It’s peak hiking season, so it’s always a challenge to find hikes that don’t seem like a parade route to the top. Avoid the crowds by exploring some of the great hikes in the Stevens Pass area, which doesn’t get the number of hikers you’ll see on I-90 corridor hikes. This 5.5-mile hike is a perfect moderate hike and a good excuse to stretch your legs on the way to Leavenworth for some Bavarian-themed summer fun.
Merritt Lake trailhead is just east of the Stevens Pass summit, about 12 miles past the ski area. You’ll look for Forest Service Road 657 (FS 657) and crawl along it for a mile and a half. This road is like many forest service roads—unpaved and bumpy, so leave your low-slung Ferrari at home. But once in the lot, you’ll see you won’t be hiking with the masses, even on a summer Saturday. You’ll see other people, but it won’t be a cattle trail.
Another advantage of an August hike to Merritt Lake: The trees! You’re often in the shade of a thick forest, which is a boon when you’re on the east side of the Cascades in summer. There is a little noise from Highway 2 for the first part of the hike, but then you’re out of it, just as the elevation levels off. If you turn around and look back, you’ll see nice views of the valley below, which has been carved by Mahar Creek. Looking up, you’ll see Nason Ridge. Lake Wenatchee lies just on the other side—you’ll intersect the trail to Nason Ridge as you climb. August is the perfect time to pick some huckleberries along the trail as you make the final, somewhat flat, push to the lake. Merritt Lake is a classic Central Cascades alpine lake, with clear still waters, ringed by jutting rocky peaks. There is a lovely place for a rest and lunch picnic before the hike down.
Intrepid hikers can also add to the hike by continuing on to Lost Lake. Be prepared for a climb! Or just find your way back to the car and head east to Leavenworth for some post-hike refreshments.