Humble Sand Lake and its neighboring Deer Lake, provide snowshoers and backcountry skiers a wintry getaway along the Pacific Crest Trail a short distance away from the bustle of the White Pass ski resort and groomed ski trails.
The route to Sand Lake begins where the Pacific Crest Trail meets Highway 12 east of White Pass, crosses through the White Pass Nordic area and heads northwest on a gentle ascent for a 5.6 mile round trip jaunt. With the exception of a recent snow event, there will likely be an established route to follow, making this outing perfect for a variety of experience levels.
From the parking area on Highway 12, climb up and over the berm just west of the National Forest Sign, the trail appears in a few hundred feet, crosses a bridge over the marshy area to the right of Leech Lake and heads straight to meet the blue-diamond sign for the Pacific Crest Trail in 0.25 miles. Make sure to respect the groomed trails by staying on the outside and off the ski tracks.
From here, the route heads north on soft gentle switchbacks through dense forest, crossing one more groomed track. The William O. Douglas Wilderness boundary appears at 1.25 miles and the route takes a more northwesterly direction towards Deer Lake. You may see tracks down to the right on the Dark Meadows Trail towards Dog Lake but you will stay left above the small creek drainage.
At 1.75 miles, an open clearing through the trees to the left may tempt you to think you have arrived at Deer Lake. As fun as those snow drifts are, you still have a short distance to go.
The forest unfolds to present a large meadow on the right at 2.25 miles and 5200 feet. You can circumvent the meadow on the left and dip by Deer lake first in 0.2 miles or you can cross the wide snowfield and meet the route on the other side to head north up to Sand Lake. Beginner snowshoers will find Deer Lake a rewarding turnaround point.
Looking for a small break in the trees across the meadow at 2.5 miles, expect deeper snow and navigation as fewer people continue past Deer Lake and the trail is sometimes lost here. After weaving through the forest, another clearing opens up on the right at 2.7 miles. You will skirt it to the left and pass through the trees to quickly arrive at the wedge shaped Sand Lake.
The lakeshore sits along the Pacific Crest Trail at 5300 feet and 2.8 miles from Highway 12. You can stop here or continue a bit further around to the left and find a sunny snow drift to enjoy lunch. Guard your snacks well; eager robber jays will nosedive from the frosted boughs above to nab exposed treats or capture dropped crumbs.
Plan 3-4 hours for your adventure, taking water and essentials. The lakeshore can be busy on the weekends but a mid-week trek offers solitude. If you didn’t stop at the larger Deer Lake on the way in, it is a worthy detour on your return trip.