Mileage: 9.4 miles
Elevation Gain/Highest: 2286ft/4593ft
Map: Green Trails No 207 Snoqualmie Pass or my GAIA
Favorite Eats After Hike: North Bend Bar & Grill
It felt so good to get today after a month off the trail! Another friend with an injury and I opted for an easy I-90 hike today and were greatly rewarded with a wonderful day outdoors.
The Denny Creek Trailhead is an extremely popular place to say the least with its proximity to Seattle and Snoqualmie Pass, a campground and a relatively easy beginning. I haven’t been here for close to 35 years, I’d guess. My family did some “blue tarp” camping in the campground and at least one summer camp I went to took us here for an overnight in the woods.
With the temperature up in the 80’s, we started our trek at 7:15 am from the parking lot that had just a handful of cars and I imagine most of them were overnighters up at the lake. The trail is wide and worn for the first mile or so, the roots polished with the bootprints of thousands of hikers. I could tell trailwork was under way to improve the tread where water has washed away soil and left rock jutting up like jagged teeth. We could hear the noise of the interstate as we crossed the solid wooden bridge over Denny Creek about 10 minutes in, and the reason was obvious as we passed under the interstate itself about 10 minutes later. The large concrete columns were quite surreal reaching out of the forest and towering over us.
Soon, however, we left the vibrations behind and made our way along the trail towards another crossing of the creek at 1.2 miles in. This time there was only the remnant of a footbridge and we rock hopped over to continue the trail on the other side. This area is the famous “waterslide”, where you can either rest next to the meandering creek or sit yourself in it and slip down on its smooth granite bottom for a refreshing summer treat. At 7:50am, it was a bit early for us but pleasantly deserted.
From here, the trail began its ascent out of the creek valley towards Hemlock Pass. We alternated between following the creek past Keekwulee Falls and Snowshoe Falls to switchbacks across exposed talus fields.
I had heard the trail was rocky and although it was, I didn’t think it was worse than other trails in the area. This IS definitely a climb to do early in the day before the sun hits the slope. We crossed the creek again at 2.5 miles in, a short way after the second set of falls. We had still only seen a handful of people, most of them heading out from spending the night at the lake.
We reached the wooded pass at 4604ft a few minutes before 10am and 3.85 miles in. Yay, so close! The trail then followed the contour line to the junction with Pratt Lake connector, another great hike if you have the time (I talk about visiting it from the Ollalie Lake Trail).
Another 13 minutes or so and we were at the outlet for Melakwa Lake with 4.21 miles on my GPS. We were clearly not alone but had definitely beaten the crowds that were sure to come.
One of the backpackers we had passed told us the best swimming was over on the far side of the lake, so we crossed the outlet and took the bootpath around towards the north end. I must admit that this was a tiny bit challenging with just one arm but it being the left arm, the return trip would be the more sporty adventure. Oh well, I’d think about that later.
There is a spot to cross the junction with the upper lake on the north and we made our way around to a nice resting spot for lunch where my friend could have a nice swim (his plan all along).
The water was a beautiful blue green and the sun danced cheerfully on its tiny ripples. It was clear the lake sees quite a few visitors (although not as many as the creek below) as the vegetation was trampled and my friend noted many tin cans and a Fireball bottle along the lake bottom. I tried to ignore this and not let it damper my joy at simply being outdoors. When recovering from an injury, one can not be too choosy!
After a swim and nice break, we made our way back around about 11:20am, briefly checking out the upper lake.
The view was spectacular with Kahleetan Peak in the background.
The boot path petered out shortly around this lake and we turned around to make our way back (you can scramble up to the peak if you have the time and want the adventure). My trek around the lake to head back down the trail wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be with the slope on my right side and no hand to steady myself but I simply did some left-handed and lowering-myself-backwards maneuvers without a problem.
Our trek down was a little under 3 hours, but I figured we would both be taking it slow for safety. The later crowds were making their way up the trail, sweating it in the hot summer sun. Quite a few people were heading up to camp at the lakes; it was going to be a full weekend. The view down the valley was another amazing scene, the horizon layered with shades of blue mountains like Mount Catherine and Cabin Mountain.
The haze of the Jolly Mountain fire made everything soft and beckoning despite the destruction it is obviously causing. The trailwork I had spotted on our way up had resumed, a large work party from the WTA has repairing steps and water bars. We made sure to say lots of thank yous, definitely hot work today!
The waterslides at the creek were full with families and weary hikers cooling off from the heat of the day. I took a few pictures to send my sister, she would get a kick out of the memories I was having of our childhood. When we arrived at the trailhead at 9.4 miles and 7 hours later, the lot was packed and someone was waiting to claim our front row spot before we left. The cars were lined up on the road all the way past the campground, but we had expected it. Saw plenty of tickets on cars from folks without passes, I guess not aware you still have to pay even if not in the lot. We congratulated ourselves for choosing to start early and treated ourselves to drinks at the pub in North Bend. Another great day in the PNW!
Check out my Latest Trip reports for some of my most recent hikes or head over to my I-90 page for other hikes in this area!
Directions: Head east on I-90 from Seattle to exit 47 and Denny Creek/Tinkham Road. Turn left and cross over the freeway and you will come to a T in the road. Turn right and onto Forest Road 58. In 0.2 miles the road turns left. Continue for 2.4 miles and take a left just after Denny Creek Campground, passing the Franklin Falls trailhead. Continue on, crossing a bridge and the trailhead is .2 miles more. This is an extremely busy trailhead, you can expect the lot to be full by 8am easy. There is another parking lot on FR 58 if you had continued .5 miles past the campground without turning at Franklin Fall with a feeder trail to the Denny Creek TH near the bulletin board in that parking lot. The Denny Creek TH has two privy bathrooms and there is another at Franklin Falls. NW Forest Pass required (even if you park along the road).