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Colchuck Lake

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Set in a granite bathtub beneath spiraling peaks dabbed with shimmering strings of glacial ice, Colchuck ranks as one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in all of Washington. And one of the most popular too! Can you resist the lure of Colchuck's sparkling cobalt waters? Or being mesmerized by her glacial-scoured surroundings that appear right out of the High Sierra? I didn't think so. But before joining the boot-beating brigade, be forewarned. The hike isn't easy. It involves a knee knocking ascent over some pretty steep and rocky terrain.

Immediately entering cool, dark forest, the trail starts off easy enough, following alongside sensory-pleasing Mountaineer Creek. Soon after crossing into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, transition into open lodgepole pine forest.

On decent tread and good grade, weave through big boulders and cross bubbling side creeks, all while staying within constant eyesight and earshot of tumbling Mountaineer Creek. At about 1.75 miles (elev. 4000 ft) cross Mountaineer Creek on an attractive log bridge spanning deep pools fed by crashing rapids. The trail now begins to climb in earnest-through fields of big boulders, up and around granite ledges, and through open forest granting views of the craggy Enchantment peaks. You'll notice a considerable increase in temperature too on these sun-kissed slopes.

The way eases before coming to a junction at 2.5 miles (elev. 4500 ft). The main trail continues straight for a fairly easy amble to Lake Stuart. Hang left instead for the more challenging and more scenic journey. Cross Mountaineer Creek once again, and then work your way through a boulder field alongside the creek, maintaining balance and dry boots. The trail reenters forest to cross a devil's club-cloaked creek, makes a big sweep up ledges, recrosses the creek, and then heads up a steep rocky stretch, passing a small cascade.

Now ascending a series of granite ledges between steep stretches of rocky and rooty tread, the way continues its abrupt climb. A short drop of 50 feet or so may dampen spirits. But growing views of the valley and surrounding peaks should help recharge them. The sheer volume of scoured granite above and below may give California transplants a Yosemite flashback or two.

But all will rejoice upon reaching the deep rocky pocket cradling the lake. A short spur takes off left 0.1 mile to a small lagoon on Colchuck's south end, where breathtaking views of the backdrop spires Dragontail and Colchuck peaks can be enjoyed. Tucked between that pair of precipitous peaks is the Colchuck Glacier, one of the many icy sources feeding the chilling waters of the lake. Colchuck is derived from the Chinook Jargon meaning "cold water."

Feel free to explore the lakeshore, looking for sunny slabs, perfect for snacking and napping. But treat this area with care. Despite the durable appearance, plants have a tough time surviving in this harsh environment. Keep to rock and use the available backcountry privy if nature calls.
Driving Directions:

From milepost 99 on US 2, on the western edge of Leavenworth, follow the paved Icicle Creek Road (Forest Road 76) for 8.4 miles, turning left onto Eightmile Road (FR 7601). Continue on this washboarded dirt road for 3.8 miles to a large parking lot and the trailhead (elev. 3400 ft). Privy available.

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Recent Trip Reports

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There are 269 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Colchuck Lake, Enchantment Lakes, Snow Lakes, Nada Lake — Oct 26, 2013 — firebeard
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Through hiked the Enchantments beginning at Colchuck Lake Trailhead and finishing at Snow Lakes Trai...
Through hiked the Enchantments beginning at Colchuck Lake Trailhead and finishing at Snow Lakes Trailhead. Snow free until you hit Aasgard Pass where it becomes intermittent compact icy snow. Crampons or microspikes are nice to have as you work your way up. It can be done without but makes slower going and a bit iffy.

The upper enchantments are snow covered but again compact. Snowshoes not needed. Made a side trip up Little Annapurna where the crampons were handy once again. Nice steps in the snow from previous hikers when the snow was soft. Beautiful clear skies and views from atop.

Lower enchantment basin was mostly snow covered. Trail down to snow lakes was difficult to find and we ended up bushwacking/scrambling our way down to snow lakes. At this point it began to darken up. No snow from snow lakes back to the car. Hikes in the dark for about 3 hours but had no issues. Larch season is over no more golden tinge on the larches (bummer).
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Colchuck Lake — Oct 26, 2013 — SeattleBebop1
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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I tackled this hike for the first time on Saturday with two friends. We were surprised at how quickl...
I tackled this hike for the first time on Saturday with two friends. We were surprised at how quickly we covered the first 2.5 miles to the junction (1 hour from the trail head), breezing through mostly shadowy forests on wide, dirt paths. Although it was quite cold in the dark parking lot when we left (10:50 a.m.), as we ascended through the forest into more rocky, barren areas, it warmed up and we shed layers.

Although the trail to Colchuck Lake is fairly steep, I found that it has enough switchbacks that it is not as difficult (IMO) as hikes like Rachel Lake or Blanca Lake. It is quite rocky, though, so wear boots and watch your feet.

The lake was gorgeous (such a lovely turquoise color), but it's difficult to get a "complete" view of the lake due to the trees and surrounding rocky cliffs. Also, because of the time of year, photographers will be disappointed -- the sun barely clears Dragontail Peak, so I found it was hard to compensate for sun glare (we were at the lake from about 1 pm to 2:30 pm). Still, the dramatic composition of the lake with Aasgard Pass and Dragontail Peak is a must-see.

We only saw a few patches of snow off the trail, but Aasgard Pass is definitely covered. We encountered many backpackers taking advantage of the "no permits required" season before the snow becomes really deep and impassible. Colchuck only has a few campsites, though, so I'm not sure how everyone managed to fit! There is a small pond near Colchuck that has a layer of surface ice, and some overnighters informed us that it got down to around 20 degrees on Friday night. Too cold for me.

By the way, PSA, based on some behavior I witnessed: please follow the rules, and respect the fragile alpine wilderness. There are rules like "no fires above 5000 feet" for a reason, so if it's too cold for you without a fire, please don't camp by an alpine lake. And although you may really love your dog (I like dogs too!), please leave your companion at home if you choose to hike to an alpine lake.
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Colchuck Lake — Oct 20, 2013 — madman
Day hike
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A beautiful day for this beautiful hike. The approach road to the trail was in good condition, the t...
A beautiful day for this beautiful hike. The approach road to the trail was in good condition, the trail was great with no snow on the trail. Could not have asked for more.

If I have to get greedy then a minor disappointment was that there weren't as many larches at/along the lake; I was expecting more. But then, I figured out, larches aren't a Colchuck lake speciality really, have to graft your way up Aasgard for that. Speciality of this lake is its color: Turquoise always "enchants" me :-).

Found it difficult to get good pics of the lake though. With trees, rocks, direction of sun, and the relatively small distance between the lake and mountain walls, it was difficult to get a good composition. But then again, this could also be because of my own limitations as a photographer, plus we reached the lake well after 2 pm which was not ideal. One might want to get to the lake earlier in the morning to get better pics.

The hike took us 6 hours roundtrip: 2.5 hours to ascend, 2 hours to descend, and 1.5 hour photographing, lunching, and napping.

All in all, a great hike!
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Lake Stuart, Colchuck Lake — Oct 18, 2013 — Daniel Y
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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Nice drive on Icicle Road with fall color on full display. The 3+ miles dirt road to TH was decent....
Nice drive on Icicle Road with fall color on full display. The 3+ miles dirt road to TH was decent.
No issues with either trails. They are virtually snow free. A lot more people, backpackers especially, on Colchuck Trail. The trail to Lake Stuart is quite a bit easier. The main difference b/w the two lakes are their colors - turquois for Colchuck, dark green for Stuart. Both surrounded by impressive mountain peaks

Total distance about 13 miles took me 6.25 hours
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Enchantment Lakes, Aasgard Pass, Colchuck Lake, Snow Lakes — Oct 17, 2013 — outdoorval
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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This hike was very challenging but well worth the effort. It definitely helped to read the trip repo...
This hike was very challenging but well worth the effort. It definitely helped to read the trip reports before the journey, so I would like to contribute my own.

I am often able to do hikes quickly by trail running the flatter areas and downhills - however on this hike, this is not very possible so plan on taking 11+ hours for the 18 mile journey. Also the scenery is so stunning, that even if you could speed up the trip, you wouldn't want to - for at least the first half of the hike from Colchuck Lake to Lake Viviane.

I recommend doing Aasgard Pass first and getting to the stunning Enchantment lakes as soon as possible. That's what my friend and I did anyway. The pass isn't actually that bad if you bring the right gear - which needs to include some sort of traction devices this time of year to get traction on the steep snow and ice.

Colchuck was a stunning lake to come to just a few miles into the hike. So dramatic this time of year, a contrast to the lakes to come which are tranquil and calm. Great view up to Aasgard from Colchuck, and you will soon be on your way up.

Aasgard took my friend and me about an hour and a half. We thought we could power through it faster, but ended up taking additional time on the snow in order to make sure we didn't lose footing and also enjoy the views. Cairns are definitely helpful to stay on course, but also the pathway is pretty evident in the snow as well.

Once up the pass, you'll come to the enchantment lakes quickly. Some are frozen this time of year but most are not. They are stunning. The trees were all turning yellow which was unreal against the snow and blue green of the lakes and white granite. I have been on a lot of hikes but this was by far the most stunning, and most technical.

There were three pretty challenging parts of the hike. One was Aasgard, but two involved steep icy downhills. Take your time and you'll make it through ok if you have some sort of spiky shoe attachments.

The first ten miles of the hike are by far the best. I could do away with the second half - though I would not want to return down Aasgard. The hike back through Snow lakes and down to the cars is pretty anticlimactic after the Enchantments. It's about 8 miles of "standard" views and man made lakes.

One major downside of this hike is the need for two cars. I live over 2 hours from the trail, and it was a big inconvenience to waste gas on two cars for a 10 mile trail head difference. However I would even less like to bike ride up hill at the end of the journey as well. And on a weekday, we didn't see too many other cars at either trailhead at the time we finished, around 6:30pm.

All in all it took us 11 hours and 15 minutes to do the hike. We figured we stopped to take pictures and eat for roughly 1.5 hours. It is clear why people spend several days in this area, as it was too gorgeous to speed through, however the need for permits made that impossible on this trip.

A day hike is definitely doable if you are fit and determined and start early. We started at 7am in the dark, and drove out from retrieving the second car at 7pm in the darkness.

Unfortunately we did not see any goats. Stunning hike. Can't wait to do it again in another season, as it is just amazing. Sad I couldn't bring my dog :(
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Colchuck by Glenn G. Schrempp.jpg
Colchuck Lake and Dragontail Peak, by Glenn G. Schrempp.
Location
Colchuck Lake (#1599.1)
Central Cascades -- Leavenworth Area
Wenatchee - Okanogan National Forest, Leavenworth Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 8.4 miles
Elevation Gain 2200 ft
Highest Point 5600 ft
Features
Rivers
Lakes
Fall foliage
Mountain views
Summits
Established campsites
User info
Dogs not allowed
Guidebooks & Maps
100 Hikes in Washington's Alpine Lakes (Spring, Manning)
Green Trails the Enchantments No. 209S

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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