Our first backpacking trip with the dogs this year was up to Gem Lake. The most common way to get up to Gem Lake is via the Snow Lake trail so that’s what we did. Snow Lake is one of my favorite dog friendly trails near Seattle because it’s not too hard but the destination is absolutely amazing.
It’s a 5 mile hike up to Gem Lake (about 1.5 miles past Snow Lake) so we got started in the afternoon to make it to the lake around 5 pm. The trail can be hiked in less than the 5 hours that it took us on weekdays but the trail is a superhighway of people on weekends, which slows you down.
I had never hiked past the viewpoint at the southeast end of Snow Lake. My hubby and I tried to find the trail that went past that point once but couldn’t. It turns out we missed it because the creek you have to cross was raging the day we were there. We went back this time armed with trip reports from the Washington Trails Association website and friends.
I will never stop at the first lookout point on the lake again! That is where the majority of the people stop so it’s crowed and, although the views are gorgeous, they only get better as you hike around the north side of the lake. I will always want to avoid the hoards of people, and enjoy even better views, in the future.
The trail did just as I had read in trip reports. After passing the usual stopping point and crossing the creek, the trail climbs up and traverses above the lake for a bit. I then touches back to the lake edge where you cross a log foot bridge across the lake outlet and then climb up again. You traverse along the lake again before climbing to a trail junction. Stay left here as the trail to the right climbs down, down to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road.
Past the junction, the trail climbs up toward Gem Lake. Some of the trail reports said you will see a rooty section where the trail seems to veer off. The reports said to stay right there. To be honest, I saw a few places that they could have been talking about but never once did I feel confused about where the main trail was headed.
The trail surface was just as described – a moderate climb with packed dirt, stairs, roots, and rocky, scree slopes in places.
We did as they said and set up camp with a great view of the (mountain behind snow lake and the mountain behind Gem Lake). It was beautiful.
I usually don’t react to mosquitoes but these left me with red welts. Chester had a really bad reaction and his face swelled up.
I took a jog around the lake to view it from the other end after the sun went down but it was still light enough for pictures. If you hike to lake, even for the day, you absolutely can’t skip hiking to the far end of the lake. The view was spectacular.
I grunted about half way up the hill and then had second thoughts. I was already later than my hubby expected, the slope was not treed or well tread, I was alone. When I looked behind me, I realized that it was going to be really sketchy to go back down the trail. I decided to give up while I was ahead.
That meant that I had to go back around the whole lake though, which put my return at 45 minutes after I left. My hubby had gone down to the lake edge to look for me and, luckily, he spotted me on the talus slope on the other side of the lake.
The next morning we had the pleasure of using a toilet in the woods with the most amazing view. We hear there are two there but we only saw one.
One trail report I read said that her dog’s pads got cut up pretty bad on the rocky sections. I’d never had problems with Chester’s feet so I didn’t think much of it. However, his feet did get a bit scraped up and he was sore the next day. If you hike this trail with your dog, you should definitely check their feet often.
Also be aware that the trail is very exposed so it’s easy for dogs and people to overheat in the middle of the day. I suggest hiking up to the lake in the morning or lake afternoon for a little relief.
Trail Name: Gem Lake
Distance: 10 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 2,200 feet
Highest Point: 4,857 feet
Permits and Passes: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead (Alpental Parking Lot)
Directions: From Exit 52 off I-90, drive to the ski area parking at Alpental. Be aware that there are private residences near Alpental and respect requests for No Parking that may exist.
Looking for day hikes? Check out our list of 5 Challenging (and Spectacular) Day Hikes for You and Your Dog Around Seattle
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.