Everything I imagined it would be and more. My one regret is that I only...
A dramatic entrance to the Enchantments basin or a destination all on its own, Colchuck Lake is a jaw-dropping sight to behold. Imagine sparkling azure water with banks of smooth granite encircled on high by rugged mountain peaks and hanging glaciers. Dreamy.
With such a great pay-off and a trail that is accessible for almost every level of hiker, we definitely give this one five-stars and recommend you get your boots out there, pronto.
Yep, it's popular. From the often-full Stuart Lake trailhead and parking lot (3,425'), start your hike with a gentle grade through thick forest on a path that more or less runs alongside Mountaineer Creek a good chunk of the way. At about a third of a mile, you'll enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This is good country set aside for low-impact foot traffic.
You'll cross Mountaineer Creek on a log bridge at 1.65 miles and then begin to climb a bit more steeply. Enjoy the emerging views of the surrounding mountains, and at just under 2.50 miles reach the junction where you need to go left to begin your serious ascent to the lake. Going straight leads to Stuart Lake. (If there's time, you might consider this one on the way back down.)
After making your left, you'll again cross over Mountaineer Creek on another log bridge. From here the trail begins a series of switchbacks through exposed roots and rocks up to the lake. Let the leg-burning begin. At 4.3 miles and 5,500', you'll reach a signed junction. The lake is just out of view.
Head left in the direction of the toilet for a classic water-level panorama from the north end of the lake. From this vantage, Dragontail and Colchuck peaks dominate the backdrop with Colchuck glacier in-between. Aasgard Pass is the low saddle to the left of Dragontail peak and the route up to the Enchantment Lakes.
From here it's your call. Head back to the main trail to explore the west shores of the lake and a small tarn, or for those who have planned and prepared for it, begin the steep ascent up Aasgard Pass to the adventures that await.
Camping is possible at Colchuck Lake, but to do so between June 15 and October 15, you will need to have an overnight permit, which is a quota-based permit that must be secured in a lottery drawing during the winter months. (The ranger station in Leavenworth also keeps one or two permits available for walk-in hikers, but this is also done as a drawing every morning at 7:45 AM, so there's no guarantees you'll get one.)
Permits & Tips
Northwest Forest Pass required (a fee station is located at the trailhead). Free, self-issued Alpine Lake Wilderness permit required (also available at the trailhead). Toilets available at parking lot and at lake (but there's no TP at the lake!). Tread carefully on rock and stick to the main trails. Dogs are not allowed.
How to get there
Head east on US 2 to Leavenworth.
Just before entering town, and just after milepost 99, take a right onto Icicle Creek Road.
Follow the paved road for 8.2 miles and turn left onto FR 7601 (about a mile past Eightmile Campground).
Follow on harsh gravel for another 3.7 miles to the parking lot and trailhead.