Sunset view on Dragontail Peak and Colchuck Lake.

Colchuck Lake Hike: An Epic and Beautiful Trail in Washington

The Colchuck Lake hike is hardly a hidden gem in this social media world, but after doing it multiple times, it is still one of the must-do hikes in Washington. The views from the lake, looking up at the towering jagged edges of the peaks above it, are truly mindblowing and will make even the most accomplished landscape photographer pause for a moment. 

It’s a stunning sight and one that will call you back again and again.

While you won’t have this area to yourself, it is still one of the top hikes you do in the state. So, yes, you’ll have to battle some crowds, but once you’re up there, you’ll forget all about it as you soak in the views from Colchuck Lake.

Everything You Need to Know About Hiking to Colchuck Lake

Inside, you’ll find my guide, trail report, and other important information for hitting this trail. 

One Minute Trail Guide for the Colchuck Lake Trail

  • Distance: 7.5 miles to the front of the lake, 9-10 to the back
  • Elevation Gain: 2,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
  • Estimated Time on Trail: 4-8 hours
  • Pass Needed: America the Beautiful or NW Forest Pass
  • Trailhead: Stuart Lake Trailhead (but also Colchuck Lake)
  • Distance from Leavenworth: ~ 35 minutes, bumpy road the last couple of miles
  • Wilderness Zone: No Drones Allowed 
Colhcuck Lake in the Enchantments. It's the first lake on your Enchantments thru hike
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Why you can trust me: I’ve backpacked the Enchantments two times (2018 & 2022) and hiked to Colchuck Lake in 2020. This area is one that I’m incredibly familiar with, and I can’t wait to share with you all my knowledge and photos!
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Trail Report for Colchuck Lake Hike

In a perfect world, you easily find a parking spot, and you throw on the backpack for an epic day on the trail. We can all dream, right? Whether or not this ideal scenario happens, let’s hop onto the trail as we head up to Colchuck Lake in the Enchantments.

Overall, the trail to the lake is relatively steady for the four-plus miles. There are some steeper sections and some chill parts, but for most of it, it won’t be overly difficult. 

You’re hiking in a wilderness zone from the get-go, meaning no dogs or drones. So leave them both at home. 

For most of the hike, especially at the beginning, you’ll be hiking next to or near water, making for a pretty serene environment. This beginning part is a relatively gentle and nice warm-up for what will come later.

At the two-mile mark, the trail splits – left to Colchuck Lake and right to Stuart Lake. Stay left, which is where most of the foot traffic will be going. At this point, you’ve gained around 1,1000 feet with another 1,200 feet to go in 1.5 miles. (This half is steeper, and it feels like it.)

You’ll have various switchbacks as you climb higher and higher up the slope towards the lake. With that elevation gain, the views get better, and you’ll get some sweet overlooks to take in the views of the surrounding Cascades. 

The view of Colchuck Lake from the middle of the ascent up/down Aasgard Pass.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

After some final wiggly switchbacks, you’ll reach the lake and the epic view of Dragontail Peak in front of you. If you gasp, I won’t be surprised. It’s a wildly beautiful sight that stops almost all people in their tracks. 

I recommend finding a good place to drop the pack and chill out while you eat, swim, and photograph the landscape! 

Those looking to ditch the crowds should keep walking along the lake towards the back. (I will note that you’ll leave the lake shore for a bit at a certain point. If you’re just doing a day trip, I would probably not do this extra mileage and elevation gain.)

The Colchuck Lake hike is spectacular and something that almost all PNW visitors and locals should do. Yes, it has a ton of hype and popularity, but seeing it with your own eyes is incredibly worth it!

Your Guide to Hiking the to Colchuck Lake Trail

Is Colchuck Lake worth it?

Colchuck Lake is incredibly worth it and one of the most hiked trails in Washington each summer. You’ll love every second, and the views up top will dazzle you! From epic views without straining yourself too much on the way up, it’s a hike that has everything.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Where is Colchuck Lake Located

Colchuck Lake is located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the eastern side of the Washington Cascades, about 30 minutes outside of Leavenworth, WA. It’s a magical area with gorgeous alpine lakes, mountain goats, and towering and jagged peaks that will make you drool. 

Getting to the Trailhead

This is an easy one to get to. 

The trailhead is at the end of Eight Mile Road. To reach it, head down Icicle Road and take your left onto Eight Mile Road after you pass the Snow Lakes Parking lot. Here, it’ll turn into a dirt road, with some sections bumpy. Cars with clearance will have no issues. Sedans will be fine, but you’ll want to take it slow. 

How hard is the hike?

I give the Colchuck Lake trail a medium to hard difficulty but not strenuous. The first bit of the trail is pretty mild, and you’re like, “Hey, this is really nice.” But then it’ll start going up, and it doesn’t stop until you reach the lake 2,400 feet above.

You’ll definitely be sweating and breathing hard—especially those coming from Seattle and our sea-level life. That said, it’s totally doable. Just make sure to come prepared with good hiking attire, and you’ll be good. 

A hiker raises his hands standing in front of Colchuck Lake.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

What is the hiking time to Colchuck Lake?

For most average hikers, I would expect this to take three hours. If you’re in good shape and not carrying too much weight, you can probably do this in 1:45 to 2:00 hours. Honestly, the part that will slow you down the most are all the people on the trail you’ll have to dodge.

When is the best time of year for Colchuck Lake?

Summer is the best time to visit Colchuck Lake to soak up the views, go swimming, and enjoy the warm temperatures. It’s also not a secret, which is why this is one of the most popular and visited trails in the entire state. 

If you plan to explore the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, arrive early or come late for sunset and hike back in the dark. 

Overall, the hiking season is May through October, when the rain and snow begin, and the road will eventually be closed for the remainder of the year.

How’s the parking situation?

Oh boy! It’s definitely not great. Like many trailheads, it was not built for the population of the Seattle area nor for the popularity of the hike. That said, it’s not a small area; it’s just that everyone shows up here on the weekends. They allow parking on the right-hand side of the road leading up to the parking lot. 

However, that means that the road into the parking lot is only one lane, making it paramount to drive slowly and be aware of oncoming traffic heading away from the hike. If you want to secure a place in the parking lot, you’ll probably want to get there before 7am or get there around 6pm for a sunset hike. 

Will I have cell service? 

Chances are slim you’ll have cell service in the Enchantments area, especially on the Colchuck Lake trail. This is one of the furthest points from Leavenworth, with plenty of mountains and rock in between to jam up signals. Plan to hike without cell service; download your maps offline and carry a satellite phone in case of an emergency. 

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Backpacking to Colchuck Lake

If you plan to backpack, you must have an Enchantments Permit. If you do, you’re golden. If you don’t, you cannot sleep overnight. For those camping, the campsites are generally on the right side of the lake (as you look at it) and stretch towards the back where the rocks are.

One year, my group actually slept on the rock at the back before heading up Aasgard Pass and into the Core Zone for our other two nights. 

Lastly, no fires are allowed at the lake. 

Staying in the Leavenworth area

If you’re planning to spend time in the area, you’ll love it. There are tons of options for lodging. Leavenworth is an awesome Bavarian-themed town close to the hike but also the most expensive. 

If you travel further east, you’ll hit Cashmere and Wenatchee. These smaller cities are less expensive, but you’re sacrificing drive time. 

However, some good options are nearby if you’re looking to camp. 

On Icicle Road, near the Colchuck Lake hike, there are a handful of summer campgrounds. Furthermore, you could camp 25 minutes up the road at Lake Wenatchee. This is a stunning area and one of my favorite places in the region. 

Stay in Leavenworth

Stay in Cashmere

Stay in Wenatchee

National Forest Campgrounds 

What gear to pack for your hike

You’ll want your standard day hiking gear while trekking up the Colchuck Lake trail. The hike is in phenomenal condition, and you’ll never be alone, so if you’re considering doing this as a solo trip, you’ll be just fine!

Colchuck Lake just after dusk with a small hiker in red at the bottom.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
A solo hiker enjoys the views from the Colchuck Lake hike
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

FAQ: Exploring around Colchuck Lake

Can I sleep in the parking lot?

You’re not technically allowed to sleep overnight in the parking lot. But, well, there’s not a ton of enforcement in the middle of the night, so do with this information as you may. There are also plenty of pull-offs on Icicle Road you could sleep at and then make the 10-minute drive up to the trailhead.

Is it safe to swim in Colchuck Lake?

Yes, it is! I’ve swum twice, and it’s so refreshing! I highly recommend everyone bring a bathing suit and maybe even some floaties to enjoy the water.

When does the Colchuck Lake hike usually open up?

The road to the trailhead usually opens in mid-to-late May, depending on the snowpack from the previous winter and other weather conditions. In 2024, we had a weak winter, so I can see it opening in early May.

Are dogs allowed on the trail?

No dogs or pets are allowed on the trail or anywhere in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness zone.

Are there any bathrooms 

You’ll find restrooms at the trailhead and pit toilets on the right side of the lake near the back. Please use them instead of doing your business on the ground. 

Do I need a permit to hike to Colchuck Lake?

No specific permit for day hiking to Colchuck Lake (or anywhere in the Enchantments) is needed. That said, you need the correct parking pass, the America the Beautiful Pass or the NW Forest Pass. If you plan to stay the night in the area, you do need a permit, which is tightly regulated and hard to obtain. (There was an entire Enchantments Lottery back in March). 

Are there bears?

I’m sure there are bears in the area, but with how popular this hike is, all the human activity likely scares the black bears away. I’ve never seen a bear here in my three trips into the Enchantments, and you likely won’t either. Additionally, there’s no need for bear spray, either. 

An Enchantments mountain goat. These are very common.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Will I see mountain goats?

This has much higher odds, though most tend to stick to the upper elevations of the Enchantments or the backside of the lake. So, if you really want to see them on your Colchuck Lake hike, make the trek to the back of the lake, and you’ll have high odds of running into them.

Water Sources

There are plenty of water sources to filter water on the trail up and at the lake. I wouldn’t drink it without filtering first, though. There are animals and plenty of humans who come into contact with the water to trust it unless in dire circumstances. 

Wrapping Up The Colchuck Lake Hike

The Colchuck Lake hike offers a challenging yet rewarding experience for outdoor enthusiasts and is one of the trails I recommend to anyone who visits the area.

With its stunning alpine scenery, crystal-clear waters, and diverse wildlife, this trail provides a truly immersive and unforgettable adventure. 

Thanks to everything it offers, the Colchuck Lake trail is a must-visit destination in Washington’s beautiful Cascade Range. Plan your trip accordingly, and be prepared for an unforgettable journey through one of the most picturesque landscapes in the Pacific Northwest.

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside