Friday, August 14, 2009

Denny Creek Trail to Melakwa Lake

Hike Route: Denny Creek Trail

This is one of those "Best Hikes near Snoqualmie Pass", "Must Do", etc. hikes found in local hiking books like Take a Hike Seattle. It is an easy hike up to Slide Rock (also known as Slippery Slap), but a moderate hike for the remaining 3.5 miles up to the lake. The hike is 9 miles out and back from the trailhead. The hike offers wildflowers, waterfalls, Alpine lakes and the famous Slide Rock on Denny Creek. Couple of quick warnings/updates:

- A good turnaround point for kids is Slide Rock, the hike gets serious beyond this point
- The bridge crossing Denny Creek at Slide Rock washed away this year, see below for more info
- This can be a popular hike, come early/mid-week or except lots of crowds

There are two parking areas for this trailhead, one is after the Denny Creek Campground area -- the other just up the dirt road at the true trailhead -- where the road ends. There are about 15 spots to park here, its a gravel parking lot with a outhouse bathroom (no running water). The trailhead is easy to spot - its the only trail from the parking lot. Note: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park here.

The first part of this hike is fairly easy and follows a well maintained section of Denny Creek Trail. You pass over Denny Creek on a wooden bridge and then pass UNDER the westbound part of I-90.

The trail continues through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area up a slight grade (about 500 feet elevation gain) to Denny Creek and the Slide Rock area. Most guide books say there is a Bridge crossing Denny Creek at the Slide Rock area, but sadly the bridge washed away this year.

During this time of the year, you can make it across Denny Creek. After crossing, look for the bits of tape marking the trail across the creek. Look slightly upstream for the bits of tape and trail.

From this point forward the hike gets serious and the trail gets a bit more rough. Be prepared for lots of very rocky switchbacks up the mountain until you reach Hemlock Pass at 4,600 feet elevation.

It was fairly foggy and misty so we didnt get a good look at Snowshoe Falls -- but you can't miss Keekwulee Falls as you cross one of many very rocky avalanche shoots.

The mist was very heavy in parts, but it was easy to see the trail. There were no flies or insects on our early morning trip. That being said, the name Melakwa comes from a local native term meaning "mosquito". Along the hike we saw lots of wildflowers including wild asters, spireas, indian paintbrush, fireweed, and native columbine.

After passing hard-to-see Snowshoe Falls you cross the creek again. There is currently a log crossing or a rock crossing slightly upstream.

The upper part of this hike provides some great views of the valley between Denny Mountain and Low Mountain.

There is a very large rocky avalanche shoot to cross as you get higher. Its all loose basalt rock - no dirt trail here.

After this rocky crossing, there is a set of some pretty serious switchbacks as you climb up to Hemlock Pass (4,600 feet elevation). After the pass, the trail slight descends toward Melakwa Lake. The trail is less rocky, but was a bit more muddy on this final part of the hike.

There is an intersection with the Melakwa Lake trail that leads to Lower Tuscohatehie Lake -- just stay to the right up to Melakwa Lake.

When arriving at the Lake, follow the trail on the right up to the log which crosses on the LEFT over the Pratt River (more of a creek at this Location). Basically you want to be on the left/West side of the lake -- the right/East side of the lake has a trail, but its very rough. You can reach Upper Melakwa Lake if you keep on the left/West side of the main lake.

The lake was fairly foggy when we arrived - but it still was a very nice lake (but maybe not as good as Annette Lake). Again, Melakwa does refer to "mosquito", so be sure to bring some bug spray in case its bug season.

On the way back, its much easier to take in all the views between Hemlock Pass and Slide Rock.

As noted in lots of local hiking books this is one of the best hikes in the region. I am sure its spectacular on bight sunny days, but on a cloudy/foggy day it was just ok -- although when the clouds did lift a bit we could see the great views of the surrounding landscape -- plus Keekwulee falls was an enjoyable stop on the way up or down.

View Denny Creek Trailhead in a larger map

Area - Mt Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest - Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Trail - Denny Creek Trail
Map - Green Trails Map: Snoqualime Pass Gateway, WA No. 207S
Length - 9 miles out and back - Moderate Hike (about 2,200' Elevation gain)
Trail - Hard packed trail to Slide Rock, Narrow rocky trail up to the Lake -- a number of rocky avalanche shoots to cross
Dogs - Yes (a couple of creeks along the way for water)
Bikes - No
Views - views along way, with the Lake being all view
Getting There - From Seattle - Exit 47 on I-90, turn Left, then right at the T-intersection. Bear Left on paved Road 58 toward Denny Creek after crossing under I-90. Stay right around the Denny Creek campground. Turn Left on gravel road toward Denny Creek trailhead - cross the bridge, follow dirt road up to the trailhead. The dirt road is in good condition, but has some potholes.
Weather - Half shade, half sun on the hike. The lake is at 4,500 feet elevation.
Other Trails - Exit 47 provides a number of other hiking options, including Annette Lake
Facilities - there a restroom at the trailhead parking lot. No water.
Fee - Northwest Forest Pass required for parking. Free Wilderness Permit also required, available at trailhead.