Although not very scenic, this route is a quick way to get to the summit of Wheeler Peak. This is typically a summer route. It can easily be completed before noon if you get a sunrise start. Expect crowds on the trail in summer. In winter, beware of extreme avalanche danger both on the trail to Williams Lake and on the slope to the Wheeler Peak ridge.
The key is to get to the Phoenix Grill (Bavarian) restaurant about a 1000 ft higher than the entrance to the ski area.
Follow signs to "The Bavarian" restaurant and "Williams Lake Trail." Before reaching The Bavarian (or the Phoenix grill) follow signs to a large hiker's parking lot on the right.
From the parking lot, follow the road (pedestrian only) next to the kiosk south past The Bavarian and then past the Phoenix Grill (ski season only) and onward up the road, which is now well marked with signage.
From the Phoenix (or Bavarian), head directly up the dirt road toward the Kachina #4 ski lift. Hike under the chair lifts and reach the wilderness boundry sign where the trail begins. Remember that you are on private property until reaching the wilderness sign.
Hike through the spruce forest about two miles until nearing Williams Lake. The trail splits before reaching the lake and there is a sign at the intersection. (If you reach the lake, you've gone too far.)
Follow the trail left towards Wheeler Peak as it rapidly climbs through a series of switchbacks. The trail flattens out a bit in a small, rocky meadow just above treeline. The Forest Service built a new section of switchbacks in 2011 that leads up the final ridge, over the talus field, and to the saddle between Wheeler Peak and Mt Walter.
It's almost a 2000 ft climb from Williams Lake to the ridge. Once on the ridge, go right (south) for a short hike to the summit of Wheeler Peak. Descend the same route.
Williams Lake Trail
Standard day hike gear. Snow shoes for winter or early season climbs.