Bench and Snow Lakes

Bench and Snow Lakes

Bench Lake

“Mom, why do they call it ‘Bench’ Lake?”  Josiah queried as we hoofed along the trail to Bench and Snow Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park.  Geographically, a “bench” is “a terrace along the bank of a body of water,” or “a level, narrow, high area.”

Sapphire ovals set between jade green hills and autumnal-ambered foliage, Bench and Snow Lakes are a “must-see” once the trails have melted out.  Yea verily, we’ve moseyed around some mighty fine alpine lakes in our mountain-top meanderings, but perhaps none as fine as these twin gems.

The 2.6 mile RT hike to both starts on the south side of Stevens Canyon Road, 1.5 miles beyond Reflection Lakes and features enough ups and downs to thrill any step-aerobicizer.  A succession of gradual ups and down, the trail crosses a series of law ridges in the shadow of Mount Rainier.  You climb quickly from the trailhead, sometimes on boardwalk, descend the far side and level out onto “The Bench,” a broad plain hosting to-die-for-views of the Mountain.

If you can tear your eyes off Rainier for a moment, focus on the mountain meadows.  They’re in a class by themselves.  Blazing in autumnal garb, every huckleberry bush, clump of bear grass, vine maple and deciduous leaf in sight looks like someone just set it on fire.

At about 0.7 miles, a short spur offers a steep descent to Bench Lake and stunning images of Mount Rainier.  Climbing back up and continuing on, the trail skirts more meadows, crosses Unicorn Creek and empties out onto the shores of Snow Lake, whose turquoise waters offer an Academy Award-winning performance of Most Perfect Mirror Image of Rainier. It’s hard to tell where water stops and sky starts.

Snow Lake – where does the water stop and the sky start?

Try this hike late in the day when the Mountain’s draped with sunset.  The solitude and scenery are well worth the stair-stepping return trip up “The Bench’s” back.


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