Hike to the Enchantments' Horseshoe Lake
Washington › Lake Stuart Trailhead
Added by Nathan Wall
- A well-kept secret to the Core Enchantments
- A sparkling glacier-tilled alpine lake amidst crags and larches
- Glacial polished granite with awe-inspiring views of the North Face of Mt. Stuart
- Amazing all colors in autumn
- Abundant wildlife
- Excellent stargazing
From Leavenworth, WA, drive Icicle Creek Road for 8.5 miles until you reach Bridge Creek Campground. Turn left here onto Forest Service Road #7601 signed for the Stuart Lake Trailhead. The pavements ends and the road gains elevation quickly as your car transports you high above the Icicle Creek Valley. After four miles, you'll reach the Stuart Lake Trailhead at the road's terminus at an elevation of 3400 feet.
Be advised that an overnight permit is required, and often in exceedingly high demand, generally from June 15th through October 15th of every year.
Lace up your boots, situate your pack, and get ready to gain 3000 vertical feet over the next eight miles. The way begins placidly enough, paralleling Mountaineer Creek through dense, healthy forests. The constant murmur (or roar, depending upon the season) of the creek will be a a fellow companion for the next few miles. At roughly 1.5 miles, cross the creek and ascend switchbacks at a moderate grade. The trail begins offering up a few scant views of the spectacles ahead and behind as it reaches a junction at 2.5 miles with the Lake Colchuck Trail (elevation: 4500 feet).
Leave the crowds headed for Colchuck, Aasgard Pass, and the Core Enchantment Lakes beyond and continue towards Stuart Lake. The trail is mellow now as it wanders easily through shaded forests still paralleling Mountaineer Creek. After about two miles and a seemingly negligible elevation gain of roughly 500 feet, you'll reach the wooded shores of Stuart Lake (elevation: 5064 feet). The crowds thin yet again as they settle into tranquil camps along the shores of the lake gazing upwards at Mt. Stuart dominating the horizon. Proceed on the main trail as it narrows and begins to become the unmaintained and often braided "heard-path" that leads unassumingly to Horsehoe Lake. The path is effortless to follow for the first 3/4 of a mile but abruptly meets the edge of a marsh with Mt. Stuart again leering overhead guarding the way.
Here, intrepid travelers must make a choice: either parallel the marsh by slogging through the muck and the mire or somersault, crawl, and heave yourself up, over, under, and around a seemingly endless maze of blow-down along the edge of the forest. It's wet feet or a dose of gymnastics.
At the far end of the marsh as the walls of the valley appear to be closing in all around you, locate an old horseshoe nailed to a tree where the two aforementioned routes combine. The way now steepens unrelentingly as you gain nearly 1300 feet of elevation in about one half of a mile. Soon, you'll unwittingly emerge adjacent to the outlet stream of Horseshoe Lake (elevation: 6300 feet) gazing at the serene emerald waters glistening below granite crags bespeckled with golden larches if you visit in the fall.
Make camp along the shores, gather yourself up with some rest and relaxation, then grab your camera and be sure to explore the wonders of the lake basin. Views of Mt. Stuart can be had from most angles as well as those of Jack Ridge. Climb through talus and scree to the ridge for views down to Horseshoe Lake, Stuart Lake, Mountaineer Creek Valley, and other Enchantment Peaks. Or, locate Jack Lake on your Green Trails map and scratch your head as you stand in a pristine alpine meadow laced with winding streams and dribbled with tarns wondering whatever happened to Jack Lake. Now, at last, enjoy the nighttime stargazing and ponder why you didn't bring more food and take a few extra days off from work.
- Sleeping bag
- Overnight gear
- The 10 Essentials
- WaterProof hiking boots
- Warm clothes
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
Backpacking, Fishing, Hiking, Photography
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