Colchuck Lake used to be a hidden gem but is now quickly gaining in popularity. It’s a pristine alpine lake with soaring, jagged mountains above you, turquoise clear water below, and the added plus: water warm enough you can stomach swimming in. This lake is a real butt-kicker hike but an oh so worth-it destination. If your travels bring you near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, I can’t recommend a hike here enough.
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation gain: 2300 feet
Time: 6 hours
Fees: $5 (cash only) forest service fee. Free with a displayed NPW forest pass or National Parks Pass.
This trail is getting notoriously busy. Get there early especially on weekend to park in the lot. The road has plenty of no parking signs yet people seemed to park there anyway. It seems it is hit or miss whether you will get ticketed or not. We drove in and got to the trailhead at 6:30 AM on a Sunday morning to find an already full lot. The bathroom facilities were out of TP and one of the outhouses was pretty gross. Bring your own supplies and make sure to take care of business before starting this hike. LNT and that includes poop!
From state hwy 2, take Icicle Road 8.4 miles until taking a left onto forest road NF-7600. Then take a slight right onto NF-7601 and follow this road 3.5 miles to Stuart Lake Trail’s TH. This is where you will park. The 3.5 miles on 7601 are rough and filled with large potholes. Drive slowly and carefully. A passenger car can make it although not very comfortably.
We got there bright and early but still got a place in a pull out just outside the park lot that was full. As we drove an hour from our airbnb, we actually made breakfast at the car once we secured our parking spot so started hiking more around 7:30AM.
The first 2 miles are fairly easy going and follow a picturesque stream. You’ll reach a fork in the road with the right going down to the “horse ford” and the left to the bridge. Take the left fork to a very scenic bridge and prepare yourself now for the grueling climb.
Almost all of the elevation gain is in the last 2.5 miles with a never ending uphill feel. It’s steep with few switchbacks and lots of roots/ rocks. You’ll pass a couple waterfalls visible just off trail and then reach a signed fork in the trail. Stay left for Colchuck Lake.
From this fork it is another 1.5 miles. The trail almost immediately crosses another bridge into a boulder field and then continues its uphill onslaught to the end. There are plenty of great break spots however with one that faces incredible views of the valley you’ve been climbing out of and nearby peaks. Take your time and enjoy the journey.
Eventually the trail will level out and you’ll catch glimpses of the lake but it takes some meandering to find a spot to get down to the shoreline. Even if the lake is busy, do some exploring and you’ll likely find some quiet shoreline to hang out and enjoy the views.
A note on crowds
The trail didn’t feel busy at all to us on the way up and even right around the lake where we were closest to the trail didn’t feel all that busy. On our way down however it was packed and we past constant groups of ill prepared hikers and families making their way up. Start your hike early if you’d like to enjoy the peace and beauty of this spot.
A note on swimming
Pack a swimsuit as well. We spent around 1.5-2 hours eating lunch, taking photos, and swimming. The water was the warmest of any alpine lake I’ve felt. I even had no problems sitting up to my waist for 30 minutes in the sun and when I hopped in to swim, there was little of that tell tale “take your breath away” cold. I paddled around some time enjoying the perfect swimming conditions before drying off and starting our hike down.
*That being said, the water was definitely still COLD. Just not AS COLD as other alpine lakes. It still might not be your cup of tea.
Colchuck Lake was one of my top favorite hikes we did. While it was a butt kicker, the scenery along the trail was beautiful and adventurous and the lake at the end was easily the coolest lake I’ve hiked into. Let me know in the comments what you think of this incredible lake and hike!