Colchuck Lake Trail is a stunning hike that leads to one of the most beautiful alpine lakes I have ever witnessed. Getting to lays eyes on the granite-encompassed lake is absolutely worth the 8-mile round trip trek it takes to experience it.
We actually completed the Colchuck Lake hike while on a 5-day backpacking trip through the Enchantments and it was one of my favorite lakes along the entire Enchantments Trail.
Colchuck Lake is one of those places that makes you rub your eyes and blink twice just to ensure what you’re seeing is truly in front of you.
Since pictures will never do the turquoise waters of the lake justice, this is your sign to add Colchuck Lake Trail to your PNW hiking bucket list ASAP.
In this guide, I cover everything you need to know about hiking Colchuck Lake Trail, including permits and parking, what to expect, and fun things to do in Leavenworth post-hike.
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How to Hike Colchuck Lake Trail: Everything You Need to Know
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Colchuck Lake Trail Stats
Distance: 8 – 9 Miles (depending on how much of the lake you explore)
Level: Moderate – Hard
Elevation Gain: 2,316 Feet
Time: 4.5 – 5.5 Hours
General Trail Information
Do You Need a Permit to Hike Colchuck Lake Trail?
Alpine Lake Wilderness Permit
An Alpine Lake Wilderness Permit is required to day-hike Colchuck Lake Trail. These permits are free and self-issued at the trailhead.
Northwest Forest Pass
All hikers parking at the trailhead must also have either a Northwest Forest Day Pass ($5) or a Northwest Forest Annual Pass ($30). Day or annual passes can be purchased online or day passes can be purchased the day of upon parking.
If you have an America the Beautiful National Park Pass you do not need to purchase the Northwest Forest Pass.
Make sure your pass is visible and displayed in your vehicle before beginning the trail.
Can You Swim in Colchuck Lake?
Absolutely! Swimming at Colchuck Lake is a must, in my opinion. Colchuck Lake is hands down one of the most stunning alpine lakes I’ve ever seen (right up there with Delta Lake) and practically beckons you to hop in.
Taking a dip is the perfect reward after a challenging hike up. Throw your bathing suit in your day pack, you know you want to.
Where Is the Colchuck Lake Trailhead?
The trailhead is located 13 miles from the heart of the charming Bavarian-inspired town, Leavenworth.
Colchuck shares the same trailhead as Stuart Lake Trail and is also the most popular starting point for those thru-hiking the Enchantments Trail.
The parking lot at the trailhead only holds about 40 cars with limited additional parking along the road. Parking spots fill quickly and if you don’t snag one you’re unfortunately out of luck.
We arrived just before 9:00 a.m. and scored the second to last available parking spot along the road.
In retrospect, this starting time was extremely risky. To be safe, I would recommend arriving around 7:00 a.m. to not only secure parking but to also hit the trail before the masses.
There is a bathroom at the trailhead but no water.
Colchuck Lake Hike: What to Expect
As to be expected, we started the hike alongside a handful of other hikers. Colchuck Lake Trail quickly leads straight into a lush green forest. For the first mile or so the hike is shaded and relatively flat.
Consider this section the warm-up.
After the first mile, the trail begins to intensify in elevation. For the next three miles to the lake, the terrain is rocky, the trail is often exposed, and the incline is steep.
During the climb, we passed (and were passed by) several hikers. The trail is popular and therefore crowded. If you can avoid this trail on the weekend and opt for a weekday to explore it, do so.
If you find yourself completing the Colchuck Lake hike on a Sunday as we did, remember that hikers coming up have the right away.
While the hike is challenging it does a great job at keeping you entertained. The terrain and views are constantly changing between dense forests, boulder fields, stream crossings, and waterfalls.
At least while your legs are burning and you’re out of breath, you’ll be distracted by the ever-changing and remarkable views.
The trail is well maintained and pretty straightforward but I did check my offline map from time to time just to be safe. I recommend downloading the AllTrails map before beginning.
Considering the level of difficulty, I was surprised to see hikers of all ages making the trek to Colchuck Lake. We passed kids as young as 6 as well as adults probably in their upper 70s.
With that being said, know your own abilities (and the abilities of those hiking with you) before deciding if this trail is right for you.
Around the two-mile mark, there’s a split in the trail.
Right leads to Stuart Lake and left continues onto Colchuck Lake. Once you take the left towards Cochuck you’re nearing the switchback section of the trail.
The switchback section is the most challenging portion of the trail. We encountered many hikers during this section as everyone collectively started to lose steam.
More than once I thought we were nearing the top just to find that we still had a ways to go. The elevation gain and rocky terrain through this section are taxing, especially when hauling a 35lb backpack. Take your time, take breaks if you need them, and be willing to step aside for others to pass.
Once you reach the top of the switchbacks you have about half a mile before Colchuck Lake comes into view.
Once you lay eyes on Colchuck Lake, you’ll forget about the last four miles or the fact that you still have to hike four back to your car.
I’m not sure which is more mesmerizing, the lake or the mountains. Paired together the sight of Colchuck Lake is breathtaking. For a split second, it’s easy to forget you’re still stateside.
Once you’ve reached the lake you can choose where and how far to explore. Since we were camping, we headed right around the lake but we also saw day hikers venture over to the left side.
I was surprised there weren’t more hikers cooling off in the lake. I was nearly drooling at the sight of it.
If nothing else, you should jump in just to say you did. How often do you find yourself at the bank of a turquoise blue lake completely surrounded by towering granite mountains?
Whether you choose to swim or not, definitely take your time at the top. Marvel at Colchuck Lake, cool off, eat lunch, or sunbathe on the rocks before heading back.
I’ve witnessed several beautiful alpine lakes and still, Colchuck Lake is among my favorites.
Camping at Colchuck Lake
We were fortunate enough to camp at the foot of Colchuck Lake before continuing onwards on the Enchantments Trail. After exploring around the lake for a bit we discovered an incredible camp spot, right along the water.
If camping at Colchuck Lake between May 15th – October 31st is of interest to you, make sure to properly plan ahead and apply for a permit.
The annual advanced permit lottery opens on February 15th at 7:00 a.m. PST and closes on March 1st at 11:59 p.m.. Winners are chosen on March 8th at random.
The permit system is extremely competitive. The volume of permit applications submitted far exceeds the number of permits available. It’s unfortunate to say but, securing a lottery permit isn’t exactly likely.
But worth trying, year after year, nonetheless!
Thru-Hiking the Enchantments
Trust me when I say, once you lay eyes on Colchuck Lake you’re going to want to do the entire 20-mile hike through the Enchantments.
Just as the name implies, the area is nothing short of enchanting.
There are two ways to thru-hike the Enchantments Trail. The most common way to complete the trail is by day hike, while the most sought-after method of experiencing the Enchantments is backpacking the trail over a series of days.
Regardless of which way you plan to experience the Enchantments, check out my trail guide for all the details: Hiking the Enchantments: The Only Guide You’ll Need.
Day Hiking the Enchantments Trail
Many people resort to conquering the 21-mile Enchantments Trail hike in one day because they were unable to secure an overnight permit.
If you have your sights set on experiencing the Enchantments but were unable to secure a permit, day hiking the trail is an option and totally doable.
We passed a huge number of (very envious) day hikers while we were backpacking.
Keep in mind that the trail is long and challenging, both physically and mentally. Those attempting to day hike the Enchantments Trail should be experienced hikers and physically fit.
Backpacking the Enchantments
Those lucky enough to land an overnight permit in the Enchantments are in for a treat.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will be reminiscing on our 5-day backpacking trip for the remainder of my time here on Earth.
I am an avid hiker who has taken my fair share of “bucket list” worthy hikes, and still, nothing compares to the captivating nature of the Enchantments.
We slept under the stars, took dips in alpine lakes, traversed snow, scrambled up boulder fields, crossed rivers, and made friends with too many mountain goats to count.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip and absolutely worth shooting your shot for a permit, year after year.
Things to Do in Leavenworth
You can’t complete the Colchuck Lake hike without stopping by the unique town of Leavenworth. Leavenworth is a bavarian-themed town packed with tons of charm and character.
Below are some of my favorite things to do when visiting Leavenworth.
Enjoy a Post-hike Beer at Icicle Brewing
Icicle Brewing Company is an independently-owned craft brewery located right in the heart of town. The brewery makes for the perfect pitstop post-hike to grab a seat on the patio and enjoy an ice-cold brew.
Even better, ask for the Enchantments Hazy IPA to commemorate your time on the trail.
Grab a Bavarian Sausage From Munchen Haus
You can’t visit Leavenworth without tasting a bavarian sausage. I recommend stopping by Munchen Haus for a tasty lunch, finding a seat in the courtyard, and, if you’re lucky, enjoying some local live music will you eat.
Float the Wenatchee River
If you’re visiting Leavenworth during the warm months, what better way to cool off than by lazily floating down the river?
The Wenatchee River runs parallel to the town and is a scenic and unique way to experience it. You can rent a tube from Blue Sky Outfitters for a fun and relaxing 2-hour float.
Tubbing is $32/person ($27 for children ages 4-8) and includes your tub, life jacket, and free shuttle to the launch point.
Visit A Book For All Seasons Bookstore
Every time we visit Leavenworth we can’t help but stroll through A Book For All Seasons Bookstore. I never necessarily need a book, but I always leave with one in hand.
The store has a great variety of local authors, best sellers, adventure guides, and more.
Finish With a Treat From Whistlepunk Ice Cream Co.
If you don’t mind the inevitable line, end your day in Leavenworth by trying one of the unique or seasonal ice cream flavors from Whistlepunk Ice Cream Co.
Pro tip: Opt for a tasting flight where you can try four different flavors. Why choose just one?
Are you planning a trip to Colchuck Lake or hoping to thru-hike The Enchantments Trail? If you have any questions about the trail, other nearby hikes, camping in the Enchantments, or visiting Leavenworth, drop me a message in the comment section below!
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