hikes

August 25, 2016

Colchuck Lake in the Enchantments

Three night backpacking trip in the Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness (near Leavenworth, Washington)

Total mileage: 11.5 miles with 2,300 ft. elevation gain

This area is extremely popular, and overnight camping in the Enchantments requires a limited overnight permit available each spring via a lottery. Day hikers do not need a permit, so the area can be quite crowded. The ranger that we met told us that there are up to 400 day hikers on weekend days.

Day 1

backpack in to campsite
4.5 miles with 2,300 ft. elevation gain

Starting at the Stuart Lake trailhead, we hiked in to our campsite at Colchuck Lake. The first two miles are an easy hike through the forest next to Mountaineer Creek. Cross the creek on a bridge and the next mile begins to ascend a little more steeply. The last mile to Colchuck is much steeper, with a lot of rock steps. Once at the lake, make your way around, up and down larger rock, following the trail around the lake to the campsite.

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

Stuart Lake trailhead

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

bridge over Mountaineer Creek

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

rocky trail

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

I went the wrong direction after the bridge, scrambling on the boulders until I realized it wasn’t the trail

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

pool of water below a bridge

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

typical section of trail

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

easy creek crossing on rocks

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

yes, this is the trail

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

almost there…

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

We made it! Colchuck Lake with Dragontail Peak and Colchuck Peak

Day 2

This was trip number five in a row of backpacking trips for me, and I’ve been having back, ankle and knee issues, so I hung out with another friend at the campsite all day while the rest of our friends went up Aasgard Pass to the Core Enchantments (2,000 ft. gain in one mile up a very steep slope with boulders and scree). We hiked around a bit to take photos, napped, and went wading and swimming at a small lake next to our campsite. At dusk, we ran around to take photos of the sunset, then we stayed up late to see the stars, laying on top of a large rock slab for a better view. The milky way was in full view, and we saw a big shooting star. At night in our tents, we could hear a rock avalanche that sounded like loud thunder on one of the peaks surrounding us.

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

mountain goats near our campsite

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

Colchuck Lake, our water supply

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

my tent

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

exploring the area

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

the small lake next to our campsite

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

Colchuck Lake at sunset

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

sunset colors reflected on the lake

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments

rocky terrain all around the lake

Day 3

It was much cooler and windy on this day, so we hung around the campsite, spending a lot of time at the smaller lake where it was warmer and out of the wind.

Day 4

hike out to trailhead
4.5 miles with 2,300 ft. elevation loss

After breakfast, we hiked out, back to the Stuart Lake trailhead. We stopped in Leavenworth for lunch before the long drive home (5.5 hours) back to Portland.

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  • barbara thornton

    thank you for sharing this fantastic lake and scenery. how did the water taste and did you boil it or have a pump to purify it? can you have fires or bring a cooking device? also did you have to hang a bear line for food? if 400 people go there do they have outhouses? what is your favorite hike of the five? thank you again.

    • To backpack and camp at Colchuck Lake, you’ll need a special permit. I assume that they are all taken by now, but you could check on it. I always filter water using a pump while backpacking. The water tastes fantastic. No fires are allowed, backpacking stoves are allowed. Yes, hanging your food is important, or use a bear canister. There are primitive privies located in several spots around the lake.

  • Martha Koenig

    This is such a helpful write-up, thanks Lisa! I’m heading there just after the 4th and can’t wait! Do you think a hammock as a tent will work in this area?

    • Yes, a hammock would work in the Colchuck Lake area. However, if you plan to camp in the Core Enchantments area, there aren’t enough trees in that section and a tent would be better. We car camped near the trailhead the night before and hit the trail early in the morning so we could get a good campsite at Colchuck. Make sure to attach the overnight permit on a tent or hammock since the rangers go through to check for permits. Some people think you take the permit with you… that’s the wilderness permit you fill out at the trailhead, but the hard-to-get (you are so lucky!) overnight permit stays at your campsite. Enjoy… it’s a special place!

    • Martha Koenig

      Thanks for the insight, Lisa. My group had a wonderful 5 days/4 nights at Colchuck and the rangers were happy we followed (your!) permit advice. GORGEOUS weather, with a sh*t ton of bugs. My picaridin bug spray seemed to wear off too fast, and sometimes I just retreated to my bug-netted hammock for the prime times. Totally worth it though! Asguard pass and into the core zone was spectacular!

    • Awesome! The Enchantments are really special. Too bad about the bugs, but they seem to like the same gorgeous areas we do, so I guess we gotta learn to co-habitate. I’m getting ready for a trip that will have plenty of them, so I’m going to spray my clothes with Permethrin, use Picaridin on my body, AND wear my head net. Those damn skeeters love me.