Colchuck Lake - Explore Greater Alpine Lake Wilderness

About a 40 minute drive outside the charming Bavarian town of Leavenworth, Washington, lies a gem of a day trip — exploring the pristine, aquamarine Colchuck Lake, which is part of the greater Alpine Lake Wilderness (typically referred to as the most scenic part of the Cascade Mountain Range).

Found within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Colchuck Lake hike is about 9 miles round trip (typically around 8 hours total at an average pace) with multiple switchbacks a steep climb, and an elevation gain of 2,300 feet. This out-and-back hike is rated as difficult, but the beautiful aqua-blue lake at the 4.5 mark makes the tough trek absolutely worth it. Dragontail Peak and Colchuck Peak rise 3,000 feet above south end of lake, which is at 5500' elevation itself.

Once you reach the lake, spend the afternoon resting your hiking feet to enjoy a picnic and; plenty of photo ops. Along with packing lunch, the 10 hiking essentials, and plenty of water, don’t forget your bug spray; when it’s warm outside, insects notoriously swarm this area.

Keep an eye out for mountain goats, as this ecosystem is their home; keep your distance and don’t get too close, as they have been becoming more aggressive when alarmed.

If you’re looking for more than a day trip, there are several campsites nearby, accommodations in Leavenworth, or overnight backpacking permits available (and required from May through October) if you’re looking to adventure beyond the lake and stay a night or two. If you can stay for a few days and are looking for other day hikes, check out other nearby trailheads like The Enchantments (a long, strenuous 18 mile hike with a 6,500 feet elevation gain only recommended for the very experienced), and Stuart Lake — known as one of the prettiest hikes in the area, and a bit easier than the Colchuck Lake hike, this 8.7 mile trail is rated as moderately difficult with about an 1,800 feet elevation gain.

Things to know —

  • Since Colchuck Lake is part of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, you will need to obtain a Northwest Forest Pass before hitting the trail. You can buy one online and have it mailed to you, or grab one in person (call ahead to make sure they have some in stock) at outdoor adventure stores like REI and Big 5; it’s only $5 a car and ensures a safe, quality experience when hiking and recreating in the outdoors.

  • Wilderness permits for day-use are required; the are self-issuing day permits, and are available the trailhead.

  • Is one of your hiking PICs your pup? Leave Fido at home, as dogs are prohibited on the Colchuck Lake trail, Stuart Lake trail, and within the Enchantment Permit Area. Bikes and campfires are also prohibited.

  • This hike is dangerous when snow covered, so it’s best when hiked during the summer.

Image via Leavenworth

Summarized from the United States Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, and Washington Trails Association, 2019.

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