Soothing sounds of flowing water and melodic birds fill one’s ears at the trailhead. A warm spring day at the bottom, my gaze focused on the snowcapped mountaintops above. That is where I wanted to be.
Whether you’re a Washington native or simply visiting, spring is the perfect time to traverse a mountain. Vivid, sporadic hues are beginning to blossom bright amongst the otherwise green, white and brown. The Northwestern land is graciously welcoming back the awakening life. Wildflowers will share their beauty with us in full bloom here, soon. Random splotches of orange, purple and yellow will seemingly multiply overnight, softly clothing valleys and mountainsides.
The small town of Leavenworth is mostly known for its Bavarian village motif, an allure to nearly two million tourists each year. This charming mountain town also offers abundant hiking trails up and throughout the Cascades— to hidden lakes thousands of feet above.
On your way to or from Seattle, take a side trip to the Reptile Zoo in Monroe. Open 365 days a year, they house and care for the most extensive collection of reptiles in the Pacific Northwest. An albino alligator and two headed turtle are among their most popular creatures, but many reptile lovers visit for the opportunity to interact with and hold various snakes and tortoises.
If you’re up for another quick stop, treat yo’ self to a handcrafted Frappuccino and a homemade cookie on your journey in. Or, maybe you’d prefer a snow-cold brew to wrap up the trip. If it’s coffee, tea or “big foot cookies” you’re after, pop into Espresso Chalet in Index, Washington. They have eleven types of milk including rarities like eggnog, goat’s milk, hemp milk and rice milk. They’re eager to share that parts of the Bigfoot classic, Harry and the Hendersons, were filmed there. If a cold one on tap is more your style, cross on over a short bridge and into the charming town of Skykomish. The Whistling Post is a small, welcoming tavern that offers a pool table, bar food, and a great beer selection. The bartender and owner is charismatic and warm, allowing even a Michigander to feel like a regular. It’s the local hang out in a tiny town of under two hundred. If available, Mac and Jack’s African Amber Ale is nicely balanced, lightly hopped and unfiltered—a Northwestern original.
Upon entering Leavenworth, you may instantly desire a hike into the town’s breathtaking backdrop of towering mountains. I can’t blame you, but suggest you fill that belly of yours, first. The 14-mile round trip and 4000 ft. elevation gain on Snow Lakes Trail will require the fuel of a German meal. Soak in the breathtaking Cascades while you enjoy a juicy Bratwurst on the rooftop of Gustav’s Grill and Beer Garden. I satisfyingly devoured my jalapeno–cheddar pork sausage, but if you’re lucky enough to snag a table at the roof’s far edge, the views will utterly triumph the food— my apologies to the chef.
Located off Icicle Creek Road, Snow Lakes Trail is one of several routes to get you up and into the incredible mountains surrounding Leavenworth. Begin your hike in the early morning hours or later in the day to avoid harsh sun exposure experienced over the trail’s first couple shade-less miles. Though a day trip can be achieved, I highly recommend camping for at least a night. The length of this trail, alone, can prove dangerous on a hot summer’s day. The trail around Snow Lake continues into the Enchantments, meaning more adventures await! With several lakes and trails to explore, two to three nights would be ideal for the experienced backpacker. Campsites are available by permit only, from June 15 through October 15.
The journey begins by crossing spring’s snow melted, rushing Wenatchee River, by bridge. The trail gradually begins its incline across numerous lengthy switchbacks, where elevation-changing landscapes can be appreciated. A pine-covered valley leads to massive snow capped peaks to one side, while distant rolling mountains are seen beyond Leavenworth to the other. When the weather’s right, a slight breeze may filter through a section of massive rocks, creating a marvelous chill of air-conditioning. Remnants of a raging forest fire are seen along portions of the trail. Utterly bare, tar black columns eerily loom above, becoming an unexpected fascination. It was a bit odd— venturing through a pine graveyard. The traces of devastation were upsetting, but left us in awe of nature’s fragility and perseverance.
Vibrantly colored fungi are found on boulder-broken tree stumps. The path continues into the forest and briefly sweeps alongside the clear waters of Snow Creek before reaching a field of moss obscured granite boulders, growing steeper. Admire trickling snowmelt flowing from atop colossal rocks, weaving through their fractures. Due to time constraints, this is unfortunately where we turned around. But, I’m told you wind your way up through sections of pine forests and rock fields for a couple miles. The trail passes across a log footbridge over Snow creek, shortly before the gradual incline turns sharper. Before you know it, nestled way up in the mountains’ refuge, you’ll come upon the radiant turquoise-blue of Nada Lake. Celebrate and relax by the waters edge, a tranquil and scenic place to set up camp. Snow Lake is just a mile and a half onward, a breeze compared to what you’ve put behind.
Beyond Nada Lake, the trail quickly steepens. Switchbacks will eventually bring you to the welcoming forest around Snow Lake. Another stunning and remote water source is revealed in the middle of abrupt slopes and wondrous rocky peaks. Camping spots can be found around both the upper and lower portions of this lake, filled by those with endurance and an utmost desire to appreciate the splendor of Snow Lakes Trail.
Mountain goats are often spotted along this trek. Though, I’ve learned most are seen in close proximity to the lakes. I advise you not to follow in our footsteps by looking up for mountain goats when you should be looking down at the steep, and rocky terrain you’re mountaineering. Surprisingly, we never fell. But man, a couple trips sure came close to putting us on the ground. Or, possibly tumbling down a mountain’s edge. Yikes!
When you return to Leavenworth, a warm meal out accompanied by an Icicle ale is surely the quickest remedy for a fatigued body. I recommend Ducks and Drakes, who promote “fine dining in a casual atmosphere”. Your legs might be telling you no, but the beer battered halibut and chips is worth a trip down their stairs. The lounge feels dated and a bit drab, so I’d stick to their outside patio. The ambiance is nothing to write home about, but a well-maintained garden runs along one side. Overall, it’s a pleasant outdoor atmosphere on a clear evening. The Bootjack IPA from Icicle Brewing Company pairs with the halibut, wonderfully. A locally made, smooth ale with light citrus notes, moderate bitterness and piney hop flavors.
Our entire journey to Leavenworth was completed in a day trip. Leaving us to drive home amongst the silhouettes of overlooking rocky slopes and brilliantly shining stars.
From Seattle, travel along US-2 to Leavenworth. If you grabbed a bite to eat in town before the hike, head back toward Seattle to reach Snow Lake Trail. Take a left onto Icicle Creek Road just outside of town. You’ll come to a parking lot about 4 miles down the road, on your left. As you pull in, the trailhead is found at the far end of the lot, heading down.
Remember to respect the flora and the fauna throughout your venture. Live by the traveler’s “Leave No Trace” motto and stay on the trail as much as possible when trekking in and out.
Safe travels, my friend.
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