Near the Bavarian town of Leavenworth (but hidden from sight), The Enchantments loom. This ethereal landscape of lakes, basins, and rugged peaks is a delightful place to hike through. However, there is no easy way to get there.
Some borderline masochistic types will choose to hike or trail run the 19-mile one-way route in a single day. Many do it this way because camping permits are hard to get. I would avoid doing this if you can.
Instead, plan ahead to give yourself the best chances of winning the lottery and scoring a permit from the Forest Service.
In August 2020, I solo-hiked The Enchantments and camped one night in the Snow Permit Zone, which is less popular than The Colchuck and Core Enchantments Permit Areas. I started at Stuart Lake Trailhead and ended at Snow Lakes Trailhead.
Going this direction means less total elevation gain, more total elevation loss, and a shorter last day (because let’s face it, post-hike schnitzel and spätzle will be on your mind).
Permits are required for all overnight camping in The Enchantments from May 15 – October 31. Applications open on February 15 and close on February 29. Permits are issued via a lottery, so you might not win!
For $6, I submitted one lottery entry on February 15, 2020. in the hope of increasing my chances, I picked a weekday for the less popular Snow Permit Zone. A month later, I got an email that read:
Congratulations! We wanted to let you know the lottery drawing recently took place and you’ve been awarded a permit reservation at Enchantment Permit Area.
I literally jumped for joy, gathered myself, clicked “Accept Awarded Permit”, then filled out the reservation form.
The “use fee” is $10 per person, so you pay $16 total between that and the lottery entry fee. Not a bad price of admission for alpine-induced nirvana!
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit The Enchantments is from August through October. During this time of year, most of the snow has melted and the weather is typically dryer.
When people think of The Enchantments, they probably imagine numerous groves of pine trees with yellow needles. These are called golden larch trees and the area is known for them. The tree’s needles start to turn in October before falling for the winter.
Weather in The Enchantments
It’s best to use a point forecast from NOAA.gov to get the most accurate projection just prior to your trip. Click the button below for a link to this resource.
Hiking The Enchantments
- Distance: 19 miles
- Hike Time: 2-3 days
- Elevation Gain: 4600 feet
- Elevation Loss: 6710 feet
- Fee: $6 to enter lottery, $10 for a permit
- Dogs: No
- Difficulty: Hard
The Enchantments can be accessed from either Stuart Lake Trailhead or Snow Lakes Trailhead. I recommend hiking from Stuart Snow because there is less elevation gain if you go this direction.
Parking is abysmally limited at both trailheads. If you can avoid leaving a vehicle at either lot, please do so. Both trailheads are accessed from Icicle Road. Snow Lakes Trailhead is a 10-minute drive from Leavenworth and Stuart Lake Trailhead is a 30-minute drive.
From Stuart Lake Trailhead, the trail climbs steadily through the forest, gaining 2000 feet over 4 miles to Colchuck Lake.
2.4 miles in, you will reach a junction. Bear left to continue to Colchuck Lake. The other trail (to the right) continues to Lake Stuart.
0.1 miles after the junction, the trail crosses Mountaineer Creek then seemingly ends at a talus slope. If you hug the creek and continue southwest, the trail comes back into view.
The final 0.6 miles to Colchuck Lake is a bit steeper, but before you know it you will be staring at its illustrious aqua-blue waters.
As you make your way around the western edge of the lake, the trail becomes more narrow and rugged. 0.8 miles from your first sighting of the lake, you will begin to cross a talus deposit full of giant boulders that have fallen from Dragontail Peak, elevation 8842 feet.
Once you have made your way over the 0.4-mile-long talus deposit, the real ascent begins. Straight in front of you, Aasgard Pass rises precipitously to 7841 feet. From this point, you will climb 2200 feet in 1.3 miles.
There is a visible trail through the scree slope with cairns to help you plod up to the top.
Halfway up, there is a cliff with a waterfall that runs down the right side. Stay to the left of this obstacle.
The view from the top of the pass will take your breath away and so will the hike ?
If you start to feel sorry for yourself on the way up, just be glad you don’t have to pack and carry wedding garb.
After Aasgard Pass, the trail enters a basin with beautiful lakes all around. This is the Core Enchantments Permit Area (aka Enchantment Basin).
Hiking through this area is easy going compared to what you have done so far. There is one notably steep section as you drop down to Inspiration Lake (my personal favorite in The Enchantments) and Perfect Lake.
10 miles in from Stuart Lake Trailhead, the trail gets really rough as it goes down the Snow Creek drainage to Snow Lakes. By this point, I was pretty tuckered out and that made it even harder.
At times, the route finding was somewhat difficult too. I was glad to have the Gaia GPS app on my smartphone with a topo map and track downloaded. When I did get off course, it helped me self-correct quickly.
When I got to the first of two Snow Lakes I found a great flat area that had clearly been camped in before.
Note: Make sure you do not establish new campsites. There are plenty of existing ones to go around!
The next morning, I boogied down to Snow Lakes Trailhead, losing 4290 feet.
For the most part, the first 1.5 miles are flat. After that, the descent is huge but the trail is well-maintained and good for cruising at a fast clip. I was pleasantly surprised it only took me 31/4 hours to cover the last 8.2 miles from Snow Lakes to the trailhead.
In general, bears are not a concern in The Enchantments. The rangers do not require or even suggest that people use bear cans.
Goats and rodents are a bigger threat to your food stash. If you can, find a tree to hang your food on and a RatSack to put it in.
What to Bring
The biggest mistake beginner backpackers make is bringing too much stuff and hauling too heavy of a pack.
I guarantee your trip will be much more enjoyable if you pack light. Identify what you need to bring and leave behind what you don’t.
The only caveat I give is to not fixate on being so lightweight and minimalist that you sacrifice preparedness, safety, and sensible comfort on your trip. Like many things in life, it’s all about a balanced approach.
Tip: Not sure which lightweight backpacking gear to buy? We’ve done the “heavy lifting” for you. See our top picks.
Headlamp: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Food: Cheerios and Nido instant milk, plus Alpine Start instant coffee for breakfast. Summer Sausage from AlpacaLand for lunch. Rice-A-Roni and Tasty Bite Channa Masala for dinner. If you’re feeling lazy, here are my favorite freeze dried and dehydrated food options.
- Down jacket – Patagonia UL
- Fleece – Patagonia R1
- Long johns – Patagonia Capilene
- Rain jacket – OR Helium II (read my review)
- Hiking pants – Prana Stretch Zion (one of my favorite hiking pants)
- T-shirt – Patagonia Bandito and KUHL M’s Valiant SS
- Underwear – ExOfficio Give-N-Go
- Socks – Wildly Good Lightweight Merino Wool (one of my favorite hiking socks)
- Hat – Baseball cap and wool Buff
Sunscreen: Bring high SPF sunscreen and wear it. Despite its reputation for cloud cover, the Washington sun can be powerful, especially at higher elevations.
Tip: Accidents happen. Learn how to treat cuts and wounds in the backcountry.
From Seattle, head east on I-90 for approximately 5.6 miles, then take exit 10A to merge onto I-405 northbound.
Continue for 12.2 miles then take exit 23 for State Route 522.
Continue for 13.3 miles then exit onto U.S. Route 2 toward Wenatchee.
Continue for 74.7 miles then turn right onto Icicle Creek Road.
Continue for 6.5 miles then turn left onto National Forest Road 7600.
In August 2020, we drove from Leavenworth RV Campground to Stuart Lake Trailhead. The parking lot was completely full. To make matters worse, someone had parked like an a**hole, nearly blocking the entrance, so it was almost impossible to drive into the lot. Luckily, Kim was dropping me off so we did not need a space.
- Distance: 11.1 miles
- Elevation Gain: 4,480 feet
- Elevation Loss: 2,420 feet
Started hiking at 11:00 a.m. Made it to Colchuck Lake at 1:00 p.m. Met a friendly fella from Dallas that was doing a solo day hike. Talked with him a bit, as we both began hiking up Aasgard Pass. At one point, there was a pause in the conversation. The next time I looked back he was out of sight. Whoops.
Made it to the top of Aasgard Pass at 3:45 p.m. Slowed down and took a lot of photos and video throughout Enchantments Basin. Lost count of how many mountain goats I saw. Many of them had babies.
Was taken surprise by how difficult the descent was from Lake Viviane to Snow Lakes. For me, it was the biggest challenge of the entire Enchantments hike.
Found a Snow Lakes campsite at 7:30 p.m.
- Distance: 8.2 miles
- Elevation Gain: 121 feet
- Elevation Loss: 4,290 feet
Back on the trail at 9:30 a.m. Put on an audiobook and motored all the way down without stopping. Snacks were in the belt side pocket of my pack.
Made it to Snow Lakes Trailhead at 12:45 p.m.
That evening, we ate at Andreas Keller Restaurant. It was delicious!
- 100 Hikes in Washington’s Alpine Lakes by Vicky Spring, Ira Spring, Harvey Manning
- Alpine Lakes Wilderness: The Complete Hiking Guide by Nathan and Jeremy Barnes
- Alpine Lake Wilderness by Nat Geo
- The Enchantments – Washington Trails Association
- Earth Trekkers – The Enchantments Thru Hike: The Complete Guide