Denny Creek and Melakwa Lake Hike
Denny Creek Trail to Melakwa Lake is a really amazing hike. It can get busy, but the trail is long enough that it absorbs people pretty well. I went on a beautiful 80 degree Friday and the parking lot overflowed onto the street. However, I was alone on the trail for the majority of the hike and didn’t encounter any other hikers for a several mile stretch. One of my favorite aspects of the trail is the diversity of scenery and terrain.
The trail starts out a little noisy, with I-90 still nearby. It passes under the freeway at about a half mile, after which point the trail almost instantly feels different. Quieter and calmer. It continues through the forest and crosses Denny Creek at about 1 mile. This is a popular destination for those looking for a shorter outing, especially families with smaller kids who don’t want to take on the steep longer trail all the way to the lake. It’s a fun stop, with lots of large flat rock slabs to sit on and grab a snack. During times of heavy water flow, the creek is impassable, but throughout most of the year it is quite easy to get across on exposed rocks and logs. A wooden sign nailed to a tree points you to the main trail on the other side of the creek.
Once you cross the creek, the trail immediately starts to climb. After a couple of switchbacks, the trail enters a more open, rocky area, and much of the hike stays unshaded after this point. The trail is considerably less busy after the creek crossing, and I only encountered a few other hikers. This hike is really quite beautiful. You’ll spend a great deal of time on talus slope, where you can see wildflowers during the right time of year. You will also get views of Keekwulee Falls at about 2 miles. About a quarter mile later, the trail crosses Denny Creek and offers a great shady spot to take a break and grab a snack.
Pretty soon, you’re back out on talus slopes. The trail is pretty steep here and I frequently stopped for a minute to look back on the view of the valley and listen to the sounds of the birds. By this point, I couldn’t hear the freeway noise any more, and without any other hikers around the only sounds I could hear were those of the mountains. About 3.5 miles in, you’ll be back in the shade of hemlocks and cross over Hemlock Pass at just under 4 miles. The last half mile to Melakwa Lake is downhill.
Once I reached the lake, I took a left and made my way around to take a look at Upper Melakwa Lake and to cross to the other side where there were some inviting basking rocks. There are signs in some open area that say they are for day use only. However, if you continue around the lake shore and across the stream connecting the two lakes, you can find a couple overnight camping spots. Melakwa lake is great for swimming, especially on a hot day after a long hike up. There are plenty of spots to easily access the water and lot of large exposed rocks to dry off on. I jumped in and managed to swim for about one minute before I couldn’t stand the freezing water any more.
I stuck around for about an hour and ate lunch before heading back down. I found that it took me almost as long to get down the trail as it did to go up. This was largely due to the talus slopes, which require care when stepping down and navigating the rocky and sometimes unstable ground. I was also slowed down a bit because the hike down gives you an entirely new perspective of the area. You get a constant view of the valley and mountains, and I saw some very cool wildflowers I hadn’t spotted on the way up.
Much of this trail is open and exposed to the sun, so make sure to bring plenty of water and/or a water filter on a hot day. I was very glad I had brought a hat to wear through the especially sunny stretches. There are plenty of small streams along the way, so if you have a water filter with you it should be easy to find spots to refill your stores. I also found this to be really helpful when having Newton with me, as he could frequently stop and drink and I didn’t have to worry about whether he was dehydrated or about pulling his bowl out of my pack to give him some water.
I highly recommend this hike. The variety of scenery, the views, and the lake make for a great day or overnight trip. In addition, accessing the trailhead is quick, easy, and won’t be hard on your car, as all the roads are paved, aside from the last .2 miles into the parking lot.
Take I-90 East, and exit at Exit 47 – Denny Creek/Asahel Curtis Road. Turn left after the exit to cross over the freeway. Take a right at the T, drive for about 2.5 miles and turn left onto Denny Creek Road/Forest Road 58. Drive another 2.5 miles and turn left into the parking lot signed for Denny Creek Trail. Continue through the small parking lot (this lot is for Franklin Falls Trail but you can also park here if there are spaces) and across the bridge to the parking lot for Denny Creek Trail. There is room for about 30 cars here. One a busy day, you might need to drive back out and park on the side of the road on FR58 and walk back into the trailhead. There are quite a few turnouts and wide shoulders along the road. Just make sure to watch for “No Parking” signs in some places.
Day Hiking Gear
These are some of my favorite gear items for day hiking:
- Day Pack – My Osprey day pack is the perfect size to fit all my snacks and hiking accessories and small enough to be light and unobtrusive, even for someone short like me
- Water Filter – A little bulkier than some other options, my Katadyn filter is still by far my favorite of any that I’ve used
- Sunscreen – Badger is free of toxic chemicals like oxybenzone, instead relying on zinc as a safe physical barrier to protect your skin from sunburn
- Knife – A good knife is an absolute must-have on day hikes and longer backpacking trips
- Whistle – One of the simplest and more important safety tools for hiking
- Water Bottle – I like to have a traditional water bottle and a bladder hydration system to keep in my pack to drink while walking
- Bug Repellent (non-toxic) – For particularly buggy hikes, it’s nice to have some repellent to prevent bites from mosquitos and flies
In addition to being important for nourishment, tasty hiking snacks are so rewarding at the end of a tough hike. For summits, I prefer treats that include chocolate – these are some of my favorites:
- Peanut Butter Cups – Theo makes delicious peanut butter cups that are free of palm oil.
- Mint Coconut Butter Cups – Eating evolved coconut butter cups are a great alternative to peanut butter if you don’t tolerate or prefer not to eat peanuts. Mint is by far my favorite flavor.
- Chocolate Covered Banana Bites – I recently learned that these are made with mis-shapen bananas that were slated for disposal, which makes my love for them even stronger.
- Vegan Chocolate-Covered Peanuts – These candies are an awesome vegan alternative to M&M’s. They taste surprisingly similar and are free of dairy and artificial colors.