This is another choice day hike which takes you from the Sol Duc Falls trail head up into the Seven Lake Basin. The trail follows the course of the stream, so you get lots of views of the rapids and water falls, then it opens out at Deer Lake itself, a gem of a lake set in a mountain basin. You can stop here, walk around the lake, or, if snow conditions permit, continue on to a circuit of the entire Seven Lakes Basin, something we have not yet done. The trail is an arduous climb, but the setting is stupendous and the lake worth every footstep.
Take route 101 west past Lake Crescent and watch for the left turn as you ascend the steep hill after the lake. Be careful, the turn can kind of sneak up on you. Take the turn and head to the end of the road. It might be a good idea to stop at the resort which is near the end of the road to use a real bathroom and check out local conditions. You might also want to stop by here after the hike for a soak in the hot springs.
Starting from the Sol Duc Falls trailhead, head into the rain forest towards Sol Duc Falls. Cross the bridge at the falls and enjoy the roaring blue-green water as it blasts downstream beneath you. Then head right, following the stream a bit. So far, the trail is easy going, but the climbing starts just after the Lover's Lane Trail forks off, perhaps a half mile after the falls. Now the going gets rougher and you will be glad you wore proper hiking shoes and taken your hiking sticks, because there are lots of awkwardly placed rocks underfoot.
The trail is pretty enough here, but it starts being something special when you reach the canyon bridge. Here you meet the stream that will be your companion for the climb, and here you can get a feel for the climb out of the Sol Duc Valley you are undertaking. From here on, you will never be that far from the stream with its wild rapids, waterfalls and comforting roar. Up the rocky switchbacks, through the evergreen forests and up into a new world you go. Mind you, this trail can be hard going, but the 1500' climb is worth it.
We were once struggling with the meaning of our existence as we climbed this trail, rock strewn and cougar infested, but then we ran into a twelve year old girl carrying a pack that probably weighed as much as she did. She was barreling along and we took heart. After all, we weren't going to let an overburdened twelve year old make us look like fogies. But, even she started to falter. "Where is this lake anyway?", she asked existentially. But by now, we were at 1400', so it was we, older and wiser, gasping and wheezing who offered HER hope. We had a digital altimeter and had checked the guidebooks, so we reassured her that there were only another hundred feet to climb.
Amazingly, the guidebook had been correct and the altimeter not far from the mark. We were indeed soon at the lake. There it was in alpine splendor, surrounded by snow, even late in the summer. It was gorgeous. It was breathtaking, that is, if we had had any breath left. We had to come back, and we have many times. On our last visit it was surrounded by wildflowers and we took the walk around the lake which leads through forest and swamp, offering a variety of views to enjoy and habitats to explore.
If you still have any strength, you might want to continue onward. Follow the trail, about 1/.4 the way around the lake, that leads on to the High Divide Trail (not towards Mink Lake). This ascends rapidly, but with better footing, than the original climb to Deer Lake. After you have climbed another 500' or so, you will start seeing the potholes, a series of ice melt lakes, in the most amazing settings.