It wasn’t the first time I found myself driving south on highway 5 to Olympic National Forest for a particular hike. Back in January, I had an ill-fated adventure in an attempt to visit this exact place: Lower Lena Lake.
If I can’t be on top of a mountain with sweeping views, a lake is a close second for me. And sometimes might come in first place. Lakes in the winter are often serene and peaceful. In summers, an alpine remind me of the freezing dives into lakes I would take with my dad in Tuolumne Meadows, Kings Canyon, and other California parks. They’re inviting in all seasons, albeit for different reasons. I was eager to get to a lake again after going several months without a lake hike.
But I was questioning myself on the road. Though I had checked the weather for the week (in the 30s at night and 50s during the day with zero snow forecasted), and read recent trail reports (no snow on the road, and tiny bits of snow on the trail), I was still feeling uneasy and uncertain. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the bad memories of driving in snow without chains or snow tires, or if it was something else.
I’ve been staying at my sister’s house to help take care of her young children while her husband is abroad helping with a family emergency. I’ve been doing day care drop offs and pick ups and dinner and play time with the kids in the meantime. The days were good, but long. I panicked momentarily, feeling a bit badly about leaving my sister alone with her kids so I could go enjoy my day, but ultimately after a quick conversation with her from the roadside, decided to continue to the hike.
And I’m so glad I did! Lower Lena Lake was stunning.
Lower Lena Lake Trail Review
- Hiked: late March
- Distance from Seattle: 2 hrs 15 min
- Accessibility: Entirely highway and paved road
- Length: 7.2 miles round trip
- Difficulty: 3/10
- Crowds: 5/10
- Trail views: 5/10
- Water features: 7/10
- Overall: 8/10
Lena Lake Hike Tips
- You’ll need the Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead, which is valid for 1 year and costs $30. The parking area is directly off the road on either side of the street. There are probably 50 or so spaces. It was decently occupied, with maybe 75% of the spots taken by the time I arrived at 9:30 on a Saturday in March. For higher seasons, you might want to arrive earlier.
- Sometimes, the trail can be flooded or covered in snow. Be sure to read recent trail reports on AllTrails and the Washington Trails Association before you head out. Previously, I couldn’t make it to the trail head due to snow on the road, so it’s a good idea to look into road conditions, too.
- I didn’t have cell service once on the forest road, so be sure to download or screenshot any information you need prior to turning off the freeway.
- With more planning (and weather permitting) there are a lot of other cool places in the same general area that could be explored in the same day. I’d personally like to check out Lake Cushman next time I’m over there!
- If you’re up for it, you can continue on to Upper Lena Lake for a more strenuous, two-lake day. Know that you can’t bring pets to Upper Lena, though, because it’s within the boundaries of Olympic National Park. As always, check weather and trail conditions beforehand.
Though the forecast was purely cloudy, as I approached the trailhead the sun was peaking through the trees and I got a glimmer of hope that it would actually be a sunny day. And it was! I couldn’t believe my luck.
The trail itself is awesome. Mossy, forested, and peaceful, the trail has a gradual incline that never feels like you’re pushing too hard, but also gives you a bit of a workout.
The Lena Lake trail also has some water crossings. You can hear the water long before you see it. The first bridge was actually over a dry gully.
I adored this hike. At a brisk pace (stopping for photos and slowing for videos), I made it from my car to the lake in 1 hour and 15 minutes. Amazing pay off for the amount of work! I would definitely come back to this lake again.
While the drive is a bit of a commitment from Seattle, Lena Lake was definitely worth the time and effort. Don’t miss this gorgeous area!