Lake Serene Hike
This is not a hike I would recommend to someone for whom solitude is important. However, it is beautiful and worth the trip if you can venture out midweek and are ok with encountering quite a few other hikers on the way. The hike is particularly crowded early in the season because it is one of the first in the region to lose snowpack, when gaggles of cabin-fevered Northwesterners are eager to get out into the woods. So, visiting later in the summer might be helpful in avoiding some of the crowds.
All of that said, this trail is busy for a reason. It is mostly shaded, a boon on hot summer days, and is still light and open throughout. Look up to grab a view of Mount Index from the parking lot before starting out on the trail. The hike starts out on an old overgrown road bed with very little incline, surrounded by salmonberry bushes. The trail starts to climb a bit once you leave the wide road bed for a traditional hiking trail surrounded by evergreen trees. In just under 2 miles, you have the option to take a small 0.5 mile detour to Bridal Veil Falls. I have yet to make this excursion, but it is a popular and beautiful spot from what I hear.
Once you pass the offshoot to Bridal Veil Falls, you cross a somewhat large creek (depending on the season). When I visited this year, I had to pick Newton up and slowly make my way across, but during years with less snowpack I found the crossing to be easy. Upon crossing the creek, you are greeted with a more serious climb. Over the next 1.5 miles, you will gain about 1,300 feet of elevation. After this point, it feels as though the stairs are made up entirely of stairs and switchbacks.
The steepness does end, and the half mile or so is nearly flat. The final section opens up into a section with no tree cover, which offers excellent views of the surrounding mountains and a peak at Mount Index. Enter a forested section one more time and make your way down to Lake Serene. A trail crosses a bridge and wraps around part of the lake to a large rock, commonly referred to as Lunch Rock, which is great for sun-basking and, of course, lunching. The lake is beautiful, surrounded by countless waterfalls and towered over by Mount Index. If you come early in the year, it’s especially fun to catch the lake when it’s partially or completely covered in ice.
Just after crossing the bridge near the lake, there is an option to branch off to the right and follow a smaller trail to an overlook with some more views of the area. When I visited in April of this year, the trail to the lookout was obscured by blowdowns and snow. In favor of safety and dry feet, I gave up on that route this time, choosing to save the view for another visit when the trail is maybe more clear.
Again, this is an incredibly popular hike, so it can be difficult to find a quiet spot without too many other people around. I’ve managed it once, but I have come to learn that the sounds of other humans are just a part of a Lake Serene venture.
The Washington Trails Association lists this hike as 7.2 miles round trip (8.2 miles including Bridal Veil Falls). I calculated it as closer to 8.5 miles without the Falls detour, and have heard similar from other hikers. This is a truly wonderful hike, and worth battling the crowds. Even on crowded days, I find that there are stretches of trail on which I can find some solitude. And almost everyone I meet when hiking is happy and friendly, making for an always enjoyable trip.
Follow US Highway 2 east from Everett. Drive through the small town of Gold Bar and continue another 7 miles, then turn right on Mount Index Road near milepost 35. Drive for about a half mile on the gravel road, keeping right at the fork, until you reach the parking lot.
Day Hiking Gear
These are some of my favorite gear items for day hiking:
- Day Pack – My Osprey day pack is the perfect size to fit all my snacks and hiking accessories and small enough to be light and unobtrusive, even for someone short like me
- Water Filter – A little bulkier than some other options, my Katadyn filter is still by far my favorite of any that I’ve used
- Sunscreen – Badger is free of toxic chemicals like oxybenzone, instead relying on zinc as a safe physical barrier to protect your skin from sunburn
- Knife – A good knife is an absolute must-have on day hikes and longer backpacking trips
- Whistle – One of the simplest and more important safety tools for hiking
- Water Bottle – I like to have a traditional water bottle and a bladder hydration system to keep in my pack to drink while walking
- Bug Repellent (non-toxic) – For particularly buggy hikes, it’s nice to have some repellent to prevent bites from mosquitos and flies
In addition to being important for nourishment, tasty hiking snacks are so rewarding at the end of a tough hike. For summits, I prefer treats that include chocolate – these are some of my favorites:
- Peanut Butter Cups – Theo makes delicious peanut butter cups that are free of palm oil.
- Mint Coconut Butter Cups – Eating evolved coconut butter cups are a great alternative to peanut butter if you don’t tolerate or prefer not to eat peanuts. Mint is by far my favorite flavor.
- Chocolate Covered Banana Bites – I recently learned that these are made with mis-shapen bananas that were slated for disposal, which makes my love for them even stronger.
- Vegan Chocolate-Covered Peanuts – These candies are an awesome vegan alternative to M&M’s. They taste surprisingly similar and are free of dairy and artificial colors.