Our Hiking Time: 4h 30m
Total Ascent: 330ft
Highest Point: 1900ft
Total Distance: 6.5 miles
Location: N 47° 37.6080, W 121° 34.9200
Required Permit: Hancock Recreation Pass
We’ve yet to really explore the North Fork Snoqualmie River Valley. Much of our hesitation had to do with road closures that block access to some of the more interesting hikes. But, when we learned that the Sunday Creek Bridge was scheduled to re-open this summer, we decided to check out one of the westernmost lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area: Sunday Lake.
The much lamented and often-maligned Sunday Lake Trail #1000 could be more of a stroll than a hike – with little elevation gain on the three-mile trek to the lakeshore, it would be perfect for fledgling hikers or a family outing. Sadly, this is not the case. A number of factors work to make this trail unexpectedly more difficult to find and successfully hike, putting it into a category best reserved for more experienced hikers.
The first challenge is finding the unmarked trailhead, about 14 rough miles down Forest Road #57. Start looking to the right for a gate labeled “Gate 30,” about a mile after you cross Sunday Creek. Once you’ve found an unobtrusive place to wedge your vehicle, start down the brush-lined logging road. Within a mile, your next challenge appears – a marsh has long since reclaimed the road. Over the years, volunteers and resourceful hikers have laid down logs, rocks, and hunks of wood to help with the crossing. The water level and number of pestering insects vary throughout the year, but expect a little of both as you tip-toe through the muck.
Once past the swamp, follow the trail past clear-cuts and into the sheltering forest winding beneath rocky cliffs. At just over a mile there is a junction leading up to Loch Katrine to the right, but it is so overgrown you’ll have no trouble staying to the left to Sunday Creek. The creek can be the most difficult obstacle on this hike. Floods have long since washed away the bridge and portions of the trail along the riverside. Depending on the time of year, the crossing may be relatively easy, or may require a thigh-deep fording. With snowmelt swelling the creek, we spent some time looking for the best place to cross safely and only with a bit of luck did we avoid a plunge.
Once across, you’ll need to find the roadbed again. Depending on where you chose to cross, this could require some backtracking. The trail is tagged through the washout, making it relatively easy to find. However, when in doubt, follow the creek. Hike past the rusting remains of logging activity through the forest as it slowly changes into the older growth associated with the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Blowdowns and overgrowth are more of an issue along this final leg to the lake, though it is clear a few dedicated individuals are waging a private war against the encroaching forest. After three miles the first indications of the lake appear, the first marshy sections of what will eventually become Sunday Lake. As you hike along the lakeshore, the trail continues to worsen, becoming more rocky and narrow with no real access to the water. In better days, the trail continued up to Mowitch and Honey Lakes, but the old bootpath is now extremely overgrown and difficult to follow. Sunday Lake’s tree-covered shores make a full view of the landscape difficult, but we found the best bet to be at the base of the lake, where the marshes yield to open water. From here logs offer a nice spot to have a snack and take in Goat Mountain and the waterfalls streaming off it. Sunday Lake is a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are nice stretches of old growth forest, a healthy dose of adventure, and plenty of quiet solitude. On the other hand, it’s a great deal of effort for a marshy lake. Perhaps in combination with Lake Phillipa or Loch Katrine this would be a more satisfying hike, but as it stands, Sunday Lake is difficult destination to recommend. Then again, the lake is reported to be a good place to fish, and could be a decent base camp for exploring nearby peaks and lakes. To get there, take I-90 to exit #31, taking a left into North Bend. After the outlet malls, take a right on North Bend Way and an almost immediate left onto Ballarat Street. After four miles the road splits, veer left onto the North Fork County Road (Forest Road #57). Continue a little over 14.5 miles to Road #5720 and Gate 30. -Nathan
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