Ready to seize the fleeting days of summer with an epic Washington hike? We present to you…the Colchuck Lake hike!
This gorgeous lake is part of the greater Alpine Lake Wilderness, which is commonly referred to as the most scenic part of the Cascade Mountain Range.
It’s one of the gateways and first stops of many backpacking trails, but also widely accessible to the general public for a challenging but attainable day hike for Pacific Northwest adventure seekers.
Colchuck Lake is just one of many scenic alpine lakes, and it is a popular destination because hikers can accomplish it in one day. No overnight permits needed! This is exactly what we did – and our friends Kevin, Cameron, and Tessa joined us for an unforgettable sunrise hike.
In this post, we’re sharing our story and hope to inspire you to make your own day trip out to see Colchuck Lake!
What To Expect From The Colchuck Lake Hike During Sunrise
Before We Begin…
This lake is part of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
This means a Northwest Forest Pass is required to park your car at the trailhead. Lucky for you, a pass is very easy to obtain. You can buy one online and get it sent to you via mail, or you can buy it in person at local sporting goods stores like REI, Big 5, and several other outdoor retailers.
Call ahead and make sure they have some in stock!
If you don’t wish to buy an annual pass, there is also an option to print your own day pass (with your specific hiking date) and simply display it on your car’s dashboard at the trailhead.
The closest town to the trailhead is Leavenworth, Washington. You can choose to stay overnight in this adorable Bavarian town, or you can camp at the several campsites nearby before and after your hike.
Wake Up Call
The Colchuck Lake hike has been on our Pacific Northwest Bucket List ever since we could remember, so we were almost too excited to sleep when we finally decided to do it.
We knew we wanted to arrive at sunrise, so after some hiking time estimates and driving times, we realized we had a shocking 12:30 am wakeup call ahead of us. We slept for probably two hours before it was time to get up and prepare for the 8-mile hike ahead. We were too excited!
Want to hike during sunrise? Remember to pack a headlamp, a beanie, and a lightweight coat. It was very cold at the lake in the morning, even in the summertime!
Getting To The Trailhead
Like stated above, the most convenient town from the trailhead would be Leavenworth, Washington.
From the town, the trailhead to the Colchuck Lake hike is a 40-minute drive. The first 20 miles are on a paved road, but after you take a left into the Bridge Creek Campground area, the road turns to dirt.
Be careful of potholes and bumps in the road!
We started our hike around 2:30-3:00 am.
We didn’t really get to orient ourselves on the surroundings because it was still very dark outside. We relied on our headlamps to show the way ahead of us and didn’t spend too much time looking around at the nearby scenery.
This may have worked in our favor because we weren’t distracted by views or picturesque moments!
Between mile 2 and 3, there will be a fork in the path. The way straight ahead will lead to Stuart Lake (and it’s labeled with a wooden sign), but you’ll want to take a left to continue on the path to Colchuck Lake. A
fter two bridge crossings, the path will get rockier with more switchbacks. The elevation gain increases significantly in this area, so take a break by the last bridge before you start the ascent.
It took us a little over 3 hours to reach Colchuck Lake. We were definitely going at a medium pace, with a little bit of urgency to make it before sunrise!
Top Tips For The Colchuck Lake Hike:
- Prepare for a quick elevation gain
- Pace yourself – the trail is 8 miles long
- The trail can get dusty in the summertime, so leave space between hikers
- Brings lots of water and snacks
Read More: 20 Energizing Hikes In The PNW
Arriving At The Lake
We arrived at Colchuck Lake just in time!
The sun was starting to rise, so the sky was lighting up with brilliant oranges, yellows, and pinks.
Since we’re all photographers, we spent plenty of time taking pictures of the reflection and waited patiently for the light to reach the top of the mountains across the lake.
We actually packed pool noodles in anticipation of jumping into the glacial lake, but it ended up being too cold to attempt.
It may have been more likely to happen if we had hiked in the middle of the day, but the lack of sunlight to warm it up caused it to be very very cold! It’s a goal we surely have for next time because we know now that isn’t our last trip to Colchuck Lake!
There are plenty of camping spots around the lake, along with a makeshift pit toilet too! If you plan to camp here, make sure to secure the proper permits and follow the Leave No Trace principles so that the group after you can enjoy the area as well.
Breakfast With Friends And A View
Waking up at midnight and hiking through the night…you best believe we were starving.
We packed several protein bars and even packed pancakes and bacon we had made the night before. Those pancakes were a huge motivator for reaching the top, and we immediately pulled them out and had a mini feast on a rock overlooking Colchuck Lake’s reflection.
One of the best parts of this hike was doing it with our friends. We spent hours chatting about random things and entertaining thoughts of Lord of The Rings vs Game of Thrones debates. We helped push each other forward and reach the top…barely before sunrise!
It’s times like these where we will look back at the photos and remember the laughs, pancakes, and the good times we had during that sunrise. The lake was cool and all, but it turns out our friends are cooler.
After quite some time resting and recovering (and feasting!) at Colchuck Lake, we reluctantly made our way back down to the car. We took a lot more pictures on the way back from the lake because it was much easier to see our surroundings after the sun had risen.
While you may think the descent would be easier/quicker, it took nearly the same amount of time to hike down as it did hiking up.
This is because the trail was rocky and overgrown roots crisscrossed the path. We couldn’t just run down the path – we had to watch our step!
Overall it took us about 2.5 hours to reach the bottom. For comparison, our hike up took 3 hours.
Final Thoughts – Was is Worth Waking Up at Midnight?
The Colchuck Lake hike ended up being the earliest wake-up call for a hike we’ve ever done. While we maybe slept one or two hours the whole night, the journey was too exciting to care about the lack of sleep.
It was truly an incredible experience to see Colchuck Lake in the early morning. The sun hitting the mountain peaks was an incredible experience and one that only a handful of hikers get to see.
The only changes we would make would be to pack extra water, and warmer, light layers. We pulled layers off while hiking, but at the lake, it quickly became cold!
Gear Guide For The Colchuck Lake Hike
Ready to take on the trail yourself? Since this is a longer hike than most, we’re sharing some gear that makes the journey smoother and more enjoyable. Listed below, we’re sharing some essentials to pack with you while hiking Colchuck Lake. Note that this is simply for a day hike, not preparing for multi-day trips!
*The only addition to this list would be a headlamp if you’re planning to hike before sunrise.
Have you ever hiked Colchuck Lake? What was your experience like? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
More Hiking Inspiration For Washington State
Looking for some more hiking inspiration? Check out our Washington board for some more trail ideas on Pinterest!
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