Summer is an amazing time to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. Many people during this time of the year are looking for the next best hiking adventure. For residents and tourists traveling through the Washington State area and looking to hike, Colchuck Lake should be on their list along with some of our other favorites, like Lake 22 and Hurricane Ridge.
Colchuck Lake is a heavily trafficked hiking trail but for a good reason. Its deep blue water surrounded by breathtaking mountain peaks is a site that you won’t forget. Read on to learn more about the beautiful Colchuck Lake, how to get there, and what to expect on the hike.
Hiking Colchuck Lake
Colchuck Lake is a freshwater reservoir located on the western slope of the Enchantments. The Enchantments, a region within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains, is the home of several hiking trails and lakes like Colchuck. In addition, the hike to Colchuck Lake is one of only two entrances to the Enchantments.
Once hikers break through the trees and see the transparent aqua blue water, they will be blown away. If that isn’t enough, the view of Dragontails and Colchucks Peaks are icing on the cake. While the last stretch of the hike is steep and sometimes rough, the hike to Colchuck is relatively easy.
The trail is rated as difficult, but has a moderate elevation gain of 2,300 feet,. It offers epic views and it is a trip that both novice and experienced hikers can enjoy. If you are convinced and ready to grab your hiking pack, read on as we discuss the trail, how to get there, and what to expect.
Colchuck’s Hiking Trail – What To Expect
Two main hiking trails will take you to Colchuck Lake. Deciding which one to take will depend on your starting location and desired difficulty level. Whichever route you choose, the key to doing these hikes is to leave early in the morning. Both trails are heavily trafficked, and beating the crowds is the key to truly enjoying the views.
Entering Colchuck Lake From The North
From the North, hikers will be using the Colchuck Lake Trail and/or Stuart Lake trailhead. This trailhead is approximately 4.1 miles from the nearest town of Leavenworth, WA. Pro-tip: parking is $5 a day; you’ll want to bring some cash so you don’t get a fine!
From the start of this trailhead to the Stuart Lake and Colchuck Lake junction is approximately 2.5 miles. From the junction, it is 1.6 miles to Colchuck Lake. The hike begins on the Stuart Lake Trailhead #1599. The first mile of the trailhead is a gradual climb through dense forest. Towards the end of the first mile, the forests thin out, giving quick glimpses of the valley walls.
Around the mile and a half mark, the hike crosses Mountaineer Creek. The trail across the creek continues using a log bridge. Hikers can take a breather here and take in the scenery. A break here is also recommended because the start of the second mile gets rockier and a little rough – take it slow and avoid any of those hiking injuries. The trail steepens throughout the first half of the second mile before eventually flattening out as it draws closer to the first junction.
When you reach the junction, take a left to Colchuck Lake trailhead #1599.1. After a small stretch of trees, the trailhead leads to another log bridge. The trailhead for a short point consists of large boulders alongside the creek before leading to the start of a switchback.
The switchback climbs gradually at first but then gets increasingly rocky and steep. The trail at this point may be a little rough, but the views it gives of Dragonstail peak and of the valley make up for it. The final stretch is the steepest point. However, it isn’t long before the trail takes a right presenting an unforgettable view of the Colchuck Lake surrounded by the Cascade Mountains.
The trail continues about two-thirds of a mile along the shoreline of the lake. It is tougher to follow, and the fallen trees make it hard to circumnavigate. If you are just there for an epic view though, then it doesn’t get better than sitting at the top of the trailhead.
The peak of Dragonstail is imposing and almost intimidating. To the left of Dragonstail is Asgard pass, which is said to be a shortcut to the Enchantments. To the right is Colchuck Glacier, and slightly hidden behind the rocky towers is Colchuck peak, the true summit of the lake.
Entering Colchuck Lake From The South
Entering the lake from the South isn’t as ideal because it is a whopping 11 miles to the lake vs. the 4.1 miles coming from the North. Nonetheless, hikers who have done the Stuart Lake trailhead might enjoy this more challenging hike to Colchuck Lake.
The peak can be reached using Ingalls Creek Trail via US Highway 2 or Longs Pass south of Cle Elum, WA. The trail is accessed at the end of Teanaway Road. This trail is difficult and should be done with a hiking partner. With a hike this long, weather can change, and the rocky slopes aren’t the easiest for overnight camping. If you want to camp, drop into Headlight Basin to find several camps with views of Ingalls Creek valley and Mount Stuart.
The Ingalls Lake Trail is a beautiful hike that takes you through several different ecosystems. Along the way, you will be graced with views of Headlight Basin, Esmeralda Peak, and Stuart Mountain Range. The basin has vast grassy meadows filled with wildflowers and alpine larches. The trail starts to turn rocky and rough as it leads into mountain goat country. Keep your eyes peeled because you might be surprised how many goats you will see on the trip.
If you are up for it, make a stop at Ingalls Lake. It is a stunning lake surrounded by sharp mountain peaks that break off, falling into the lake. This is an excellent trailhead that offeris amazing views. The hike can be done in the summer, but going during a warm fall day is hard to beat. The trees changing colors gives a whole new dynamic to the area.
Can You Camp At Colchuck Lake?
Camping is permitted at Colchuck Lake, and hikers will find campsites by Asgard Pass going into the Enchantments and near the north end of the lake. However, camping is only allowed if you have obtained a permit between the dates of May 15th to October 31st. It is recommended to get an overnight camping permit as soon as possible due to popular demand.
If you are lucky enough to get a camping permit, keep in mind that the regulations are very strict. Read the regulations for camping at Colchuck Lake before you go. This is a place to do some backcountry camping if you are up for it, versus car camping. Pack that small tent and some basic supplies, and find your campsite.
Unfortunately, your four-legged friends are not permitted on the trailhead. Only service dogs are allowed on the trail and need proof of certification before entering. Drones are also prohibited on the trail and around Colchuck Lake.
If you plan on overnight camping at the lake, make sure you bring your portable stoves because fires are prohibited. It is also wise to bring a heavier sleeping bag for the nights can bring cool temperatures. For hikers wanting to camp in the fall, you should always be prepared for cold weather that could bring snow.
Closest Town – Leavenworth, WA
If you need a place to stay before getting up early for the hike, Leavenworth, WA, is a good spot to hang for a day. Leavenworth is the closest town to the Colchuck Lake trailhead and is a fun place to explore. During the summer, this is a busy town filled with so many tourists that you’d never guess it only has a population of only 2,000 residents.
First off, the town is surrounded by the Stuart Range and Wenatchee Mountains which are stunning. Locals and visitors can enjoy mountain biking, hiking trails, and local food and drinks.
Visitors staying for a day can do several different tours that are offered in Leavenworth. Some of the tours include cycling and enjoying local wines. If tours aren’t your thing, then check out the local mini-golf for some inexpensive fun.
Leavenworth is a perfect place to get supplies or spend the night before a mountain hike. It is also has a Christmas card fill during the winter holidays. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and Christmas parades during this time.
Conclusion: Visiting Colchuck Lake
You won’t be disappointed trekking to Colchuck Lake. The lake is equally as gorgeous as the mountain peaks that surround it. When visiting, keep in mind to leave no trace when hiking to the lake. If you pack it in, be sure to pack it out. This way Colchuck Lake can continue to be enjoyed by future generations.