boulder fields as you skirt Upper Melakwa Lake, but the way is clear: Follow the creek as you begin your ascent.
This steady, 1.5-mile climb is primarily across boulder fields and scree. About half-way up the moderately steep slope you will likely have to get into the creek itself, scrambling over the streambed’s profusion of boulders.
Bend left once the creek begins to level out, about 1.2 miles into the climb. This segment of brushy forest is the steepest – and final – portion of the ascent.
Soon you be atop the pass, gazing into a steep basin cradling Chair Peak Lake. Descend the precipitous, rocky hillside (in late fall through early summer this will likely be a glissade) and skirt the lake’s right shore. Soon you will have a glimpse of your next destination, Snow Lake, nestled in the valley to your right.
After enjoying this vista, turn left and ascend the rocky hillside, tracing the base of Kaleetan Peak’s towering granite cliffs.
Soon you will commence a gradual, then moderate, descent through boulder fields into the Snow Lake Basin.
Turn left and begin to work your way to the far end of Snow Lake. You will scramble up and alongside brushy, forested hillsides for about 1 mile before reaching the maintained trail. Enjoy the views of Snow Lake’s serene surface as you skirt colorful marshes and seasonal ponds. In about 1.2 miles you will reach a series of campsites, including the stone foundation of an old house—an interesting place to spend the night.
From this ruin, take the well-marked trail uphill out of the basin. You will climb a 0.3-mile series of rocky switchbacks, then will descend 1.4 miles through forest and scree fields to the Alpental Ski Area parking lot.
NOTE: The route as described requires a shuttle. If you would prefer to leave only one car, you will have to walk an additional 4 miles along Alpental Road and Denny Creek Road to return to your starting point.