A friend was set to leave the country, so we thought we'd take one overnight...
Stuart Lake is a true alpine treasure. Located just one drainage-basin west of infamous Colchuck Lake, it offers a similarly enchanting experience – sparkling water surrounded by rugged Cascade peaks – but often without the crowds. Oh, and not to mention it also boasts a close-up view of Mount Stuart, the second-tallest non-volcanic peak in Washington State. Hanging glaciers and all. Yes please.
Begin at the well-marked Stuart Lake trailhead and gently gain elevation through dense forest with the rumbles of Mountaineer Creek as your soundtrack to the west. Enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area at one-third of a mile. Continue on, and ignoring signs about a horse ford, cross Mountaineer Creek on a log bridge at 1.65 miles and then begin climbing more steeply. As you wind your way upward through granite boulders, look left and catch the occasion view of Dragtontail Peak and Colchuck Peak.
At just under 2.5 miles, continue straight at the signed junction toward Stuart Lake and leave most of the crowds (heading for the Enchanments) behind. The trail levels considerably as it passes through the Mountaineer Creek valley. After emerging from a forest of lodgepole pines at 3.25 miles, views open up in a meadow that’ll have you thinking of the Swiss Alps. Take a few minutes to appreciate this vista: From left to right stand Colchuck Peak (8,705’), Mount Argonaut (8,451’), Sherpa Peak (8,605’), and Mount Stuart (9,415’).
Continue your sublime march onward, and at just under 4 miles, reconnect briefly with the creek (this time the northern fork) before entering a dense evergreen forest that may have snow on the trail until mid-summer. A sign for a pit toilet appears (grab your TP and follow cairns to it). A quarter mile later, at 4.5 miles and 5,100', the lake unexpectedly appears. Follow the trail around the north side to find spots for swimming, fishing, relaxing, and enjoying the views of Mount Stuart and compadres to the south.
Permits & Tips
Northwest Forest Pass required (a cash-only fee station is located at the trailhead). Free, self-issued Alpine Lake Wilderness permit required (also available at the trailhead). Toilet at trailhead and a quarter mile from the lake (bring your own TP!). The trail is well-traveled until the turnoff for Colchuck Lake, so expect to see other hikers for this first section. Foot traffic dies down considerably after this. No dogs allowed.
Camping is possible at Stuart Lake, but to do so between June 15 and October 15, you will need to have an Enchantment Lakes 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.)
How to get there
From Seattle, head east on Highway 2 over Stevens Pass. Just after milepost 99 and immediately before entering Leavenworth, turn 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. The parking lot is quite large, and the trailhead is clearly signed.