Hiking Stuart Lake Trail, WA
Located just outside of Leavenworth WA (named the Ultimate Holiday Town by A&E), Stuart Lake Trail offers a moderately challenging hike with beautiful vistas and scenery that few places in the world could boast of.
The best times to hike are in the summer and fall, and there is a five dollar fee at the trail head for day hikers, and overnight passes are required for people who are planning on camping. Overnight passes can be obtained at the Leavenworth Ranger Station.
What to expect on the hike:
The trail is about nine miles round trip, and takes about six hours for a person of average skill level to complete, but anyone who has been there, as I have, would recommend taking some extra time hiking up and planning to spend a few hours at top, because the trail passes some scenery that no one would want to rush by.
Beginning: The trail starts off gently, with a gradual incline taking you at a leisurely pace through the old growth pine forest. The trail meets up with the bank of a cold mountain stream and follows it upstream until it becomes a small waterfall and a bridge leads hikers over the rapids to the other side. The trail begins to get more difficult at that point, leading steadily uphill, not easy for adults with knee problems or small children to attempt.
Mid way: The trail intersects with another that leads to Colchuck Lake (another great hiking destination) about 2.5 miles in, but the trail to Stuart Lake continues straight ahead. Glimpses of marshy fields (always lush and green), piles of boulders, snow-capped peaks, and an expanding grove of aspen trees are some of the many things hikers enjoy along the way, a continuous reward for the effort of the climb. The trail is a series of short, steep climbs, and stretches of level and downward sloping portions through fields of wildflowers. All the time, the scenery never gives away any hints to what is up ahead at the lake.
The destination: I would not want to spoil the destination with a detailed description. The first time I hiked to Stuart Lake, more than half of the joy of the experience was in the surprise at the end. I will just say that the lake is well worth the climb. Jack Ridge and Mount Stuart are fully visible above the water. And you can even get a glimpse of Mt. Stuart’s hanging glacier.
There are campsites (Permits Required for camping) and places to sit and enjoy the water near the banks of the Lake. At the peak of summer, the water can be warm enough to swim in. The cutthroat trout that jump up and ripple the water are a tantalizing sight for those hikers who remembered to bring along their fishing gear (again, permits are required).
Things to Bring/Know
- Wear weather appropriate clothing. The trail is well used, and you will not have to worry about brush scratching your legs, so shorts are fine if it is hot. Remember that the higher you climb into the mountains, the cooler it will be.
- Wear hiking boots or tennis shoes with good traction.
- Bring Insect repellent, sunscreen, and pleanty of drinking water!
- Eat a good meal before the hike, or bring snacks.
- Fishing gear and permit.
- Bathing suits in mid summer.
- Photographers of every skill level should bring their cameras. The landscape is such that it is nearly impossible to take a bad picture.
- Horses are allowed.
- Trail is closed to stock Jan 1st til the Saturday after labor day.
- Group size limit: 8 people.
- No bicycles/motorized vehicles.
- Campfires not allowed.
- Dogs not allowed.
- Hikers will need to bring a $5 bill to purchase the required Northwest Forest Pass, which is available at the trail head. Or else purchase all your passes at the Leavenworth Ranger Station before hand (I would recommend this option for people who hope to camp out, or fish at the lake).
Directions to the trail head
Directions: On highway 2, approaching from the west end of Leavenworth, turn south on Icicle Creek Road and continue for 8.5 miles. Turn onto Eight Mile Creek Road, crossing over the river, and continue 4 miles, all the way to the end of the dirt road. The Stuart Lake trail head is there, and a very large parking lot, with an outhouse.