This early season hike is a personal favorite, with such variety it keeps you interested and engaged throughout. It’s slightly lower elevation and sun exposure gives this trail the advantage of opening earlier in the season, as well as one of the first higher elevation hikes for wildflowers! You never know what you’re going to see on this hike, from well hidden frogs to a black bear in the meadow; it’s a great hike for families!
Bench and Snow Lakes trail head is located on the Stevens Canyon road. From Paradise it is on your right, 1.5 miles past Reflection Lake. Considered a moderate difficulty trail, this 2.5 mile round trip (out and back) crosses a series of ridges, with ups and downs throughout, gaining 700’ in elevation. Give yourself about 2 hours to complete.
From the trailhead you start with a view of Mt Rainier to the north, and you follow the trail through rich green foliage among the wildflowers and trees. The trail takes you to a meadow nestled up to the Tatoosh Range, the meadow attracts a variety of wildlife, marmots, deer, and even bears are sometimes spotted from the trail. I was lucky enough to see a bear during my hike! It surveyed us from the bushes before deciding to crash off into the brush. (Black bears at Mt Rainier information here). The hike rises and falls, sometimes a dirt path, then a rocky surface, crossing simple logs over Unicorn Creek (where we were surprised by a well-camouflaged frog keeping cool!), and stunning viewpoints of Mt Rainier.
After .75 miles the trail forks. If you follow the trail to left it will take you down to Bench Lake. Keep to the right and you will reach Snow Lake after .5 miles. Veer to the east and the trail will take you to the Snow Lake backcountry camp. If you stay right, the lake will be right over the next crest, with nice flat rocks to rest and look up at Unicorn Peak on the Tatoosh Range. Take some time to relax, enjoy the quiet scenery, and watch little fish darting around in the lake.
If you’re hiking in the summer months bring bug spray, as the lake and shade can get a bit buggy. This is also a good hike on those days when the mountain is hiding behind clouds, there’s still plenty to see!