Surprise Lake resides a short distance southwest of Stevens Pass, just inside the border of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area. The snowshoe and crossing-country skiing route more or less follows the same trail that accesses Surprise Lake in the summer, winding through a narrow creek valley filled with ancient forests and abundant wildlife. Once you reach the basin (which also houses neighboring Glacier Lake), the peaceful lakeside dishes up outstanding wintry vistas of surrounding Surprise, Thunder and Spark Plug Mountains.
After parking at the winter trailhead near the well-attended section of railroad, snowshoe or ski your way west into the woods while keeping parallel to the railroad tracks. The official trailhead will appear in a little under 0.25 miles near where Surprise Creek flows through a tunnel underneath the railroad. In another 0.5 miles the trees become remarkably larger, indicating your entrance into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Wind along the creek bank over the next 3 miles while enjoying intermittent views of avalanche slopes and powdery rock gardens as the valley walls gradually tighten and begin to force the route to cross the creek when convenient.
Some choose to call it a day here, as the creek bed can be very deep during seasons of high snowfall. The final mile becomes much more demanding as you make short switchbacks up to the mouth of the lake basin. Hang in there for another undulating 0.25 miles before popping out of the forest at the northern tip of Surprise Lake. Here you can explore the east shore, or opt to hang left and continue around the hill into the meadows to join the Pacific Crest Trail route to Glacier Lake (a 1 mile, 300-foot elevation gain).
Note: Always stay cautious of creek holes and unstable snow while traveling near running water in the back-county.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.