Like most native Washingtonians, I’ve always dreamed of hiking the Colchuck Lake Trail. I mean, if I’m being honest, hiking all the trails in the Enchantments feels like a rite of passage at this point and this gal has something to prove.
But the one thing you learn quickly about living in the Pacific Northwest is that there’s always 20 new hikes you need to check out, one more beautiful than the next.
As such, I kept putting off hiking the Colchuck Lake trail until finally an opportunity presented itself.
My husband and I hiked this trail last July and I’m so excited to share all of the details with you today (along with tons of photos). But I’m not one for small talk, so let’s get to the good stuff!
Quick tip before we start: Remember that you + sunscreen = best friends (forever). So remember to pack it before you leave the house. Here’s the only sunscreen I use.
Colchuck Lake Trail
Here’s a quick overview of the jaw-dropping Colchuck Lake hike.
- 8.5 miles, out and back
- 2,300′ of elevation gain
- Heavily trafficked
- About 6 hours to complete
- Best hiked from April to October (we hiked July 5, 2020)
- Worth it? Let’s find out ????
Colchuck Lake Hiking Tips
Northwest Forest Pass
- A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at this trailhead. The pass can be purchased at National Forest offices, online, visitor centers, and local sporting goods stores.
Practice Leave No Trace
- If you’re unfamiliar with Leave No Trace, it’s a measure to be a good steward of the land. You can read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
- What am I, your mother? High elevation, folks – use sunscreen and apply frequently. I swear by this sunscreen (5,000+ 5-star reviews on amazon, to boot).
Parking at the Trailhead
- The parking lot is HEAVILY ticketed, so make sure to properly pay and display. Parking is $5 per vehicle/per day.
- The parking lot gets full by 9am. We arrived to the lot at 3am and it was 80% full. My best guess is that many folks use this parking lot for the Enchantments Loop.
Wilderness Permits Required
- Complete the mandatory (FREE) wilderness permit at the trailhead. Wilderness permits track usage trends and assist with search & rescue efforts.
- Wear hiking boots with good traction. Even though the trail is well maintained, exposed roots and jagged rocks are part of the hike (proof below). It’s easy to trip in the woods, so set yourself up for success by wearing proper shoes.
- These are my hiking boots, and I’d sleep in them if I could.
- Stepping on the exposed tree roots actually harms the trees and causes them to degrade over time. Step over roots whenever possible.
- Bring insect repellent during summer months and a light rain jacket regardless of the season. Learn from my misadventure with the mosquitoes – taking one for the team.
- Check trail conditions before heading out!
Hiking with Dogs
- Dogs are prohibited on the Colchuck Lake trail.
Camping at Colchuck Lake
- If you plan to camp at the top, know that you must obtain a permit between May 15 to October 31. Due to popular demand for overnight permits, a lottery is held annually.
Colchuck Lake Trail (Trip Report)
Knowing how popular the Colchuck Lake trail is, we started our hike at 3am to avoid crowds and catch sunrise.
And yes, I know that sounds crazy. But want to know something crazier? We fueled with cheese danishes. Life is too short to start every hike the right way. ????
The hike starts at the Stuart Lake trailhead and immediately takes you into a dense and beautiful forest.
With two hours before sunrise and 4.5 miles to go – we started moving at a swift clip. Since it was pitch dark during our hike up, we took photos on the way back to give you a better idea of what to expect.
P.S. Some people have asked if it’s scary to hike in the dark. It depends. I sometimes get nervous, but we’ve never had any trouble with it.
We try to make noise by talking loudly to ensure we don’t startle any forest creatures. So far, so good.
The first 1.5 miles of the hike are fairly easy and flat. If you’re hiking during day time (like a sane person) make time to admire the creek on your right.
Continue down the well marked trail and soon you’ll notice a bridge that crosses the creek. After you pass the bridge, you will begin the initial incline.
The Colchuck Lake trail is steady at first but picks up quickly.
At this point, you will continue up steep and rocky switch backs until you reach a junction for Stuart Lake (arrow point right) and Colchuck Lake (arrow point left).
Head left and and continue on the Colchuck Lake trail until you come across another log bridge. (These bridges are SO fun to cross).
The log bridge leads you directly into large boulders, which at first confused me.
Pay attention at this step — make sure to go right as soon as you get off the bridge.
Continue right until you make your way out of the boulder “garden” and prepare for a steep uphill effort as you start the second lef of the hike.
This part of the Colchuck Lake trail will take you past exposed tree roots and rocky terrain, proper shoes are essential (you can see the trail in the photo above).
The trail is very easy to follow as there’s no confusing turnoffs.
In our experience, the real challenge appears towards the end of the trail, right before you reach the lake. It’s ALL uphill.
The trail feels like one steep switchback after another. As soon as you turn a corner you assume you’ll see the lake, but not so! The final ascent to the lake is by far the most challenging. It was psyching me out!
Take it easy if you must, hiking is a marathon, not a sprint.
Since we were on a mission to catch the sunrise, we moved quicker than we normally would. As a result, we reached the top in two hours.
Yeah, we were moving! And that cheese danish was jus the revenge we needed to learn from our amateur mistake.
Reaching Colchuck Lake
When we reached Colchuck Lake, there wasn’t a soul in sight. But don’t worry, the swarms of mosquitoes made up for it.
Seriously. I’ve never seen more mosquitoes in my life. And this is coming from someone that once came home with 120 mosquito bites from Mt. Rainier National Park.
We couldn’t talk out of fear we’d breathe them in. It seems that hatching season is early July.
I hope you can learn from our mistake and pack insect repellent. I would have given up a lot of things for some insect at the summit.
Colchuck Lake Sunrise
Since we had the whole place to ourselves, we slowly watched the first morning light greet the jagged granite peaks.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on Colchuck Lake itself, the turquoise water is spellbinding!
You can see in the photos that the water was very still (and clear). It looked like glass, a perfect mirror. The reflection was nuts!
Heads up: The two peaks you see from Colchuck Lake are Dragontail Peak and Colchuck Peak, rising 3,000′ above the lake.
After we got our fill we decided to head back down. We were surprised to find hoards of hikers on the trail.
Seems like a lot of hikers start the Colchuck Lake trail shortly after 7am.
I know it’s a pain, but arriving before 7am is the way to go with the Colchuck Lake hike.
We didn’t regret our decision to wake up so early for a second, especially since we had the whole lake to ourselves – what a dream!
But the danish? Honestly, we regretted that 20 minutes in.
On our way back we were finally able to see the forest, and goodness – what a treat. The Colchuck Lake trail has so much to offer!
We returned to our car at 10am to a completely full parking lot. It’s worth saying it again: If you’re planning to hike the Colchuck Lake trail, start as early as possible.
Otherwise you will need to (a) park far away and (b) get stuck in large crowds — especially toward the top. It’s worth the extra effort to get some solitude to yourself if you can.
The Colchuck Lake trail is challenging, I won’t lie to you. But the effort is well worth the reward – without a shadow of doubt.
This has to be one of the most beautiful alpine lakes I’ve seen in all my travels, and possibly one of the best hikes I’ve done in Washington state.
Colchuck Lake is completely worth the hype! Just look at the photo below! Crystal clear glass-like reflection. Start early and you’ll be in for a treat.
Best time to visit Colchuck Lake
Colchuck Lake has a fairly short hiking season during the summer due to fierce winter conditions. I suggest visiting in August for less snow and a higher chance of getting a stunning snow-free reflection of the lake.
However, you can’t go wrong visiting in October because many of the larch trees will be bright yellow!
Our next visit is scheduled for early October to catch the fall color. We’re thinking about hiking the entire Enchantments Loop in one day!
Where is Colchuck Lake?
Location: Central Cascades, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington State.
National Forest: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Wenatchee River Ranger District.
The Colchuck Lake trail starts at the Stuart Lake trailhead, (off Forest Service Road 7601). Restrooms are available at the trailhead.
Where to stay near lake Colchuck
If you’re planning on spending the night nearby, you can either camp out or stay in the charming town of Leavenworth.
Here’s the best hotels near Colchuck Lake:
- Obertala Inn ($$$)
- Hampton Inn & Suites
- The Bavarian Lodge
From Leavenworth, WA, follow US-2 West for 0.8 mile, then turn left onto Icicle Road for about 8.5 miles. Turn left on Forest Road 7600,then stay right on Forest Road 7601. Follow Forest Road 7601 for about 4 miles to the trailhead.
Note that the road from Icicle Creek to the trailhead is closed from November thru May due to winter conditions.
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I hope you enjoy your time hiking the Colchuck Lake Trail – happy hiking, my friends!
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Until next time!