Looking for a new hiking spot? The Lake 22 Trail is an amazing hike just outside of Seattle Washington. This is a favorite hike for locals and it is easy to see why.
The Lake 22 trail is a breathtaking hike to an alpine lake through an old-growth forest. The hike has stunning views of Mount Pilchuck and small waterfalls. This moderate hike is a perfect weekend hike for people who want to escape the rush of life in the city.
This guide will tell you all about hiking the Lake 22 trail and help you prepare for your hike.
About The Lake 22 Trail
- Region: North Cascades, Mountain Highway Loop
- Trail Length: 5.4 miles round trip
- Elevation: 1,350 foot gain
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Website: www.wta.og
Lake 22 trail is located in the center of an alpine wetland. It is nestled on the northern shoulder of Mount Pilchuck. This hike combines views of mountains, alpine wetlands, old-growth forests, and mountain rainforests. During the winter months, the route to Lake 22 can be prone to avalanches. If you are planning a hike it is best to wait until the snow is melted on the popular Mountain Loop Highway Trail.
No one knows for sure how Lake 22 got its name. Some believe that nineteenth-century railroad maps listed the lakes and creeks numerically and this particular lake was number 22. However the name was created it has stuck. In 1947 the 790-acre Lake 22 Research Natural Area, also called the RNA, was created. This ending logging in the region and allowed for future generations to come and take in the beauty of the remaining old-growth hemlock and cedar trees.
The trail is well maintained even though it quickly becomes a mountain rainforest trail. Lots of effort has gone into building a trail that can withstand the elements. Stone steps, gravel, puncheon bridges, and turnpikes help main this trail as sustainable as possible so that hikers can’t get lost on the trail. Hikers should stay on the trail path. The boulder field above the trail may be tempting to climb but it can be very dangerous to navigate. Fatalities have occurred when groups of hikers have scrambled up the boulder fielding attempting to create new trails.
Flora and Fauna at Lake 22
Because this trail is through an alpine wetland there is always water on the trail. It is the dampness of the ground that allows for the ferns, moss, and other rainforest plants to flourish in the Mountain Loop region. This provides the trails with lots of fascinating flora to take in on their hike. Hikers can see Oregon-grape, Berberis nervosa, and Deer fern, Blechnum spicant, rise out of the carpet of moss on the ground.
During the wintertime, moss covers the lowlands. You can find moss on nearly every surface filling your view with a spectacular array of textures. Feathery Stair-step Moss, Hylocomium splendens, Spikey Haircap Moss, Polytrichum sp., and wavy-leaved Cottom Moss, Plagiothecium undulatum, can be easily spotted.
Water cascades over rock ledges at every bend in the Lake 22 trail as 22 Creek carries bits of Mount Pilchuck on their way down to the Stillaguamish estuary below. The trees with the largest trucks are your Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata. These trees thrive in this area of high precipitation.
Listen to the sound of millions of saprophytes recycling the organic matter back into the forest in the circle of life. Othe popular types of plants you will encounter are Vine Maple, Acer cicinatum, Devil’s Club, Oplopanax horridus, and Salmonberry shrubs, Rubus spectabilis.
The Alaskan Blueberry, Vaccinium alaskaense, and Fool’s Huckleberry, Menziesia ferruginea, line the slopes of the trail. The higher up you climb the more you will begin to notice Pacific Silver Firs, Abies amabilis, and Alaska Cedars, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. In the wintertime expect deep snow. Though the summit is only at 2,413 feet in elevation, the basin is full of snow and ice.
At the top of the summit, Lake 22 is ringed by Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana, and Copperbush, Elliottia pyroliflorus. These plants are commonly associated with the higher elevations in the Northern Cascades. There are bare patches of water near the outlet that may have an American Dipper dipping. Waterfalls spill off the snowy ledges high up on the cirque wall and large and small rocks tumble down to join the talus at its base. It’s also common to hear the thunder of avalanches in the distance.
How to Get There
To get to the Lake 22 trail take Highway 92 to Granite Falls, where it becomes East Stanley Street. Go east for 0.3 miles and then turn left (north) onto North Alder Avenue. This turns into the Mountain Loop Highway. Travel Mountain Loop Highway for approximately ten miles and you will come across the entrance to Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Continue another two miles past the entrance to the forest and you will pass Lake 22. Go another 0,4 miles further and turn right at the entry for the Lake 22 trailhead. There is a parking area located along the gravel loop which holds around 50 cars. The GPS coordinates are 48.0770, -121.7457.
An Overview of the Trail
The trail begins rather easily as it climbs through the forest of Western Hemlock, Mountain Hemlock, Alder, and Red Cedar trees. The old-growth Hemlock and cedar giants have survived thanks to the RNA. There are substantial parts of the lower trail that cross active creekbeds, so wear footwear that is appropriate for crossing these small creeks.
At 0.6 miles into the trail, there is a bridge crossing over the 22 Creek. This is a great place to stop and take a break to look around. You can also get a great picture of the waterfall from this viewpoint. This will give your boots and break and keep your feet dry. This ample water supply is necessary for the numerous species of plants you’ll find along the trail. On the Lake 22 trail, you’ll never be far from water and you can hear the rush of water and experience several waterfalls along the trail. The trail continues through the forest at a steady incline until you hit the rocky switchback.
At 1.5 miles, you’ll leave the forest and begin the climb the talus slope. In the summertime look for Western Columbine to make an appearance. This middle section of the trail offers views of Whitehorse Mountain and Three Fingers on clear days. This part of the trail requires hikers to pay a little more attention as the rocks can be rather slippery. Sloppy foot placement can lead to falls in this rough part of the terrain. Luckily, this is the only part of the trail that is considered to be rougher. The trail here is characterized by rock and a few steep switchbacks.
Continue onward and you will reenter the forest at around 2.1 miles. You are almost to the top. This is where the terrain begins to take on wetland like characteristics, with Skunk Cabbage blooming in the spring. Under the cover of tall pines and old cedars, the trail winds steadily towards the lake.
When you reach the bridge that crosses over Lake 22’s outflow you will have traveled approximately 2.7 miles through lush rainforest. This is the top of the trail. Enjoy panoramic views of Lake 22 and take a rest from your long hike. There is a boardwalk that encircles the entire lake that is easily accessed in the summer months. Swimming is allowed in Lake 22 as well. You will see views Mount Pilchuck, waterfalls, and sometimes booming avalanches in the winter and spring. Take in the reflections of the rock, sky, and forest on the surface of the crystal clear alpine lake.
Activities at Lake 22 Trail
The Lake 22 trail is best enjoyed through hiking, nature trips, and snowshoeing in the wintertime. Swimming and recreational fishing are allowed in the lake. Dogs are allowed to accompany their owners on the trails but they must be kept on a leash at all times.
Hiking Safety and Considerations
- Plan ahead for your hike of the Lake 22 trail. Camping and campfires are prohibited at Lake 22.
- Consider the mileage of the trail and how long it will take you to complete it given your skill level. Pack the essentials you will need to carry with you for your hike. Be safe and bring enough supplies with you on your hike in case something goes wrong.
- Every hiker should carry some food and water. Most people drink around one liter of water every two hours. Pack more than enough water and snacks in case the hike takes you a little longer to complete than you thought it would.
How to Dress For The Lake 22 Trail
Dress appropriately when hiking the Lake 22 trail. This trail is known to be a little bit wet so make sure your clothing choices reflect that. Avoid wearing jeans, cotton shirts, open-toed shoes, or restrictive clothing. While cotton is quite comfortable to wear and a breathable fabric it isn’t moisture wicking.
This trail is known for its abundant amount of water. If you wear cotton and your shirt gets wet it will more than likely stay wet the rest of the hike. At best this is uncomfortable and at its worst, it could be dangerous. This trail has a pretty steep rocky area where thin materials like yoga pants can get easily punctured or shredded. Wear comfortable clothing, sturdy pants, and waterproof hiking boots. Bring a brimmed hat in the summer and a wool jacket in the winter.
Check the weather and trail conditions the days leading up to your hike. Then check it once more the morning of your adventure. Knowing the temperature, the chance of rain, and wind speed will make a big difference on your hike. It can also help you plan accordingly.
Ensure someone knows where you are
Before you go hiking always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Stick to your plan and try not to deviate from it unless you notify your contact of your changes. Once you are near Lake 22 it may be difficult to get cell phone service and it is always a good idea to let people know when you arrive back safely from your trip.
If you are not back by your designated time have a plan in place for your contact to reach out to the park rangers and authorities who can begin a search for you. This is one of the best ways to be quickly found and rescued if you become stranded on a hike.
More than anyone else you know what your body can and can’t do. The worst thing to do is push yourself too hard and get injured or stuck on a hike. If you are injured on the way up to the summit it may be difficult for you to return back down. If you feel out of your comfort zone take a break, eat a protein bar, and wait a little while before returning to our hike. Take care of yourself on your hike. You are hiking for enjoyment so take your time, take in the views, and appreciate the time you are spending outdoors.
It is important to stay on the Lake 22 trail as outlined by the park. Not only is it illegal to go off this trail it can be quite dangerous. Many hikers have been injured from falling rocks who have ventured off the trail. The trail is a well-known area. If an accident occurs you will be much easier to spot on the trail. When you stay on the trail you also minimize your impact on the fragile rainforest. This allows more people to come and visit this beautiful trail just as you saw it. You should only leave the trail if you need to use the bathroom in the woods or if you come upon a bear or vicious animal.
The Lake 22 trail is a beautiful day hike that is right in Seattle’s back yard. Some of the trail can be quite challenging during the rocky parts but the view at the top makes it all worth it in the end. Many hikers who hike the Lake 22 trail return time and time again to take in the natural beauty of the Northern Cascades through this beautiful trail.
If you are looking for other great hikes close to Seattle check out our article The Best Hikes Near Seattle: 7 Great Options for 2021. Happy hiking!