Mason Lake offers worthy payoff for strenuous hike

July 16, 2013

By Ari Cetron

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness area covers 390,000 acres of pine-shrouded mountains dotted with lakes tucked away in bowl-shaped valleys in the North Cascades. While much of the area is difficult to access, Mason Lake is in King County, and reachable in a somewhat challenging day hike along the Ira Spring Trail.

The hike is about 3 miles each way, with an elevation gain of about 2,500 feet. It starts easily enough — a wide trail shaded by leafy trees and a fairly gradual incline.

By Susie Kim The first look at Mason Lake appears as hikers come up from just below the water level.

By Susie Kim
The first look at Mason Lake appears as hikers come up from just below the water level.

After the first half-mile or so, a small waterfall uphill creates a stream (which makes its way to the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River) that cuts across the trail.

There’s no formal bridge here, just a few branches thrown across the rocky ford. They can be a bit slippery, but the path is wide enough and far enough from the edge that it doesn’t really feel dangerous.

Someone with a rugged stroller might be able to make it this far, but they’d likely need to turn back here.

As the trail keeps winding up, peek-a-boo views of the mountains, covered in trees and ribbons of snow, give way to a sweeping vista. The freeway at this point can’t be seen, and the only sounds, beyond other hikers, come from songbirds and woodland creatures.

The trail gets steeper here, and will even challenge someone who spent a good part of the winter on the elliptical machine. While the trail is wide enough to accommodate water breaks, flat stretches are few — it’s uphill all the way.

Sheer, craggy granite walls hidden behind trees just off the trail hint at the landscape to come.

After rising above the tree line, fields of boulders the size of household appliances give an almost post-apocalyptic feel as they line either side of the trail, which narrows considerably. Early summer wildflowers punctuate the gray of the boulder fields with splashes of white, orange and blue. The trail itself is a bit rocky here, and many hikers make good use of poles to help stabilize themselves.

Follow the sign and stay left when the trail splits to push on to Mason Lake.

At the top of a ridge, stop to take another look at the tree and snow-covered mountains in the distance, and then notice the small sign marking the edge of the Alpine Lakes area.

The lake is close now. A series of switchbacks leads down it. The ground here can be muddy, and large patches of snow are still lurking in shady spots, making some stretches of the trail fairly slick.

The trail will take hikers below lake level and then up again, so the first glimpse of the water comes at eye level as your head clears the lake’s edge.

The lake is beautiful, and surrounded by snow-dusted mountains and pine trees, certainly earning the Alpine moniker.

The trail continues around the deep, clear water. There are reportedly fish lurking in its depths. While the water is too cold to really consider taking a dip at this time of year, it might be refreshing on a hotter day.

Take a break, enjoy the view and then enjoy the trip back, downhill this time.


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