This trail run doesn’t really have a name. It rises from the Lake Dorothy trailhead, in the Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest. Heading out from Seattle, you go north up to highway 522 east, then 2 east, and then turn off south on NE Old Cascades Highway, at Money Creek Campground. The signs all say the highway is closed, but just before it is actually closed, you turn off onto the Miller River Road, and then head up Forest Development Road 6410 to the trailhead.
It’s a nice trailhead with a clean latrine. You have to sign in and take the day-pass permit (it’s free) and you need either a Northwest Forest Pass or a National Parks Pass to park at the trailhead without getting a ticket. We left Seattle at about 5:40am, and were at the trailhead right as the sun was rising at 7:30. We loaded up and set off up the hill.
Like most of the trails around here, it starts off with a pretty good climb. From the trailhead to the lake is about 1.5 miles and while the trail is in great condition there, a lot of it is stairs made out of whole logs with long runs and short rises. There are a number of places where wood plank paths were laid over deep holes and ditches, and in the foggy morning, these were a little slippery. Some had rotted through and many were wobbly. Careful footwork.
The climb to Lake Dorothy is about 900′ of gain. Over 1.5 miles, that’s not terribly steep, but it’s definitely a workout, especially if you’re trying to move fast like we were. Little of it was runnable for me, but we made good time going up the hill. I’m not fit right now after all my injuries, but I’m getting better fast.
After we reached the lake, the trail flattens out for a good long run above the shore. Sadly, it gets a bit technical here, being rocky and narrow, and it was still a challenge to move quickly. There are definitely runnable spots, but for the most part it was quick-stepping and fast hiking. People with stronger ankles and more confidence and skill will have no trouble running it, but I’m not there yet.
After you round the south end of the lake there’s a river crossing. It’s shallow (at least, it’s shallow in mid October), but it’s literally bone-chillingly cold. On the way back we found a way to hop over rocks and only get our shoes a bit wet. But on the way out, we couldn’t find it. So we took off our shoes and just waded through the ankle-deep water. The stones were loose and slippery. It wasn’t ideal.
After the river, it’s another big climb over a ridge to get to the next pair of lakes, Bear Lake and Deer Lake. About 800′. Here the trail is rockier, narrower, and more overgrown. But the effort is definitely worth it. Especially because after the 2 mile mark or so, we were the only people on the trail. We heard a few campers around Lake Dorothy, but after that we didn’t see a single other soul until we were nearly all the way back. No other people from the river to our turnaround point in either direction.
So we found Bear Lake, about five miles from the trailhead, totally abandoned. There were a few scrambly portions where trees had fallen. And lots of rocky, technical trail, but there were a few good runnable stretches once we’d gotten over the ridge. And they lead us to this:
There’s even a little beach area that, if it were July, would be a great place to swim. Though I bet in July we wouldn’t be the only people there. From the trail, it’s not super clear where Bear Lake ends and Deer Lake starts. But as you head down some steep, overgrown switchbacks you come to Lake Snoqualmie.
At this point, we’d gone 6.7 miles, and it wasn’t clear if there was going to be a place where the trees opened up to a good view. But we could tell it wouldn’t be soon. We’d planned to do about 13 miles and 2800′, and we were approaching 7 miles and had done 2000′ already. And we had at least an 800′ climb to get back out of the valley that Lake Snoqualmie is in. So we turned around.
This was a great trip that ended up being at least as much hike as run, but it was a good workout and we enjoyed the scenery and solitude. There were lots of ripe blueberries and we saw a bunch of birds. No ground animals, though we did see some black bear scat. It’s a little late for wildflowers, and the rest here is mostly evergreen, but we saw lots of fall colors on the drive home.
And it was magnificent being out truly alone in some deep wilderness. The trail needs some work after Deer Lake. It’s overgrown. There were some bugs and we must’ve destroyed ten million spiderwebs. If anyone wanted to organize a trail-work party to head out to the switchbacks and descent from Deer Lake to Lake Snoqualmie, they could really use some machete time.
So if you’re looking for a nice half-marathon distance with 3000′ of gain and not too many people? Lake Dorothy trailhead is a great option. And the reward is this: