The Horseshoe Lake hiking trail has everything the Enchantments are loved for-- pristine blue waters and a startlingly beautiful backdrop but without the hoards of hikers.
This gorgeous lake has everything you'd want out of a hike into the core Enchantments region. But, you won't have to fight the crowds for a spot along the lake's shore. The trail is rarely hiked in full, with most visitors turning off to head towards Colchuck Lake, Asgard Pass, and the Enchantments region or stopping their hike at Stuart Lake.
The lake is a difficult, nearly 12-mile trek through the woods. Unlike the trail to Colchuck Lake, it's not consistently maintained. After passing Stuart Lake, you'll hit a portion of the trail that may require some route-finding and willingness to climb up very steep terrain.
Did you know? The Horseshoe Lake Trail is one of Traverse the Pacific Northwest's 10 Best Trails Near Leavenworth, WA. Have you hiked them all yet? Let us know your favorite in the comments below!
Directions to Horseshoe Lake Trail
Use the map below to navigate to the Horseshoe Lake trailhead.
What You Need to Know
Here are the basics of what you need to know before going to explore the Horseshoe Lake Trail:
Permit: Yes, a Northwest Forest Permit is required.
Trailhead: Stuart Lake Trailhead
Dogs: No, dogs are not allowed in Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Elevation: Horseshoe Lake is at an elevation of 6,300'.
Best time to visit? Between June and October.
The Yacolt Falls Hike is another really incredible adventure if you're in the area!
Horseshoe Lake Trailhead
The trailhead for Horseshoe Lake is the popular Stuart Lake Trailhead. It's best known as one of two main access points for the Enchantments. It's also the starting point for the extremely popular 9-mile round-trip hike to Colchuck Lake.
To get to the Horseshoe Lake Trailhead/Stuart Lake Trailhead, take Icicle Creek Road from Leavenworth for about nine miles. Forest Service Road 7601 is on your left (look for a sign on the right side of the road). Take this less-than-well-maintained road up to the Stuart Lake Trailhead. You'll pass by a campsite and another lower trailhead. Keep going until you dead end at the large parking lot, undoubtedly full of Enchantment hikers!
Horseshoe Lake Trail Stats
The Horseshoe Lake Trail begins at Stuart Lake Trailhead before heading 6 miles into the woods to the gorgeous Horseshoe Lake.
Sections of the trail are significantly steeper than others, gaining 3,100 feet along the way. But, some kids and other hikers may have trouble with the rocky trail. It should take you about 7 hours to complete the Horseshoe Lake Trail.
Hiking to Horseshoe Lake from Stuart Lake Trailhead
Your beautiful day hike begins at the Stuart Lake Trailhead. When you park, make sure you have your Northwest Forest Pass in your window or that you've paid the day parking fee ($5.00).
For the first part of the hike, you're on even, relatively flat ground. There will be a few places you have to go uphill, but these sections are very short-lived. There may also be a few streams to cross. This trail is very busy, so you'll easily be able to find small detours around any flooded parts of the trail.
After hiking through the woods for 1.1 miles, you'll come across a division in the trail. If you go left, you'll head towards Colchuck Lake. You want to stay right here (which really looks more like going straight) and continue on to Horseshoe Lake.
The next section of the trail takes you along the right/northern side of Lake Stuart. In 2.3 miles, you'll be on the far side of the lake and in your last 1.6-mile section of trail to Horseshoe Lake.
The last part of the trail is by far the most difficult. You'll ascend a slope that's much steeper than what you've dealt with so far. You're going to gain around 1,300 feet of elevation in about .5 of a mile.
Now is the time to make sure you pay attention to what's ahead and behind you, as it's easy to lose this un-maintained path that likely sees more goats than hikers in a year's time.
It can be more overgrown in this section, as well as most hikers stop at Stuart Lake (5,064'). Horseshoe Lake is right at the top of the hill, so as soon as you get to the top you're done!
If you visit in the fall, you're going to be greeted by gorgeous yellow larches and a sparkling, contrasting green lake that's just as beautiful as any in the core Enchantments.
Make sure to be extra careful on your way down the steepest sections of trail. They can be wet throughout the year and because the trail is so hard to see at this point, it's fairly easy to wander off when avoiding a particularly tough patch of brush.
Artist Credit: Emma H. Baldwin
Tips for Hiking to Horseshoe Lake
Be prepared for bushwhacking - depending on the time of year, the trail may be in a bit of a state once you pass Lake Stuart.
Try to get a campsite - if you're lucky, you'll be selected in the Enchantments lottery to camp at Lake Stuart.
Bring a lunch/big snack - if you're day-tripping, make sure you enjoy the views at the lake as long as possible. Most people opt to have a very scenic lunch here.
Is Horseshoe Lake WA Open?
Horseshoe Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness is open when the road up to the Stuart Lake trailhead opens. This is usually early in the spring when the snow has melted off enough to make it and Icicle Creek Road passable.
Is the hike to Horseshoe Lake hard?
Yes, the hike to Horseshoe Lake is considered a hard hike. You'll gain around 3,000 feet of elevation in six miles. But, a great deal of it occurs at the end, right before the lake, when you have to climb 1,300 feet in about 1/2 a mile.
Where is Horseshoe Lake?
There are a few Horseshoe Lakes in Washington. One is on the east side of the Midway High Lakes Area near Mount Adams, one is in the Enchantments area of Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and two others are north of Snoqualmie, with one near Preacher Mountain.
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