It is well worth the drive.
After topping at the trailhead to fill out the Alpine Wilderness Permit (free), the first half of the trail is a leisurely walk along Mountaineer Creek on Stuart Lake Trail #1599. You’ll cross a foot bridge before reaching a trail junction. At the junction, take the left fork for Colchuck Lake #1599.1. You’ll cross another bridge and then begins your switchbacks up to the lake, increasing in slope as you go. This hike has you gain 2280 feet in elevation, and since most of the hike has been pretty flat up to this point, you make up for lost time here.
Fear not, the view forthcoming makes you forget your labored efforts.
Colchuck Lake feels like a place that should be far more difficult to get to and far deeper into wilderness than a 4-mile (one-way) hike. When you come through the final veil of trees, around the final switch back, up the final incline, the view spread out before you takes your breath away.
And you are happy to have it stolen.
It is no wonder that this section of the Cascades is called “The Enchantments” – you are most certainly enchanted. Bowled over by it. Nearly swooning from it as you behold the glacial-turquoise water and deliciously grey, marvelously jagged, peaks (Dragontail & Colchuck) before you. The remnants of Colchuck Glacier are in fine view and if you are lucky (as I was) you will get some sightings of mountain goats (+ kids!).
The only downside to this hike, is that it is wildly popular (for good reason). So, once you even on the border of the “summer” season, the trailhead parking lot will be full early, and trail as well. I went on a Saturday (probably the worst choice), but by starting my hike before 0900 I found that I got chunks of the trail to myself and my time spent enjoying the view at the lake wasn’t inundated with other visitors. My hike out was full of people hiking in however.
Regardless, if you are feeling past due from some enchantment, sign yourself up for a hike to Colchuck Lake.
For directions to the trailhead and a another description of the hike itself:http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/colchuck-lake