Melakwa Lake

11 reviews #1 hike out of 716 in
8.6 mi
Distance
3 hrs 58 min
Time
terrain
2,359 ft
Elev Gain

Overview

The way to Melakwa Lake is like two different trails: first a wide gentle trail through old growth forest beneath an elevated and noisy Interstate freeway. And second, a rocky steep trail that follows a waterfall and a precipitous gorge upstream to get to a pair of clear alpine lakes flanked by rocky peaks. Is it about the journey or the destination? You decide.

Getting Started

Start out from the trailhead on a wide trail that meanders through forest, with trees young and old. Due to its popularity, this part of the trail has been the focus of numerous trail maintenance outings, yet there are still rocks and roots to contend with; that’s just the nature of the terrain.

At a half mile, freeway noise peaks as you pass under the elevated span of westbound Interstate 90. Then at just over 1 mile is a popular natural feature known by various names: the Denny Creek Water Slide, Slide Rock, the Slippery Slab. This is the destination for many families, for frolicking and/or picnicking on a hot summer day. If this is your destination, see our hiking guide entry for Denny Creek.

At the water slide, Denny Creek is posted as “Impassible During High Water”. In normal flows however, strategically placed rocks offer a dry crossing. The trail re-enters pleasant forest on the opposite side, marked by a sign on a large tree that reads “Main Trail”. A quarter mile from the water slide, the trail passes through an area of lush vegetation then breaks out into the open, revealing two tiers of Keekwulee Falls, the main drop falling 90 feet into a steep ravine. In the morning, the falls can be seen glinting in the sunlight.

Climb more earnestly after this point, alternating between open talus and forested shade. At 1.9 miles, hear Denny Creek echoing off the walls of its narrow gorge above Keekwulee Falls, finally drowning out freeway noise. At a couple of switchbacks, the trail offers views almost straight down for those who may want to peer down the steep walls.

At 2.25 miles, the trail levels off for 0.2 mile until it crosses gently gurgling Denny Creek on a footlog beside a huge cedar snag. The rest of the way to Hemlock Pass is steep as you alternate between talus and forest. In season, there may be few wildflowers blooming in this section. At 3.8 miles, top out at Hemlock Pass, 4600 feet. Continue the final 0.4 mile, losing 150 feet of elevation to arrive at the outlet of Melakwa Lake. A massive logjam offers one way to cross the outlet stream. Just on the other side is a popular gathering place for hikers and a signed trail to a privy. Enjoy the lake and wonder at the meaning of its name. Hint: “Melakwa” is Chinook for “mosquito”.

To get to the smaller Upper Melakwa Lake, continue 0.2 mile along the left side of the lake. Cross the stream connecting the two lakes to get to campsites on either lake, or to continue wandering, e.g. to Melakwa Pass.

On the return, remember to take the upper trail at the junction 100 feet past the logjam, to climb back up to Hemlock Pass.

The trailhead can be accessed from the Franklin Falls/Denny Creek area. Trailhead parking was closed as of September 2019, but another large parking lot approximately a quarter mile away provides plenty of room. A NW Forest Pass is required.

Taking Children

Might be too strenuous for children, as it gains almost 3k feet in 4.25 miles.



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    1 year, 2 months ago
    Very pretty lakes on a sunny day.
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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    2 years, 2 months ago
    I went all the way Melakwa lake. Pretty awesome post work hike. Had it all, waterfalls, views, lakes, and wildflowers.
    ★ ★ ★ ★

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Public Tracks

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Matt P 4 years, 2 months ago
Melakwa Lake via Denny Creek - Saturday - 09/17/2016
From Seattle, drive I-90 eastbound to Exit 47 (Denny Creek / Asahel Curtis). At the bottom of the ramp, turn left over the freeway to a T. Turn right and proceed a quarter-mile, then turn left on Denny Creek Road 58. Follow Denny Creek Road 2.3 miles (past the campground at 2 miles). At the sign for Denny Creek Tr. 1014, turn left on FR 5830 and travel 0.2 mile of potholed gravel to road’s end. There is parking for about 30 vehicles, plus additional shoulder parking along one side of the road. On sunny summer weekends, you may have to park even farther away. Trailhead amenities include two vault toilets, two permit kiosks, a picnic table, and a trash receptacle.
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Nicholas Heilweil 6 years ago
Rob: Denny Creek to Melawkwa Lake
We have done this hike quite a few times but this time around it was with both our kids and their significant others.  Lots of ice on the trail, especially down to Melawkwa Lake. Definitely needed the microspikes.  The waterfalls were awesome in their frozen state. On the way back down, we found a small hidden trail that led out to the large waterfall.  Set ourselves up and had lunch in the section above the falls.  Running down this trail is a bit hard as there are lots of smaller rocks sticking up everywhere.  Because we started so late, we ended up with the headlamps on for most of the trail back down.
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Bobby 6 years, 5 months ago
Denny Creek
Full trip report and trail description (and tons more photos!!) on our blog: http://bobbyandmaura.com/hikes/denny-creek
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Youren 5 years, 6 months ago
Denny Creek 5/24/15 10:18:35 AM
Denny Creek to Melakawa Lake, memorial day weekend And snow lake trail 6/20/15
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Shalena Meredith-Hayes 4 years, 6 months ago
Denny Creek, WA, USA
Water too high to pass one mile in.
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