Colchuck Lake, or Lake Colchuck, is a breathtakingly beautiful and secluded lake located in the heart of the North Cascade Mountains. With its crystal clear waters and stunning backdrop of snow-capped peaks, the hike is often regarded as one of the most scenic in America. Whether you're looking for a tranquil weekend getaway, a day hike, an outdoor adventure, or just a place to relax, Colchuck Lake has something to offer everyone.
In this guide, we'll explore the parking and permits, directions, tips for success, the hike itself, provide an overview of the flora and fauna of the area, discuss what it takes to camp at Colchuck Lake, and much more!
Colchuck Lake in Washington State sits at an elevation of 5,574 ft and has a surface area of 87.8 acres. Its primary outflow is Mountaineer Creek which you can also see as you hike in from the trailhead.
The name "Colchuck" comes from the Chinook words meaning "cold water," and that is certainly what you'll experience if you dare to take a dip in the lake. Colchuck is formed from glacial water that flows down from the peaks above it, meaning that it is often incredibly cold.
The Lake Colchuck Trail is one of Traverse the Pacific Northwest's Top 12 Best Hikes Near Leavenworth. Have you done them all yet? Let us know what you think of this one below.
Directions to Lake Colchuck in Leavenworth, Washington
Colchuck lake is located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington State. The closest major cities to Colchuck Lake are Seattle, Spokane, and Wenatchee. The trailhead is accessed by driving down Icicle Road (with its few potholes) from Leavenworth for about 12 miles. Turn left on Forest Service Road 7601 and take this till it dead ends at the trailhead. Make sure to admire the views of Icicle Creek along the way.
If you’re driving from Seattle, take I-90 east for about two and a half hours until you reach Exit 85. From there, take Highway 970 east for 30 miles until it dead-ends into Highway 9. Turn right onto Highway 9 and continue east. You will eventually reach the junction of Highway 2 and Highway 207. Take Highway 207 north towards Leavenworth for approximately 12 miles until you reach Forest Road 7601. Turn right onto this road and follow it until it dead-ends into the Stuart Lake Trailhead.
If you’re driving from Spokane, take Highway 2 east for about four and a half hours until you reach the junction of Highway 2 and Highway 207. Take Highway 207 north towards Leavenworth for approximately 12 miles until you reach Forest Road 67. Turn right onto this road and follow it until it dead-ends into the Stuart Lake Trailhead.
From Wenatchee, take Highway 2 west for about two and a half hours until you reach the junction of Highway 2 and Highway 207. Take Highway 207 north towards Leavenworth for approximately 12 miles until you reach Forest Road 1701. Turn right onto this road and follow it until it dead-ends into the Stuart Lake Trailhead.
What to Bring?
Visiting Lake Colchuck is a great opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature. In order to make sure you have the most enjoyable experience, there are a few items that you should bring with you.
First and foremost, bring plenty of food and water. The lake is surrounded by stunning views and miles of trails, so it’s important to make sure you have enough fuel to get you through the day. Pack some light snacks, lunch, and plenty of fluids. If this is your first time completing the hike, be extra prepared!
Second, bring proper clothing and shoes. The terrain can be quite steep and uneven in some places, so wearing sturdy hiking boots or shoes with good grip is essential. Dress in layers, since the weather in the Cascade Mountains can be unpredictable.
Third, make sure to bring any necessary camping gear if you plan to stay overnight. This includes a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, firewood, and anything else you need for a comfortable night’s rest.
Finally, bring any safety equipment you may need, such as a first aid kit, flashlights, a whistle, and/or bear spray. It’s always best to be prepared for any situation you may come across. Bug spray may also come in handy as mosquitoes can be a bit of an issue in summer.
By bringing these items along with you on your visit to Colchuck Lake, you’ll be able to enjoy your time there to the fullest!
Colchuck Lake Trailhead
The Colchuck Lake trailhead, better known as the Stuart Lake Trailhead, is around 9 miles from the nearby town of Leavenworth. This is the same trail some hikers take to complete the thru-hike of the Enchantments, ending at the Snow Lakes Trailhead, 20.5 miles away.
The trailhead is on Forest Service Road 7601, sometimes as FS road #7601 or as Mountaineer's Creek Road.
The parking lot is at the top of this road (so just drive till it dead ends). Make sure you have your Northwest Forest Pass ready, or have $5 to fill out the day pass envelope. These are located at the far end of the parking lot next to the trail signs.
Lake Colchuck Trail Map
Check out the map below to see the full hike to Colchuck Lake:
Hiking to Colchuck Lake from Stuart Lake Trailhead
The Colchuck Lake hike begins at the often-crowded Stuart Lake Trailhead and within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The trail gains 2,280 feet in elevation over 4.5 miles. It is an out-and-back trail that requires you to turn around once you reach the lake to make it back to your car unless you're going to do the thru-hike!
Did you know? The full Enchaments thru-hike is 20.5 miles
The first mile/part of the Colchck Lake hike is easy. You'll enjoy a beautiful creek-side trail that meanders through the woods. Little elevation gain is encountered here. It's only after crossing a bridge that the real difficulty begins!
The trail ascends rocky switchbacks and crosses tree roots before meeting a junction. You can go right for Stuart Lake and left for Colchuck Lake. Take a left and cross a log bridge while enjoying the outrageously beautiful trees and peaks around you.
Mountaineer Creek A bridge along the Colchuck Lake trail
After another log bridge and a huge field of large boulders, stay right and cross a creek. It might be tempting to hike straight into the boulders but that's not the way to go! More than one hiker has added this little detour onto their trip. The next uphill portion is very rocky, but if you take your time and enjoy the scenery along the way, it's not too bad!
Your first glimpse of Colchuck Lake is an unforgettable experience! Its crystal clear blue water with the forbidding spires of Dragontail Peak behind it are what you've come for!
Did you know? The word "Colchuck" means "cold water?"
Make sure to enjoy the lake for as long as you can before turning around and hiking back out the way you came in. Swim, picnic, and scramble around on the surrounding rocks to make this a true Pacific Northwest adventure.
View at Colchuck Lake
Colchuck Lake is a breathtaking gem of the North Cascades. Surrounded by alpine meadows and towering granite peaks, the Colchuck Lake hike offers visitors a spectacular view of nature’s beauty and serenity. The lake is situated at the base of Dragontail Peak and Colchuck Peak in the Stuart Range, two of the most iconic peaks in the area. On a clear day, visitors can see stunning vistas of the Enchantment Peaks, Mount Stuart, and the rugged Glacier Peak Wilderness. If you look to the left of Dragontail Peak, you'll see the famous Aasgard Pass.
The lake is a popular destination for adventurers of all levels. During the summer months, the lake is ideal for swimming and fishing, while in the winter months, the lake is perfect for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing. There are also plenty of hiking trails in the area ranging from easy to strenuous.
These trails offer stunning views of Colchuck Lake and its surrounding mountains. In addition to natural wonders, there are numerous campsites nearby for those looking for an extended stay in the area.
Can I Camp at Colchuck Lake?
Unless you have a permit, from May 15th to October 31st, you can't camp around Colchuck Lake or in the surrounding wilderness. To get a permit, you must enter a limited lottery system for the entire Enchantments area that runs early each year.
You need a permit if you want to camp in any of these zones:
Core Enchantment Zone
Snow Lake Zone
Colchuck Lake Zone
Stuart Lake Zone
Due to the popularity of The Enchantments as a whole, the permit system was put into place to prevent the area from becoming overrun with thru-hikers. The lottery runs from February 15th, starting at 7:00 p.m., to March 1st at midnight.
If you're lucky enough to get an overnight permit, they cost $5 each. But, as locals will tell you, having your name drawn is a serious rarity.
Find more information about the permit system on Recreation.gov.
Most people who hike to Colchuck Lake do not camp there. But, there are some really wonderful camping options near the trailhead. For example, Eightmile Campground.
Flora and Fauna
Colchuck Lake is a haven for both flora and fauna. The lake sits at an elevation of 5,430 feet and is surrounded by lush vegetation. Here you’ll find a wide variety of plant life, including old-growth Douglas fir, western hemlock, western white pine, grand fir, and western larch. There are also various types of cedar, lily, huckleberry, and pine trees in the area.
The lake is home to many types of wildlife, including deer, bear, bobcat, cougar, fox, coyote, and mountain goat. Bird watchers will love spotting bald eagles, osprey, woodpeckers, and a variety of songbirds in the surrounding forest. Fish enthusiasts will find plenty of trout species in the lake, as well as other fish, including whitefish, kokanee salmon, and largemouth bass.
The trails around Colchuck Lake offer spectacular views of the local flora and fauna. Visitors can take the time to appreciate the beauty of nature and observe the many animals and plants in their natural habitats. Colchuck Lake is a fantastic spot for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers alike.
Make sure to follow "Leave no Trace" principles while visiting Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It's a very beautiful and fragile ecosystem that does not often benefit from the increased foot traffic and is certainly not improved by trash!
What's the Best Time to Visit Colchuck Lake?
Weather at Colchuck Lake reaches highs of around 70 degrees in the summer and around 40 in the winter. Lows are considerable all year and often reach into the 30s during July, August, and September. In the winter, average low temperatures are around 15 degrees and commonly get much lower, around 5 degrees. In fall, one of the perks of hiking the trail is the larch trees which are bright yellow for a brief period of time.
Colchuck Lake and the surrounding Enchantments area are known for being slightly drier and drier earlier than the rest of the Cascade Mountain range. This means that by June or July at the latest, the trail to Colchuck Lake will be mostly snow-free. But don't underestimate the amount of snow this area can get, and always check the weather before your hike.
What to Do Near Colchuck Lake
If you’re looking for more than a day trip, the area around Colchuck Lake is a great place to explore. The nearby Leavenworth area has plenty of activities, including shopping, dining, and attractions.
The Icicle River runs right by Colchuck Lake and is a great place for a peaceful float or kayaking trip. You can also explore the surrounding forests on one of the many hiking trails in the area, with options for all skill levels. The Icicle Ridge Trail is another great option. There are easy hikes near Leavenworth, like Blackbird Island or the Tumwater Pipeline Trail, and much harder endeavors for all visitors.
For those who prefer to stay on dry land, the downtown Leavenworth area offers plenty of shopping and dining opportunities. The Bavarian-style village features over 250 local businesses, ranging from cozy cafes to unique boutiques. There are also plenty of live music and theater performances to enjoy in the evening.
How long to hike to Colchuck Lake?
It should take around 2.5-3 hours to hike out to Colchuck Lake and another 1.5-2 hours back to your car. Don't forget, this is an out-and-back trail, not a loop!
How difficult is the Colchuck Lake hike?
The Colchuck Lake hike is very difficult. It gains a great deal of feet of elevation gain, around 2,200 feet in just a few miles. It is only recommended for those who have a whole day to devote to the hike or are in great physical condition.
Is there phone coverage at Colchuck Lake?
No, most phones get no reception anywhere in the Enchantments, especially after you pass into the deeper zones (like the Core Enchantments Zone). Make sure everyone knows where you're going before you set out on your adventure!
What forest is Colchuck Lake in?
Colchuck Lake is in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
How to access Colchuck Lake?
The best way to access Colchuck Lake is by parking at the Stuart Lake trailhead and hiking for 4.5 miles. It's also possible to see the lake from the Snow Lakes trailhead. But you'll have to hike nearly 16 miles from that direction.
Are there fish in Colchuck Lake?
Yes, you can. Colchuck Lake is home to Brook, bull, wet cutthroat, rainbow, and lake trout, among others. You can also fish in the neighboring Stuart Lake.
Can you drive to Colchuck Lake?
No, you can't drive to Colchuck Lake. The lake is located within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and requires a 4.5-mile hiking approach to reach it.
Other Enchantments Day Hikes
Stuart Lake Trail
Snow Lakes Trail