Lake Stuart

Trail Highlights:Lake views; mountain views; creekside views; wildflowers; autumn foliage
Round-trip Distance:9.00 miles / 14.50 km
Location:Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest,
Stevens Pass / Wenatchee Valley, Washington Central Cascades

Ancestral lands of the šnp̍əšqʷáw̉šəxʷ, or, Wenatchi
  • On U.S. Route 2 at Leavenworth, Washington, turn right from eastbound/left from westbound onto Icicle Road
  • Proceed 8.30 miles/13.40 km
  • Turn left onto Forest Road 7601 (sometimes called Eightmile Road), signed for Bridge Creek Campground, Eightmile Trailhead, Stuart Lake Trailhead, and Forest Road 7601 (do not be confused by signage for the Eightmile Campground approximately one mile/1.60 km earlier)
  • Proceed 3.80 miles/6.10 km to the parking lot
  • Required Pass:Daytime Access Only:
    Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites

    Overnight Access:
    Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites
    ⋅⋅⋅ and⋅⋅⋅

    Enchantment Area Wilderness Permit
    Additional Trail Info:Washington Trails Association
    U.S. Forest Service

    The Stuart Lake Trail offers increasing glimpses of the Stuart Range as it climbs, including Sherpa Peak (left) and Mount Stuart (right).
    Lake Stuart Trail,

    Lake Stuart lies within the Stuart Range that forms the spine of the scenic clutch of peaks and lakes known as the Enchantments.  Outside of the Enchantments’ core zone, Lake Stuart nevertheless offers views of the Stuart Range’s characteristically jagged peaks with more solitude than one will find in the more popular areas.  Although camping in the Enchantments Permit Area (which includes Lake Stuart) is limited and available only by lottery, day hiking is permitted with the standard Northwest Forest Pass.  At 9.00 miles/14.50 km round-trip with a relatively moderate grade, the trail to Lake Stuart is easily completed as a day hike.

    The trail passes through mostly coniferous forest, ranging from moist thickets to the drier, almost scrub-like woodland typical of the east slopes of the Cascades.  Evidence of past forest fires is occasionally visible along the trail’s lower portion.  The varied woodland and occasional meadows support a broad array of small spring and summer wildflowers that reveal themselves to the watchful hiker.  In autumn, the mostly deciduous plants of the under- and middlestory light the trailside with vibrant hues, whilst hitherto undistinguished larches, cottonwoods, and aspens suddenly blazon the upper mountainsides with gold.  Tracking first Mountaineer Creek and then its unnamed tributary that flows from Lake Stuart, the trail is seldom far from the rush of tumbling waters.  A side trail to Colchuck Lake  branches from the main trail approximately 2.00 miles/3.20 km from the trailhead.  Given Colchuck Lake’s popularity and position as a portal to the core Enchantments zone, expect to encounter other hikers periodically up to the side trail; however, solitude will prevail in the wilds beyond.  Throughout, no vehicle or other human-made noise mars the wilderness tranquility.

    Along the trail, Earth’s stony foundations are frequently visible through the forest’s thin soil, exposed or deposited by the ice age glaciers that raked the landscape and sculpted the dramatic peaks and valleys that exist today.
    Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    The scrubby woodland surrounding the trail varies in character and thickness and bears evidence of frequent lightning-sparked wildfires common to the area. Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    Look for striking dashes of color hung about the trailside woodland. In spring, Rocky Mountain maples (Acer glabrum) (left) sport vivid, velvety leaf tips that are actually galls formed around tiny purple erineum maple mites (Eriophyes calcercis) that burrow into the leaves’ tissues to feed. The mites’ unusual handiwork seldom damages the maples. Throughout the seasons, vibrant tufts of wolf moss (Letharia vulpina) (right) add conspicuous dots of color to the often stark conifer branches. Misnamed, wolf moss is actually a lichen formerly used as poison for wolves and foxes.
    Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    The trail seldom strays far from Mountaineer Creek’s boisterous descent. Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    After crossing Mountaineer Creek at approximately 1.50 miles/2.40 km from the trailhead, the trail climbs moderately as views crane upward to the surrounding peaks. Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    At approximately 4.00 miles/6.40 km from the trailhead, a broad meadow opens to an expansive view of the serrated skyline that characterizes the Stuart Range, including here, from left to right, Argonaut Peak, Sherpa Peak, and Mount Stuart. Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    Spring wildflowers abound throughout the stony wayside woodlands and meadows, including, top row, left to right, yellow columbines (Aquilegia flaviscens), pioneer violets (Viola glabella), sticky currants (Ribes viscosissimum), plumed false Solomon’s-seals (Maianthemum racemosum), hookedspur violets (Viola adunca), and Pacific trilliums (Trillium ovatum); middle row, bluebells (Mertensia spp.), swale desert-parsleys (Lomatium ambiguum), Columbia lewisias (Lewisia columbiana), stickseeds (Hackelia spp.), western fairy slipper orchids (Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis), star-flowered false Solomon’s seals (Maianthemum stellatum); and bottom row, Cascade Oregon-grapes (Berberis nervosa), various rockcresses (Arabis, Boechera, and Turritis spp.), western serviceberries, or, saskatoons (Amelanchier alnifolia), Venus penstemons (Penstemon venustus), yellow avalanche-lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum), and Fendler’s waterleaves (Hydrophyllum fendleri). Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    Autumn sets the trail’s mid-section meadow ablaze, whilst larches (Larix spp.) fleck the mountainsides with gold.
    Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    Leaving the meadow behind, the trail climbs a small saddle along Lake Stuart’s unnamed creek (Stuart Creek would be a logical appellation), where its thundering waterfall is heard long before seen. Curiously, many peaks and creeks in the Enchantments and elsewhere in the broader Alpine Lakes Wilderness lack names, the result of the National Park Service’s policy of leaving features unnamed that were still nameless at the time land was designated a wilderness area, in order to preserve its truly wild character. Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    Mount Stuart and its retinue of peaks greet the sight upon arrival at Lake Stuart. Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.
    The trail continues around to Lake Stuart’s far shore, where the view retraces the several of the peaks passed along the way. Lake Stuart Trail, Washington.

    © 2016-2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.


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