Melakwa Lakes and Denny Creek

Trail Highlights:Lake views; mountain views; waterfalls; wildflowers
Round-trip Distance:8.50 miles / 13.70 km
Location:Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest,
Snoqualmie Pass / Snoqualmie Valley, Washington Central Cascades

Ancestral lands of the Snoqualmie
  • From east- and westbound Interstate 90, take Exit 47
  • From Exit 47, turn left from eastbound/right from westbound onto Tinkham Road/Forest Road 55 (road name may not be posted)
  • Proceed 0.10 miles/0.16 km to intersection
  • Turn right onto Denny Creek Road/Forest Road 58, as indicated by signage
  • Proceed 0.20 miles/0.30 km and turn left to remain on Denny Creek Road/Forest Road 58
  • Continue on Denny Creek Road/Forest Road 58 for 2.50 miles/4.00 km to parking lot on the right just past the junction with Forest Road 5830 on the left. Accessible parking for persons with disabilities is available on Forest Road 5830 immediately to the left.
  • The trailhead is 0.20 miles/0.30 at the end of Forest Road 5830; be sure to read signage at the trailhead, as the trailheads for the Snoqualmie Pass Wagon Road and Franklin Falls trails are nearby on Denny Creek Road/Forest Road 58 and Forest Road 5830, respectively
  • Returning to Interstate 90
    Required Pass:Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites
    Additional Trail Info:Washington Trails Association
    U.S. Forest Service

    At the trail’s end, Upper Melakwa Lake laps the stony skirts of Kaleetan Peak (left) and Chair Peak (right), joined atop their zigzagging cleft by Melakwa Pass. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail,

    The rugged trail to Melakwa and Upper Melakwa lakes generally follows Denny Creek through pleasant, mostly coniferous forest, past waterfalls, along a canyon rim, across sprawling boulderfields, and finally ends where the lakes nestle high in their narrow alpine cradle.  Here and there, wildflowers dot the stone-strewn trailside and flourish in mid-summer swaths along the lakeshores.  The trail gradually climbs the creek valley before steeply ascending Hemlock Pass at its head and then generally descending the ridge’s undulating flank to the lakes just beyond.  Near the lakes, those wishing to venture still further can pick up connecting trails to Lower Tuscohatchie Lake and Pratt Lake.

    Do note that this trail is rocky throughout and steep in its mid-section — be prepared with appropriate footwear and other traction gear as required for your comfort.  Expect wet feet where the trail crosses Denny Creek at the expanse of smooth rock known as the Slippery Slab 1.25 miles/2.00 km from the trailhead and be ready to turn back if seasonal high water or ice render it too dangerous to safely pass.  Above Keekwulee Falls, exercise caution where the trail skirts the canyon rim just steps from the tree-lined precipice.  Finally, expect to encounter other hikers on summer weekends; for more solitude, try visiting on a weekday or take the longer Melakwa – Pratt Lake Traverse via Pratt and Lower Tuscohatchie lakes.

    Several natural features along the trail derive their names from the Chinook jargon, a pidgin amalgamation of French, English, and Pacific Northwest First Nations languages that was prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries among the various local European and indigenous peoples (and not to be confused with the now extinct language of Oregon’s Chinook people).  In the jargon, “melakwa” means “mosquito.”

    The trail begins in boggy lowland forest, where giant conifers stand like gateposts.
    Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    For most of its distance, the trail traces Denny Creek to its headwaters at Hemlock Pass.
    Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    Not far from the trailhead, the Interstate 90 viaduct soars unexpectedly overhead. Not to worry – its roar is soon drowned by Denny Creek’s cheery babble and dies out altogether after approximately 2.00 miles/3.20 km.
    Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    At approximately 1.25 miles/2.00 km from the trailhead, the trail reaches Denny Creek’s Slippery Slab, a smooth expanse of rock edged by a series of pools and small waterfalls that is popular with parents and small children as a natural water park. In winter and spring, higher water volume and a glaze of ice can render the creek crossing treacherous.
    Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    Denny Mountain, here blazoned with evening’s last golden swath, flanks the trail’s lower, open stretches.
    Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    Approximately 1.90 miles/3.10 km from the trailhead, Denny Creek slips over a massive, stony outcrop at Keekwulee Falls. Not surprisingly, “keekwulee” means “to fall down” in the Chinook jargon.
    Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    From the main trail, a short boot path descends steeply to a series of shallow pools atop Keekwulee Falls. Exercise caution near the falls’ abrupt ledge beyond the pools. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    Above Keekwulee Falls, Denny Creek courses through a narrow, steeply walled canyon. The main trail switchbacks up the canyon’s edge, occasionally approaching within steps of the plunging precipice, where bird’s-eye views open across the treetops below. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    The forest opens as the trail ascends Denny Creek’s boulder-strewn upper valley just below Hemlock Pass. The lakes Melakwa lie a scant 0.50 miles/0.80 km beyond the pass. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    Throughout the trailside’s woodlands, seeps, and meadows, look for a variety of wildflowers, including, top row, left to right, pink mountain-heath (Phylloce empetriformis), common harebells (Campanula rotundifolia, queen’s cups (Clintonia uniflora), catchflies, or, campion (Silene sp.), yellow avalanche-lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum), five-leaved brambles (Rubus pedatus), western, or, Sitka columbines (Aquilegia formosa), partridgefoots (Luetkea pectinata), and bird’s beak louseworts (Pedicularis ornithorhyncha); middle row, tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata), red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa), Pacific bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa), Pacific trilliums (Trillium ovatum), subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens), and western bunchberries (Cornus unalaschkensis); and, bottom row, plumed false Solomon’s seals (Maianthemum recemosum), star-flowered false Solomon’s seals (Maianthemum stellatum), two-leaved false Solomon’s seals (Maianthemum dilatatum), rose, or, Douglas’s spiraea (Spiraea douglasii), common beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), white marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala), and pioneer, or, stream violets (Viola glabella). Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    After attaining Hemlock Pass, the trail enters a pleasant forest and descends small, rolling hills. Just before reaching Melakwa Lake, a side trail leads downhill approximately 1.00 mile/1.60 km to Lower Tuscohatchie Lake and, just beyond, Pratt Lake. With transportation arranged between trailheads, the Melakwa, Lower Tuscohatchie, and Pratt lake trails can be hiked as a loop of approximately 10.75 miles/17.30 km. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    Melakwa Lake pools in the rift between Kaleetan Peak and Chair Peak. (In the Chinook jargon, “kaleetan” means “arrow.”) Upper Melakwa Lake, its sister, lies just beyond the tree-lined straits on Melakwa Lake’s north end. By stones and leaps, the trail crosses the narrow connecting streams and leads left to Upper Melakwa Lake and right to the not-quite-detached “island” at the base of Chair Peak. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    In beds of Sitka valerian (Valeriana sitchensis) along the lake shore, butterflies (here, likely clodius parnassians, Parnassius clodius, also known as clodius Apollos or Apollo parnassians) engage in the frenzied, even if brief, pursuit of nectar and mates. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.
    Upper Melakwa Lake’s stony waters are the final and well-earned destination of this rigorous hike.
    Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, Washington.

    © 2014-2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.


    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.