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
Denny Creek Road/Forest Road 58 is one way at the trailhead. To return to Interstate 90 from the parking lot, turn right onto Denny Creek Road/Forest Road 58 and continue approximately 2.30 miles/3.70 km to State Route 906 (state route may be unsigned)
Turn right onto State Route 906
For westbound Interstate 90, proceed 0.10 miles/0.16 km and turn right onto the freeway ramp
For eastbound Interstate 90, proceed 0.60 miles/1.00 km to Yellowstone Trail Road, turn left onto Yellowstone Trail Road, and then immediately turn right onto the freeway ramp
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, July 02, 2017.
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 Melakwa Pass, 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, July 21, 2013.
For most of its distance, the trail traces Denny Creek to its headwaters at Hemlock Pass. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, July 02, 2017.
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 two miles/3.20 km. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, July 02, 2017.
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, August 03, 2014.
Denny Mountain, here blazoned with evening’s last golden swath, flanks the trail’s lower, open stretches. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, September 02, 2013.
Diminutive and mostly pallid blooms light the early summer woodland shadows, including Pacific trilliums (Trillium ovatum) (upper left), two-leaved false Solomon’s seals (Maianthemum dilatatum) (upper center), Pacific bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa) (upper right), star-flowered false Solomon’s seals (Maianthemum stellatum) (center left), western bunchberries (Cornus unalaschkensis) (center), queen’s cups (Clintonia uniflora) (center right), five-leaved brambles (Rubus pedatus) (lower left), pioneer violets (Viola glabella) (lower center), and white marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) (lower right). Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, July 02, 2017.
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, June 22, 2018.
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, July 02, 2017.
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, August 03, 2014 and September 02, 2013.
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, July 02, 2017.
In sunny clearings along the trail, look for more vibrantly hued wildflowers, including western, or, Sitka columbines (Aquilegia formosa) (left), tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) (upper center), plumed false Solomon’s seals (Maianthemum recemosum) (center), common harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) (lower center), yellow avalanche-lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) (upper right), and western spirea, or, hardhack (Spiraea douglasii) (lower right). Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, August 03, 2014 and July 02, 2017.
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, September 17, 2022.
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, July 21, 2013.
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, August 03, 2014.
As fragrant as they are vivid, subalpine spirea (Spiraea splendens) sweeten the lakeside. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, August 03, 2014.
Other blooms bordering the lake include beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) (top left), drifts of pink mountain-heath (Phyllodoce empetriformis) (top right), bird’s beak lousewort (Pedicularis ornithorhyncha) (lower left), and partridgefoot (Luetkea pectinata) (lower right). Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, July 21, 2013 and August 03, 2014.
Upper Melakwa Lake’s stony waters are the final and well-earned destination of this rigorous hike. Intrepid hikers with fortitude and strong ankles can venture further and pick their way up the bouldered hollow between Kaleetan Peak and Chair peak for a sweeping view from Melakwa Pass. Denny Creek – Melakwa Lake Trail, July 02, 2017.
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HesperosFlown.com is created and authored by Anthony Colburn, a Pacific Northwest native, avid hiker, incidental naturalist, and amateur photographer.
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