Day Hike Colchuck Lake Without A Permit

Nestled deep within the enchanting Wenatchee National forest in Washington State, just outside of the cutest little Bavarian town, you'll find the Colchuck Lake hike. You've probably seen images of this beautiful alpine lake hike and wanted to know more about it. It's one of the most unforgettable day adventures for you can take! With its crystal-clear alpine waters, breathtaking mountain vistas and serene surroundings, Colchuck Lake is a destination that beckons hikes to embark on an unforgettable journey. You may have heard lots of rumblings about permits and maybe even something about the longer trek, The Enchantments, I'll cover everything you need to know about this popular trek.


Day Hike Colchuck Lake Without a Permit


The Colchuck Lake Trailhead and Getting There

The Colchuck Lake trailhead is located near Leavenworth, the most charming Bavarian-style village that serves as a gateway to lots of outdoor activities in the region. If you've never been to Leavenworth, it's worth spending a day in the area to explore the town. You'll feel like you walked into another country.

Read this post: Travel the World Without Leaving the United States

Leavenworth is about a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle. If you want to get an early start on your hike {you do!}, you'll want to stay close by. 

You can stay in Leavenworth at one of the hotels or resorts, or camp nearby at several of the camping locations. There are VRBO's in the area as well. We've actually done all three options! You will need to plan ahead because accomodations book up quickly! 

Camping: We stayed at Eightmile Campground: It's 8 miles from Leavenworth 
Hotel: The Enzian Inn is located in the heart of downtown Leavenworth. If you want something upscale, I've heard nothing but good things about The Post Hotel. You can add on a spa treatment after your hike! Find a hotel here.
VRBO: This is the rental we had in winter. There are a lot of options in the area, all fill up quickly. 

To reach the trailhead, start by heading west on Highway 2 from Leavenworth, then turn onto Icicle Creek Road. Follow this winding road for approximately 8 miles until you reach the Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake trailhead parking area. There is parking for about 20-30 cars and you will need a Northwest Forest Pass to park for the day.

You should arrive early {before 7 am!}, especially during peak hiking seasons, as the parking spots fill up quickly. The trailhead does have restrooms, but no potable water, so fill up your water bottles before you get started on your hike. 

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About Colchuck Lake Trail

Length: 8 miles roundtrip, though if you walk further around the lake towards Aasgard Pass to get away from the crowds, you might add up to two miles. 

Elevation gain: 2,280

Highest Point: 5580 feet

Difficulty: Moderate/hard

Dog-friendly: Nope. Sorry, you've got to leave dogs at home for this one

Pass needed: You will need a Northwest Forest Pass or an America the Beautiful pass. Make sure it's on your dash easily seen or you will get a ticket.

Permit needed: You will need to fill out the FREE wilderness permit at the trailhead {oops, we didn't!} so that the rangers can make sure everyone is safe and accounted for. Like I said, we didn't fill one out but I saw other hikers with the tags on their day packs. We never had a ranger stop and ask for ours. Just fill one out at the trailhead to be safe.

Colchuck Lake is part of the very popular backpackers hike called The Enchantments. 

When to Hike Colchuck Lake

Colchuck Lake is at a high elevation nestled in the Cascade Mountains, so it's covered in snow the majority of the year. The best snow-free hiking conditions are from July to early October. If you hike in late September or October you may even be treated to the Larches looking like they are on fire!

The gate to the forest road is closed from November-May, and while it's still hikeable, it will add about 7 miles to your trail. Hiking this trail in the winter brings up other safety considerations and you should be an experienced hiker. There are often hikers lost every year in avalanches in this area.

The Permit System for Colchuck Lake and the Enchantments

The allure of the Colchuck Lake hike is enhanced by its connection to the larger Enchantments area, a pristine alpine wonderland that is renowned for its breathtaking beauty and unique landscapes. Hiking through the Enchantments requires a separate permit, and the Colchuck Lake trail serves as a popular access point to this coveted destination. Here's a closer look at the permit system and how to navigate it.

Understanding the Permits

While you need a day use permit to hike Colchuck Lake, it's easy to aquire at the trailhead. It's more like a baggage tag you pick up and fill out. It's all self-regulated and it's free.  It's just a way that the rangers can make sure everyone is safe and accounted for. This permit only allows you to explore the lower sections of the Enchantments and access Colchuck Lake as a day hike. 

You'll likely hear about scoring a permit to hike The Enchantments. They are VERY limited and with the popularity of the trail, seem like a unicorn to achieve. These permits are highly competitive and are typically obtained through a lottery system, which opens several months before the hiking season begins. 

You only need this overnight permit if you want to backpack and camp on a multi-day journey. The Enchantment trail is a incredible but it's extremely difficult if you try to make it into a day hike. This is not an advisable day hike.

Hiking the Enchantments is not an out and back trail, it's a point to point trail, meaning you'll need some type of transportation for drop off at one point and pick up at the other. It's 20 miles of very difficult terrain. With the difficulty getting permits, there have been more and more attempts at hikers making this into a day hike. It's not gone well. It not only puts you in danger, but it also puts rangers in danger, so please hike responsibly. 

There is no permit required to hike Colchuck Lake other than the free self-issued alpine lake permit. There is no current cap on those, they are unlimited. Your only limitation is access to parking. 

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The Hike to Colchuck Lake

The Colchuck Lake trail is a moderately challenging hike, covering a distance of approximately 8 miles round trip. We hiked around the lake to the other side and to the base of Aasgard Pass where the trail continues on for the Enchantments. At the end of our hike, my watch said I had hiked more than 10 miles. 

The trail's elevation gain is around 2,300 feet and it presents a rewarding challenge for hikes of varying skill levels. We have seen hikers with babes strapped in backpacks, old hikers and young hikers. We also say well-equipped hikers in flip flops and jeans. We also saw lots of people being cajoled in tears. It's not a hike for everyone. 

As you begin your ascent, you'll wind through lush forest of towering evergreens, cross over babbling creeks on wooden bridges and be treated to glimpses of the surrounding peaks through breaks in the trees.

The trail's incline becomes more pronounced as you continue, leading you through switchbacks that offer panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and nearby peaks. Along the way, keep an eye out for the vibrant wildflowers that adorn the tail during the warmer months. 

Don't miss this post: 10 National Parks to Visit During Wildflower Season

As you near the summit of the trail, the landscape starts to dramatically shift. The trail opens up to showcase the breathtaking beauty of Colchuck Lake, cradled by towering granite walls framed by jagged peaks of the Stuart Range. The lake's crystal-clear waters mirror the surrounding mountains, creating a tranquil and awe-inspiring sight that's worth every step of the journey.


Can You Swim at Colchuck Lake?

Yes! You can reward yourself with a dip in the alpine lake, just know that it is cold but refreshing and provides the perfect invigorating plunge. 

Take this time to enjoy a picnic and take in the views. There are a few pit toilets you can find nearby. It's rustic but it works.

Safety and Leave No Trace at Colchuck Lake

While the allure of Colchuck Lake is undeniable, it's essential to prioritize safety and responsible hiking practices. Weather conditions in the mountains can change very quickly so you need to make surey ou understand the forecast before you start your hike and pack accordingly. Dress in layers, wear sturdy hiking books, and bring essential items such as a first aid kit, map {you can download maps offline on your phone}, and plenty of snacks and water.

Check out this post: 5 Safety Tips for the Beginning Hiker

This is a popular hike and for all of us to continue to enjoy the pristine beauty of the hike, it's crucial to leave no trace. Pack out all of your trash, stay on designated trails and avoid disturbing wildlife.

A day hike to Colchuck Lake is still one of our favorite hikes in Washington. There are layers upon layers of beautiful natural wonder that will leave you with lasting memories. It's a bit of a challenge, but you'll appreciate the adventure!

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