Mileage: 15 miles RT
Elevation Gain/Highest: 2900/4400ft
Map: Green Trails Skykomish No 175 and Snoqualmie Pass No 207, Nat Geo Alpine Lake Wilderness
Favorite Eats After Hike: North Bend Bar and Grill
11/19/2016 I joined this hike because I had never been up the infamous Middle Fork Road and I wanted to see if it lived up to its name. For once, a forest road actually presented itself to be as bad as its reputation. I MIGHT have been able to make it in my car but was SO glad someone else was driving. It is NO joke. High clearance is definitely recommended.
We took the backway to Snow Lake (THE most heavily hiked trail in WA State) and it was a great route. There was rain in the forecast so we were prepared for snow at the lake, and very little views. We started out at 8:45am on the Middle Fork Trail #1003 which rambles along the river for about 2.7 miles after we crossed a sturdy bridge near the beginning of the trail. This is also the trail to Goldmyer Hotsprings. It was a wonderful river walk with plenty of moss and mushrooms, bridges and creek crossings and soft, cushy detritus to walk upon. It even follows the old railroad bed in places, evidenced by the raised trail bed and old pieces of track.
At the junction for Goldmyer and the PCT alternative, we turned right and headed up on Rock Creek Trail #1013 (which goes all the way to Alpental) and began our ascent to Snow Lake. The switchbacks were easy and it wasn’t too long before we came out of the forest to the side of the Rock Creek valley with views of Wright Mountain, Garfield Mountain and the 1800ft waterfall that flows out of Snow Lake.
There were a few trees to climb over and under with one large one that we had to go around from above about 25ft. The snow started in earnest on the trail about 3000ft and the postholing began. The slopes of scree we had to cross were a bit dicey as we found places to step that wouldn’t mean punching through to a broken ankle. It was early enough in the season that avalanche wasn’t an issue, but I can see this route would be no good until late spring with one more dump of snow.
The clouds parted and gave us some view of the top of the ridge and we had hopes to see a little lake today. However, when we finally got to the junction with trail #1012 the goes to Gem and beyond at 1pm, the wind and snow picked up and we did little more than continue right to the log bridge over the Snow Lake outlet and then retreat back to a spot under trees before the junction and sit for lunch. We saw about 7 other people while there.
We did sit long enough for the clouds to break and see the tip of Garfield Mountain in the distance. Leaving the top around 1:30pm with microspikes on, we headed back down the way we had come. The skies did present a little blue and the waterfall became more defined without the early haze of low level clouds. I couldn’t help but be entranced by how the wisps of clouds came over the ridge from the lake and into the valley. The tree over the trail that we had gone around on the way up, we went under on the way down as someone decided to pull out the debris underneath to make a gap for the smaller ones of us to wiggle through. Some of us donned headlamps the last few miles but the river trail was fairly easy to navigate without. We were pretty happy with our day despite the extra effort because we arrived back to cars at 5pm having passed only one other person on the trail (with the exception of the folks at the lake). A wonderfully peaceful day in the woods with friends.
Directions: From Seattle, drive east on I-90 to exit 34. Turn left onto 468th Street and follow it to the junction with the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road. Turn right and continue up the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rd for 12 miles to the large Middle Fork trailhead parking area on the right. Pass the parking area and turn right onto a gravel road immediately after crossing a large concrete bridge. The road is marked for Dingford and Dutch Miller Gap. Continue six miles on a heavily potholed road to a gate to the TH. You need a NW Forest Pass.