Visit Melakwa Lake on any summer day and you will more than likely encounter other hikers. Add some snow however, and you have a perfect recipe for solitude. The lakes make an ideal winter day excursion, as you'll have gorgeous views and a peaceful trek through the lush forest. Visitors should be prepared for a couple of stream crossings. Also, note that the lower portions of the trail may be snow free at times, so you may have to pack your snowshoes on your back until they are needed.
Starting from the Denny Creek Trailhead, follow the creek and pass under the I-90 overpass with the highway buzzing in your ear. Around the first mile, you will need to cross Denny Creek; use caution here, as the creek can be treacherous and even impassible at high flows. If the water level permits, use the available rocks to hop across the creek. The trail starts up again on the opposite side and leads up through the forest before it reaches an open slope with views of the impressive Keekwulee Falls at about the 2-mile mark. The trail becomes rocky at this point as you traverse the talus slopes and switchback your way up to Hemlock Pass, which lies about 3.9 miles from the trailhead. Once at the top of the pass, pat yourself on the back and catch your breath.
For the next quarter of a mile you'll lose around 150 feet of the elevation that you worked so hard to gain, but soon you will round a bend to see the sign for Melakwa Lake, and the lake appears just a short distance afterward. Stand in awe of the commanding peaks that rise up from the lake's basin. While the winter hike up to the lake is beautiful, the snowy view from Melakwa Lake really makes this a remarkable winter adventure. The jagged surfaces of the precipitous cliffs surrounding the lake are dramatically highlighted by the snow that falls into contours, creating a beautiful scene of texture and contrast.
To access Upper Melakwa Lake, look to your left as you approach Melakwa Lake and find the route that cuts north across the slope that creates the western shore. In order to proceed across this slope, you will first have to cross the Melakwa Lake outlet at the southwest corner of the lower lake. If the snow level is low enough, you will be able to see the logs you are crossing; if not, step cautiously. Continue across the slope until it reaches the north portion of Melakwa Lake, when the route descends to a small peninsula. Keep north as you cross the narrow band of land separating the two lakes, and soon you'll reach the south shore of Upper Melawka Lake. You'll find lots of nice flat rocks surrounding the lake that are perfect for a break. Take a moment to relax and enjoy the views of Kaleetan Peak to the north before returning by the same route.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.