Chances are, if you’ve crossed from western Washington to Eastern Washington, you’ve driven past Lake Keechelus. I-90 is on the shores of Lake Keechelus, and in summer is a barren pond littered with tree stumps everywhere. But in winter?
In winter, Lake Keechelus is a winter playground! There is a sno-park just off the freeway that typically is groomed enough for most vehicles to access. Most people were there to sled with little ones, but there is also ample snowshoe and cross-country ski trails there as well. As soon as you park and head towards the lake, take care to note the rails for the cross-country skiers and stay off of them.
After we parked and hit the (warm and clean) bathrooms, we set foot on the trail. Literally, as there was all compact snow and not powder at the beginning so no need for even spikes. Once we got away from the sledders, we strapped in for the loudest snowshoe of our lives. The ‘Cascade Concrete’ was in full flush, with each step bringing a crunch that disturbed the placid scenery (and judging from the glares, disturbed some skiers too).
After a flat few hundred yards, a snowshoe-only spur splits from the ski trail. We followed that for only a little longer, through what must be the summer parking area. The only true hill of the trail was after the sign here, to get down to the best viewpoint of the lake. While there were clear signs for the trail to continue away from the lake to the right, we came for the lake and certainly wanted to explore it!
The lake was the highlight of the trip, as the name implies. and was only about a mile from where we parked. We ran all around this open area, even finding some nice, silent powder along the shores. Do take care not to advance too close to the rim of the lake on a slope though–avalanche conditions aren’t just for high in the mountains, as evidenced by this cornice on the left. There is even a picnic bench here, although it is fully exposed to the elements and might be better suited for summer.
We played around for awhile, continuing along the lake carefully. Noting we were only getting further from the snowshoe trail from before the lake, we attempted to off-road it back on the original trail, with fluctuating success.
Once you re-join the ‘main’ trail, the WTA directions say you are supposed to continue until you see an avalanche chute around two miles in from the trailhead (without detours) as an obvious stopping point. We planned on waiting until then to stop for food and snacks, but hanger was setting in for me. We passed overpasses and even a pit toilet hut for skiers, but saw no chute. While I had turned on my distance tracker, I knew all of our exploring around the lake would throw it off. We kept going “just one more corner” or seeing if we recognized any skiers returning, to no avail. Unbeknownst to us, the trail we were on continued a whopping 18 miles to the Easton trailhead! We finally stopped at the three-mile mark for some food and rest. While my feet were dry, that was one cold break, even with throwing on extra layers.
We headed back briskly in an attempt to warm up. The walk back was as crunchy as it was in. With snow predicted to start falling in the pass, we kept up the pace as were were hoping to stop at Dru Bru on the way home (anything to draw out missing the Super Bowl at home!). As our total distance was over 5.5 miles, we clearly missed the “obvious” stopping point. I’d advise keeping an eye on distance traveled and choosing your own length for this trek. We used snowshoes which prevented us from postholing, but had no need for poles. Always check conditions and recent trip reports for this trail.
Distance: Choose your own adventure, WTA advises turning around after 2.0 miles for a 4.0 round-trip trek.
Elevation: 200 feet
Parking: If in winter, a Sno-Park Pass is required (either an annual one for a one-day pass combined with a Discover Pass)
Bathrooms: Heated flush bathrooms at the trailhead, one pit toilet along the trail.
Best Beer Bet: Dru Bru at Snoqualmie Pass, but parking might be difficult.