December is here, and it’s time to either embrace winter hiking or stick to the lowlands until spring. The Central Cascades weather is usually not consistent—there could be mild days where some elevation gain is snow-free, and if not, be ready with some microspikes. If the weather is cooperating, the Ira Spring trail to Mason Lake represents the absolute best of Pacific Northwest hiking.
Fittingly, the trail is named for the great Ira Spring, famed Northwest hiker, photographer and co-founder of the Washington Trails Association (WTA), the nonprofit trails advocacy and maintenance group. (Pro tip: Always check out the recent WTA reports for current trail conditions, such as snow or impassable roads to trailheads). This trail is one of the most popular trails in the area most of the year, and with good reason—easy access from I-90, not too challenging, views for days and a secluded lake thrown in for good measure.
The trailhead is just about an hour east of Seattle, off Forest Road 9030 near exit 45. The parking lot is usually pretty full, but the colder weather will thin the crowds. The hike to the lake and back is 6.5 miles, but even turning around short of the final destination is rewarding. The trail starts off deceptively flat, winding around a foothill and under the tree canopy. A few switchbacks and you’ll meet Mason Creek, with a lovely bridge and waterfall. Continue on and after about a mile and a half, you’ll notice the trail has gotten steadily steeper—your workout will begin in earnest. Keep climbing and suddenly you’ll emerge from the trees onto a bare talus slope, where you’ll see the whole Snoqualmie Valley below and Mt. Rainier off to the south if the sky is clear. The trail is easy to follow if snow-free and the views are stunning.
You’ll reach your highest point after a few switchbacks, then it’s a short downward hike to Mason Lake, back in the trees and on the shady side of the mountain. The lake has started to freeze over at the end of November, and there are numerous spots to enjoy snacks on the sunny north side of the lake before the climb back to the summit point where you’ll backtrack down to the trailhead.
As always, be prepared—check the weather, have your ten essentials plus microspikes to slip on boots for traction. If there’s more than a dusting of snow and you’re not prepared, wait until warmer weather. It’s what Ira Spring would have wanted.
Northwest Forest Service Pass required.