Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls compete for attention on this trail. Either would be a worthy destination by themselves and combined they are a great day on the trail.
From the parking lot, where a Northwest Forest Pass is required, the trail follows an old road bordered by towering salmonberry bushes and deciduous trees. The berries ripen in early to mid June and the best ones are found high above your head.
Once the trail leaves the old road bed it enters a dense forest and begins climbing. At 1.7 miles a signed trail to the right leads up to Bridal Veil Falls. It's a half-mile up to the falls, much of it climbing steeply up stairs. The trail splits near the falls forming a loop. Stay low and to the left to get the big view of the falls, then climb the stairs along the water for a more personal and often soaking visit. Exercise caution near the water, especially with children. The creek can sweep hikers off their feet and down the hill.
Back on the main trail to Serene Lake the route crosses the creek then begins the final climb. It's a steady ascent using stairs, roots, and rocks for the final 1.5 miles gaining 1,300 feet.
Keep your eyes open for patches of bunchberry and other shade-loving flowers, especially as you leave the dense forest for the sun-dappled traverse to the ridge.
Once the trail crosses into the basin it's hard not to run down the hill to the lake, but stick to the trail. In an area as popular as Lake Serene it's important to practice the principles of Leave No Trace and good wilderness etiquette. Across the water the cliffs of Mt. Index rise 3,000 feet straight up and snow is piled at the base after a winter full of avalanches.
Follow the trail along the shore to a huge rock perfect for a seat while you contemplate the serenity of nature.
The Lake Serene trail is immensely popular resulting in scarce parking on nice days. Arrive early to miss the crowds on the way up, but practice good trail etiquette and yield to climbers as you descend.
WTA Pro Tip: Round trip to Lake Serene only is 7.2 miles. If you decide to include the detour to Bridal Veil Falls, do so on the way to the lake. Don't save it for the return as it's too easy to skip the steep climb when the trailhead is so close.