Hiking Colchuck Lake Trail: All You Need to Know

Hiking Colchuck Lake Trail: All You Need to Know

Colchuck Lake Trail is an amazing lake hike in The Enchantments in Washington. This post will tell you everything you need to know to hike Colchuck Lake.

Colchuck Lake is a freshwater reservoir lake in The Enchantments in Washington State.

The first time I saw a photo of Colchuck Lake, I was awed by its beauty – from the color of the water to the surrounding snow capped peaks. It really reminded me of Lake Marian in New Zealand and I think it’s a trail that would amaze anyone who decides to hike it.

If you are planning to hike to Colchuck Lake this summer, this hiking guide will tell you everything you want to know about the Colchuck Lake Hike, including where it is, how to get to Colchuck Lake, how difficult Colchuck Lake trail is and if it is worth it.

It’s approximately 3 hours east of Seattle and 30 minutes from the Bavarian town of Leavenworth.

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Colchuck Lake washington Summer

Where is Colchuck Lake Hike?

Colchuck Lake is a beautiful alpine lake located in the Cascade Range of Washington State. It is situated in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and is known as part of the Enchantment.

Colchuck Lake is about 8 miles (13 km) south-southeast of the town of Leavenworth and approximately 120 miles (193 km) east of Seattle.

How to Get To Colchuck Lake Trail (Stuart Lake Trailhead)

Colchuck Lake hike is about a 3 hour drive east of Seattle and 30 minutes from Leavenworth.

If you search for Colchuck Lake on Google Maps it will take you directly to the parking lot.

The last 3 miles of the drive to Colchuck Lake Trailhead is on an unpaved dirt road with a lot of potholes. You don’t necessarily need a SUV or 4×4 but those cars would be helpful. When we hiked to Colchuck Lake we saw many sedans that drive through the potholes fine as well.

Note the road to the parking lot is blocked by a locked gate about 4 miles from the trailhead in the winter (Nov to May most likely), so if you want to hike the trail in the winter you will need to walk to the trailhead first. I have not hiked the Colchuck Lake in the winter so I cannot provide more information on that.

Colchuck Lake Parking lot

Is There Parking at Colchuck Lake?

There is a large parking lot at Colchuck Lake (Stuart Lake Trailhead #1599). BUT half of the Colchuck Lake parking lot is reserved for overnight campers and you will need a special permit in order to park there overnight.

This leaves half of the Colchuck Lake parking lot for day use. As Colchuck Lake is an extremely popular hiking destination in the summer and early fall, the parking lot fills up extremely quickly and late comers would need to park along the right side of Road 7601.

We arrived around 7am on a Thursday morning at the end of July and the Colchuck Lake parking lot only had 2 spots left. Most cars were already parking on the side of Road 7601 but we decided to check the parking lot first before parking on the road and we definitely got lucky!

If you don’t want to park on the road and walk an extra mile to the trailhead I definitely recommend arriving at Colchuck Lake trailhead (Stuart Lake Trailhead) before 7am (and even earlier on a weekend). Another perk of starting the hike early is that most of the hike will be in the shade (there was not much shade when we hiked back down later in the day).

There is a bathroom with toilet paper at the parking lot. You should bring hand sanitizer just in case.

Colchuck Lake Day form

Day Pass and Day Use Form Needed at Colchuck Lake

You will need a day pass and a day use form to hike Colchuck Lake.

We had a Northwest Forest Pass (annual pass) on our car’s dashboard when we visited Colchuck Lake. We purchased the Northwest Forest Pass from REI in Seattle. You can also have the America the Beautiful Pass if you are planning to visit other National Parks and National Forests throughout the year.

If you do not have a Northwest Forest Pass, you will need to have $5 cash (per vehicle) with you and pay at the parking lot. Be sure to have cash (exact change) with you.

Right before the trail starts you will see 2 wooden boxes. One box has envelopes that you can use to put the cash in the envelope and deposit into the wooden box. I didn’t use this option but there are instructions on what to do to show proof that you had paid.

The other wooden box is for a day use form. There are two parts of the form, and you need a pen to fill out the form, detach one part of the form and put it in the box before the hike.

Colchuck Lake Trail General Information

Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2300 ft elevation gain
Difficulty: Difficult
Pass Needed: Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass or a $5 per vehicle/per day fee payable at the trailhead (in envelope in box)
Reservation: Overnight reservation permit is required from May 15 to October 15 (doesn’t apply if you are there for day hike)
Parking Lot: Yes + Roadside parking
Bathroom: Yes, at Trailhead, middle of the trail and near the lake
Best Time to Hike Colchuck Lake: Early Morning from July to October
Dogs: NO dogs allowed on the trail
Drones: Drones prohibited
Other: Check current conditions here

The Colchuck Lake Trail starts at Lake Stuart Trailhead.

The trail is a continuous uphill hike mostly in the forest. You will be hiking along Mountaineer Creek and cross a few log bridges.

The trail gets very rocky in the second half and there will be more switchbacks before you eventually see the lake. At Colchuck Lake you will have beautiful views of Dragontail Peak and Colchuck Peak rising about 3000 feet above.

Is Colchuck Lake Kids Friendly?

Colchuck Lake is quite long and steep so it is not young-kids friendly (unless you have the energy to carry the kids up).

But if you are planning to hike Colchuck Lake with older kids (like 10+), then I think it is do-able. You just need to make sure to take it slow and have the proper sun protection and enough water/ food for the kids.

Our Detailed Experience of Hiking Colchuck Lake

The Colchuck Lake Hike starts on the Stuart Lake Trailhead in the woods.

If you are there early in the morning like we did, it would feel pretty dark at first – enjoy it! The first 0.3 miles of the hike is a very gradual uphill. You will walk past a log “bridge” to continue the uphill.

Start of Colchuck Lake Trail

The trail gets much steeper after the first 0.3 miles followed by some ups and downs for about 0.7 miles. During this part of the trail you honestly don’t see too much but occasionally you will see the Mountaineer Creek which is nice.

Mountaineer Creek Colchuck Lake hike

After the first mile of the uphill the trail becomes much more flat and you will cross another log “bridge”. You should enjoy this part of the hike before the rocky uphill.

Colchuck Lake Hike trail

At around 1.5 mile mark you will now cross an actual large log bridge over Mountaineer Creek and continue the trail. We were a little confused after crossing the bridge because there was no sign or trail mark but good thing we saw other people and we followed them to the left.

There is a good amount of uphill in this stretch and we saw people carrying huge backpacks and camping gear up and they looked like they were struggling.

Colchuck Lake log bridge
Log bridge
Colchuck Lake Stuart Lake trail

Continue uphill for another 0.8 – 1 mile until you see a sign for toilet (now you are 2.5 miles into the hike already). At this point the trail also splits into 2 separate directions: Colchuck Lake vs. Stuart Lake. Go left towards Colchuck Lake Trail No. 1599.1.

Colchuck-Lake-Hike

Colchuck-Lake-Hike sign

Right after the trail splits you will come across a large log bridge to cross Mountaineer Creek again. There are a lot of huge rocks after you get off the log bridge.

Go right after you get off the bridge. This part was confusing too was there was no sign and we again had to follow another group.

Colchuck-Lake-Hike log bridge
Log bridge; turn right after crossing
Colchuck-Lake-Hike

As you navigate through the huge rocks, you will see the stream on your right side and the trail will again weave into the woods. From here on the trail is mostly a steep and rocky uphill (with occasional flat stretches).

Most of the other blogs/ websites will say the trail gets really difficulty because of the steepness and rocks. But coming from the East Coast, I honestly didn’t think it was that bad.

Most of the East Coast hikes are super rocky and straight uphill, so I felt right at home during this part of the Colchuck Lake hike. However if you are not used to rocky and steep trails this may be more difficult to you.

Colchuck-Lake-Hike

Colchuck-Lake-Hike
trail crossing small stream
Colchuck-Lake-Hike steep uphill
Rocky steep uphill
Colchuck-Lake-Hike

At around mile 4 of the hike you will see a huge rock. Again, we weren’t sure which way to go because it was not clearly marked.

We ended up going right following another group and it was the correct way (although we did see another group go left on the way back down and they had to scramble down some rock to get on the correct trail).

Colchuck-Lake-Hike
Huge “rock”, go right from here

Just as you feel this trail is never ending you will suddenly see the blueness of Colchuck Lake. You can continue to walk down the trail but we got too impatient and we pretty much just walked/scrambled down to the side of the lake (we didn’t see a trail down so we had to climb down some rocks) and chilled on a large rock.

Colchuck-Lake-Hike

If you continue on the trail you will be wrapping around the western shore of the lake and the trail provides access up Asagard Pass to the Enchantments.

Many people choose to swim in the lake or just relax. Make sure you bring sunscreens with you as the sun was super strong when we were there around 10:30am.

Colchuck-Lake

What to Bring to Colchuck Lake Trail

  • Water and snack/ packed lunch: I would suggest at least 2 liters of water on the Colchuck Lake hike. I generally use a hiking backpack with a hydration pouch making it a lot easier to drink. The hike is 6-8 hours round trip so bring some food with you to eat at the lake.
  • Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses: The Colchuck Lake Trail is mostly shaded (especially in the morning) but the lake itself can get really sunny and hot. We also were surprised how much we were in the sun hiking back down around noon.
  • Hiking Shoes: I recommend wearing proper hiking shoes when hiking to Colchuck Lake. The trail can be very rocky so hiking shoes would be much better than just sneakers or trail runners.
  • Hiking Poles I recommend using hiking poles on the Colchuck Lake Trail since it can be pretty steep and rocky. Most of the other hikers I saw on the Colchuck Lake Trail had poles with them also.
  • Camera: Definitely bring a wide angle lens with you (iPhones in general are pretty wide). I had a hard time capturing the lake with my 24mm zoom lens.
  • Swimsuit: If you plan to swim in the lake (as you should!) then make sure to wear a swimsuit with your hiking gear
  • Towel: Only if you plan on swimming
  • Cash: if you don’t have the National Forest Pass you will need cash to pay for it at the trailhead

Where to Stay Near Colchuck Lake

There are many people who choose to drive to Colchuck Lake from Seattle for a day hike. However the drive is about 3 hours long and parking gets filled up super early in the morning. Unless you can get up at 3-4am in the morning, it’s definitely better to stay nearby if you want to hike to Colchuck Lake.

Leavenworth Washington
Leavenworth

Most people end up staying in the Bavarian town of Leavenworth. The entire town looks like Germany with German restaurants like München Haus.

Since it’s a pretty touristy town there are a lot of places to stay. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites which was about 5 minute drive to where all the restaurants are. If you want to stay right at city center, consider Obertal Inn, Mrs. Anderson’s Lodging, and Solstice Suites.

Leavenworth

If you want to spend the night at Colchuck Lake, you will of course need to camp there. You will need an overnight reservation permit from mid May to end of October in order to camp there. The camp sites are along the western shore of Colchuck lake and there are also campsites at the north end of the lake (the peaks you see are at the souther end of the lake).

Is Colchuck Lake Worth It?

Colchuck Lake is definitely worth the effort. It is not an easy hike and if you want to get the most out of Colchuck Lake I highly recommend that you go on a nice day when the lake is thawed.

You can take a dip in the crystal clear water at Colchuck Lake so if you go on a bad day or when the lake is not thawed you won’t be able to get that experience.

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