Lake 22 Trail: Everything You Need to Know About This Classic Washington Hike

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The Lake 22 Trail is one of the most classic day hikes in the Pacific Northwest, taking you through a lush old-growth rainforest, past stunning views of the Cascades to an alpine lake surrounded by rugged cliffs. And extra bonus? It’s only a little over an hour outside of Seattle.

Sound like a dream come true? Here’s everything you need to know about the Lake 22 trail.

woman standing in lake 22 along the lake 22 trail in washington state

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About the Lake 22 Trail

Length: 6.8 miles

Elevation gain: 1,473 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Dog-friendly? Leashed dogs are welcome

Man hiking through rainforest in the Lake 22 Trail

Why is it called Lake 22?

So first off, you’re probably wondering “what’s with the name?” And to be honest, no one really is 100% sure. 

Some believe that old railroad maps from the 1800s listed creeks numerically and the lake’s output happened to be ol’ Lucky Number 22. Another theory suggests that the forest was once divided into sections and identified numerically- and the lake just happened to fall into section 22.

Either way, the 790-acres around the lake was named the “Lake Twenty Two Research Natural Area” in 1947 to protect the beautiful old-growth from logging and the name has stuck ever since!

Man reading sign along Lake 22 Trail

How to Get to the Lake 22 Trail

The Lake 22 trailhead is located here, along the gorgeous Mountain Loop Highway that snakes through Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. From Seattle, it’s an easy drive, just a little over an hour northeast along I-5, along paved, maintained roads.

Car driving in a pine tree forest in Washington

The parking lot for the Lake 22 trail is a pretty small gravel lot, holding about 50 cars. Which, for as popular of a trail as this is, is… not a lot. So, if you don’t want to have to vulture for a spot here, I’d recommend showing up early (like, 7 AM on nice summer weekends) to make sure you snag a spot. If getting up painfully early isn’t your jam, there’s also limited overflow parking if you continue east along the Mountain Loop Highway.

Usually, a valid Northwest Forest Pass (or interagency pass, like America the Beautiful) is required to park at any National Forest trailhead in Washington. However, the last time we went, the trailhead parking lot indicated that no pass was needed, but the overflow lot had a sign that a pass was indeed required to park there. So be sure to double check wherever you park before you hit the trail!

Man standing in the reflection of Lake 22

When to Hike Lake 22 Trail

If you’d prefer to hike the trail completely snow-free, your best bet will be to go from July through mid-October. Outside of this window, the trail is usually still easily passable in May, June, and November, but you’ll likely encounter snow and ice (so bring along your crampons and trekking poles!).

In the wintertime, there are several avalanche chutes along the route and at Lake 22 itself, so if there’s any meaningful snow accumulation, I wouldn’t recommend hiking here. In fact, people have unfortunately died in avalanches along the trail, so please be careful and only attempt winter hiking the Lake 22 trail if you’re properly trained in avalanche safety.

Woman hiking across frozen Lake 22

What to Expect Along the Lake 22 Trail

At the trailhead, you’ll start by immediately snaking your way through a green rainforest, with lush ferns and dripping moss at every turn.  For the first half a mile, you’ll cross over several small streams and begin climbing your way up a number of stone and log steps.

Around 0.6 miles in, you’ll reach a log bridge over Twentytwo Creek, with a series of spectacular waterfalls rushing underneath your feet. From here, you’ll continue on through the old-growth forest, with western hemlock and red cedar trees towering overhead. At 1.6 miles in, be sure to stop and take in the views of Hundred Step Falls, the largest waterfall on the trail as glacial runoff from Mount Pilchuck spills down from Lake 22.

Shortly afterwards, you’ll exit the forest and start climbing across a rocky scree field- towards the north, you’ll get spectacular vistas of the peaks of Three Fingers South and Liberty Bell off in the distance. There’s also gorgeous wildflowers here in the summertime. While this rocky, exposed section is only about half a mile long, it can be a bit tough on the knees and ankles, so I’d strongly recommend wearing sturdy boots, like these for women or these for men. 

Woman hiking on scree on Lake 22 trail

After about four switchbacks across the rocky scree field, you’ll reenter the lush rainforest, with the terrain becoming almost marsh-y as you approach the lake.

After another 1.5 miles, you’ll finally reach the wooden bridge that crosses Lake 22’s outlet and beyond, a wooden platform where you can admire the sheer rock cliffs of Mount Pilchuck, perfectly reflected in Lake 22’s alpine waters. The towering cirque is simply stunning, with dozens of waterfalls streaming down its face in the spring and summer.

Man looking at reflection on Lake 22

There’s a trail of dirt paths and wooden boardwalks around the lake, but please be sure to stay on the trail. There’s a boulder field above the trail that is challenging- and dangerous- to scramble on. In fact, other hikers have fallen to their deaths when climbing these rocks. 

Tips for the Lake 22 Trail

  • Wear waterproof shoes. If I had to describe this hike in two words it would be “beautiful” and “Oh my God, so WET” (okay, that’s more than two words, but you catch my drift).

    Even on the driest of days (which, let’s be honest, can be pretty few and far between in the Pacific Northwest), you’ll be hiking through streams and tiny waterfall runoff for quite a bit of the trail. During the spring in Washington or just on rainy days, this can become several inches of flowing water along the path. And somehow, I can’t imagine it’s much fun to squish around for almost 7 miles in feet drenched with ice-cold water.

    So wear waterproof shoes- as mentioned above, preferably boots (like these for women and these for men), to provide traction on all the slippery surface and protection against the stabby rocks you’ll be walking on for about a mile. 
  • Be careful walking on the snow and ice! I’ve hiked this trail twice, in May and June, when snow was still along the last 0.5 mile or so of the trail and along the lake itself. And both times, I saw people acting a straight up fool on the trail- wearing non-hiking shoes and falling over continuously on the icy snow portions, traversing sketchy-looking snow bridges, and literally walking on thin ice, across Lake 22’s frozen edge (*face palm*). 

    When you make risky decisions, you’re usually not just endangering yourself, but also others on the trail who are inevitably going to try to help you if you hurt yourself- so let’s just make smart decisions and keep everyone safe on the trail, whaddya say?
Man standing on a rock in the middle of Lake 22
  • Bring bug spray. Bugs can get quite nasty here, especially in the later summer and the closer you get to the lake. I keep a bottle of this spray in my hiking bag to keep those pesky mosquitoes at bay. 
  • Follow the leave no trace principles. This hike is so gorgeous- so let’s keep it that way by treating it with the care and respect it deserves! Pack out your trash (including dog poop bags), stay on the trail to prevent trampling wildflowers or starting landslides, and be respectful to others on the trail.
Waterfall along Lake 22 Trail

With that, I hope you love Lake 22 hike as much as I do! Do you have any questions about the hike? Drop ‘em in the comments below!

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