River of the Month | March, 2019

Icicle Creek

A wild treasure deep in the North Cascades, Icicle Creek pours cold and clear from Josephine Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Flowing east, it carves a deep granite gorge that broadens into a glacier-carved, U-shaped valley and eventually joins the Wentachee River near Leavenworth. The rugged basin drains more than 200 square miles, most of it within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and wilderness.

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Icicle Creek
Washington's Icicle Creek
Photography | Alamy Stock Photo

Why It Matters

With ice-cold water that flows out of a series of pristine lakes in Washington’s Enchantments, Icicle Creek is critical for fish and wildlife. The historic town of Leavenworth, as well as orchards in the Wenatchee Valley, also depend on water from the creek. Icicle Canyon is the eastern gateway to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and delights visitors with some of the finest trails and most spectacular scenery in Washington.

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Fish

Icicle Creek is a stronghold for federally listed bull trout (pictured), and its cold water is crucial for Columbia Basin steelhead and Chinook. It’s also home to native fish like Westslope cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, Pacific lamprey and sucker. Its cold water provides refuge for these fish when rivers lower in the basin warm up.

Wildlife

With extensive wilderness and mature forests, the Icicle basin is home to large mammals like black bear, elk, deer and cougar, and smaller ones like beaver, river otter (pictured), mink, bats and badgers. Species of concern include northern spotted owl, Townsend’s big-eared bat and pileated woodpecker.

How to See It

With Leavenworth as a launch point, Icicle Canyon is the gateway to majestic alpine vistas, craggy peaks, hanging valleys and impossibly blue lakes. There’s a trek for every season in this glaciated wonderland, from spring wildflower hikes to fall-color rambles to winter snowshoeing. Bring your Northwest Forest Pass.

  • Fish

    Fish

    The most popular way to fish Icicle Creek is with a light-weight fly rod in the summertime, when you’ll likely catch good numbers of small rainbow trout. Nothing large, but the setting is stunning. Historically, there is a small run of hatchery spring Chinook on the lower river, but check Washington fishing regulations before you go.

  • Snowshoe

    Snowshoe

    Many trails close in winter, but the upper section of Icicle River Road is left open and unplowed for snowshoers and cross-country skiers to take in views of the boulder-strewn river and Grindstone Mountain.

  • Hike

    Hike

    Start with the easy Icicle Gorge Trail or Icicle Creek Trail, which follow the river. Then venture up to the aquamarine Colchuck Lake or ascend to the incomparable Enchantment Lakes (permit required) at over 7,000 feet. From Stevens Pass, you can hike 10 miles to Josephine Lake, Icicle Creek’s source in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The WRC Story

The stunning scenery of Icicle Canyon was nearly its downfall in the late 1980s, when private landowners began to sell off 20-acre parcels to build homes with spectacular valley views. Logging, road-building and septic tanks would have forever changed the wild landscape of the creek. To address these threats, Western Rivers Conservancy bought 11 properties totaling nearly 900 acres and added them to the Wenatchee National Forest in 1992, permanently ensuring unbroken protection and public access along nine crucial miles of Icicle Creek.

Best Time of Year

Chinook fishing
May-Jun
Trout fishing
Jun-Sep
Wildflower
Apr-May
Hiking
Summer-fall

Go Deeper

  • 17 images of Leavenworth, WA we can’t stop looking at

    (Matador Network)
    Learn More
  • Officials seek dam upgrades in Alpine Lakes Wilderness to help salmon

    (The Seattle Times)
    Learn More
  • Five amazing hikes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

    (Outdoor Project)
    Learn More
  • A brief guide to the Enchantments in the North Cascades

    (REI Co-op Journal)
    Learn More

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