Bench and Snow Lake Trail is one of the very best short hikes in Mt Rainier national park. Lush green meadows, inviting azure lakes and majestic volcano views make the picturesque Bench and Snow Lake trail a shoe-in for your Mt Rainier hiking wishlist.
The best part? It’s borderline ‘hidden gem’ territory. Compared to hiking the amazing but always busy Skyline Trail in nearby Paradise, Bench and Snow Lake is a welcome escape from the crowds.
This is a perfect trail for beginner hikers and families with younger kids in tow. It is a wildflower oasis in Summer and offers irresistible scenery for very little effort.
We’re going to explain everything you need to know about hiking Bench and Snow Lake Trail, including tips, parking and a full hike walkthrough with photos.
Let’s hit the trail!
How To Get To Bench And Snow Lake Trail In Mt Rainier National Park
Click or touch the map above to activate. Zoom in and out, move around the area and orientate yourself with the geography of Mt Rainier.
Bench and Snow Lake Trail is located on Stevens Canyon Road just 3 miles east of Paradise loop road in Mount Rainier National Park. On Google Maps or GPS, set your destination for “Bench and Snow Lake Trail”.
This is the last hiking trail in the Paradise region before turning around the tight U bend and driving down into Stevens Canyon.
Important: Steven Canyon Road closes in Winter. Check Mt Rainier live road conditions before setting off.
Here are distances and average times from major nearby cities to Spray Park Trail (with no traffic):
- Seattle – 111 miles / 2 hours 25 minutes
- Bellevue – 103 miles / 2 hours 25 minutes
- Renton – 95 miles / 2 hours 13 minutes
- Everett – 130 miles / 2 hours 50 minutes
- Tacoma – 78 miles / 1 hour 55 minutes
- Portland – 156 miles / 2 hours 55 minutes
Parking At Bench And Snow Lake Trail In Mt Rainier National Park
For a national park (and especially in Washington!), getting parked at trailheads is reasonably straight forward for many of the hikes in Mt Rainier.
However, there are exceptions and unfortunately, Bench and Snow Lake is one of those hikes it is very hard to get a trailhead parking spot.
Parking is in a roadside semi circle pullout, shaped like a half moon. There are maybe 20 spaces total with potential for another 5 at the most if everyone squeezes together.
Despite this being a quieter and lesser known trail, with only 20-25 spaces you are going to struggle to get parked here unless you hike early or late in the day during peak times at Mt Rainier (weekends and holidays). Midweek you have a much better chance of grabbing a spot any time of day.
We don’t like waiting for parking, so we began hiking Bench and Snow Lake trail at 5pm on Saturday July 24th (for reference). At least half the spaces were free at that time of day.
Important: Restrooms are NOT available at the Bench and Snow Lake trailhead. However, there is a vault toilet near Snow Lake at the end of the trail.
- Trail Distance: 2.5 miles roundtrip
- Type of Trail: Out and Back
- Trail Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
- Time Required: 2 hours
- Elevation Gain: 700 ft
- Trailhead: Bench and Snow Lake Trailhead
Top Tips For The Hike
- Track your hike using offline maps with one of the best hiking apps
- Plan to arrive early or late on weekends and holidays to get a parking spot
- The trail has a nice balance between open and covered by trees
- You can swim in both Bench and Snow Lake
- Trail runners are fine in Summer but hiking boots required in snow
- Bench and Snow Lakes Trail is NOT a dog friendly hike
- Important – At the end of July this trail is intensely buggy
- Check recent comments about conditions from fellow hikers on All Trails
Looking for hiking inspiration? Check out our popular guide to the 50 top rated hikes in the US next!
Bench And Snow Lake Trail Walkthrough
We hiked Bench and Snow Lake on a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky at the end of July. It was late afternoon into early evening and the trail was very quiet.
This hike is gorgeous between July and early October. You might see wildflowers, huckleberries or radiant fall colors depending on exactly when you visit the park.
Hiking to these lakes is not your typical trail of gaining elevation on the way out and descending back to the beginning.
This is one of those undulating up – down – up – down hikes, which means you are climbing short steep sections at regular intervals throughout the trail.
Okay, let’s hike to Bench and Snow Lake!
Begin With A Brisk Uphill Section
Straight out of the parking lot, you start by gaining elevation on a gradual slope with improvised steps built in to prevent erosion.
The path levels out and you will cut through a sea of gorgeous green meadows, shrubbery and small trees. Underfoot the trail turns to bouncy soft packed dirt and you can take a welcome break from the sun on a hot day.
Bench Lake Overlook
After just 0.5 miles you will reach a small rocky ledge which opens up elevated views over the smaller northwest part of Bench Lake. It might not look like much from here but it is larger than it appears and it has an incredibly photogenic secret up its sleeve.
Bench Lake is so named because it sits on a bench like shelf of land right near a sharp drop off in the topography nearby.
Take The Steep Trail To Bench Lake
A further 0.25 miles along and now at a total of 0.75 miles hiked, you will reach a fork in the path. Right continues to Snow Lake and you will shortly take that path. But first, take the left and carefully climb down the narrow and steep path.
This short trail leading down to Bench Lake is steep and can be a little tricky to navigate. Shrubs and bushes protrude out into the path so watch your eyes.
You can relax on a beach-like area once you reach Bench Lake but the best place to go is directly to the right so you are on the south side of the lake.
If you have a clear and calm day, you can get a pristine reflection shot of Mt Rainier in Bench Lake to rival that of nearby Inspiration Lake.
The reason we haven’t included that very photograph is two fold:
- It wasn’t perfectly calm and still, so ripples in the water meant the reflection wasn’t glass-like.
- And more pertinently, the bugs here were unbearable to a point where we had to run to escape them!
Continue The Hike To Snow Lake
No amount of bug spray was saving us on this hike at the end of July but hopefully you can avoid the worst of the bugs at Bench Lake. It helps to look at recent comments on All Trails to see other hikers warnings about bugs.
You have to climb back up the steep bank you went down to Bench Lake. There are no other routes up to the main trail. Once back, take a left toward Snow Lake.
A further 0.25 miles hiking through more meadows and up more thigh burning steep dusty banks with steps and roots sticking out leads you to a second fork.
- Left is a toilet and Snow Lake camp which hosts two campers per night with permits.
- Right leads you to an overlook rock for Snow Lake and further beyond to a smaller body of water.
No steep spur trails are required to stand at the Snow Lake overlook on its southwest side. We keep talking about bugs (and you might not suffer from any) but they were really bad again at Snow Lake.
There were 2 or 3 hikers or campers swimming in Snow Lake when we reached the waters edge. But we quickly made tracks for the end of the trail to escape being eaten alive.
Bench Lake is more attractive than Snow Lake, particularly if you can get the pristine reflection shot. By the time you reach Snow Lake you have hiked 1 mile.
Walk a further 0.25 miles from Snow Lake until you reach one final small body of shallow water at the base of a towering cliff. You will notice a sign stating ‘end of maintained trail’ at 1.25 miles.
Follow the ridge along until you see a ‘horn’ made of rocks and you have found Unicorn Peak topping out at 6,972 ft elevation.
You can walk around this area but take care if climbing the rocky talus slope and be considerate of vulnerable vegetation. There is a climbers route up the talus slope leading to those peaks on the Tatoosh Range if you are feeling adventurous!
Look For Mt Rainier On The Return Journey
The beauty of hiking Bench and Snow Lake is being treated to dozens of amazing Mt Rainier views the entire way back to the parking lot.
Remember you still have around 250 ft of undulating elevation gain on the return leg. Those Mt Rainier views certainly go a long way to help recover from the burn!
For such a short trail, this hike packs a punch of amazing scenery. We only really appreciated how gorgeous this part of the park is when we were walking back to the car.
We were maybe a week too early for peak wildflower season on the Bench and Snow Lake Trail but just the emerald green vegetation alone was attractive enough for us.
Wildflowers Along Bench And Snow Lake Trail
We did get lucky with this one small section of trail with beautifully vibrant pink / purple wildflowers bursting out of the meadow with Mt Rainier dominating the distant skyline.
If you can time it for peak wildflowers or fall foliage colors, this is one of the best effort to reward ratio hikes in all of Mt Rainier national park.
Bench And Snow Lake Trail Pros and Cons
- Surprisingly quiet escape from crowds
- Stunning in wildflower season and fall
- Swim in Bench or Snow Lake
- Close to main tourist area Paradise
- Bugs are relentless end of July start of August
- Spur trail down to Bench Lake is tricky
- Parking can be a problem on weekends and holidays
More Day Hikes In Mt Rainier
- Paradise – Skyline Loop Trail
- Mowich Lake – Tolmie Peak Trail
- Mowich Lake – Spray Park Trail
- Sunrise – Mt Fremont Lookout Trail
- Chinook Pass – Naches Peak Loop Trail
Plan your entire Mt Rainier hiking itinerary with our comprehensive list of the 23 best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
More Day Hikes In Washington
- Leavenworth – The Enchantments Trail
- Granite Falls – Lake 22 Trail
- North Bend – Rattlesnake Ledge Trail
- Issaquah – Poo Poo Point Trail
We hope this day hiking guide to the tranquil Bench and Snow Lake Trail helps with planning your visit to Mt Rainier National Park!
Please let us know if you have any questions about the Bench and Snow Lake Trail hike, Mt Rainier National Park or your visit to Washington in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Their work has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications.