The Ultimate Planning Guide to Hiking the Enchantments in Washington

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Enchantments hike planning guide

EXPLORE OUR FULL ENCHANTMENTS PLANNING GUIDE TO LEARN EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THRU-HIKING OR BACKPACKING THIS WORLD-CLASS TRAIL IN WASHINGTON.

 



The Enchantments are an absolutely amazing alpine wonderland located in central Washington state. In fact, this stunning mountain landscape has been termed the “Crown Jewel of Washington Hiking” by the Washington Trails Association, the leading expert on hiking in Washington. And after doing the full thru-hike of the Enchantments ourselves, we couldn’t agree more: it is absolutely incredible.


Numerous crystal clear alpine lakes. Rugged and pointed granite mountains that look like they are out of some medieval adventure novel. Wildflowers and rushing rivers. Baby mountain goats and speckled alpine birds. The Enchantments really are a mountain paradise and one definitely worth exploring in person.


And if the only thing keeping you from exploring and adventuring in this wonderland yourself is the actual planning, then we are here to help.


Because if we are being honest, it can be a bit overwhelming to plan a trip into the Enchantments. This is mostly due to the fact that there are a lot of options available: from day hikes out to one of the many lakes, to thru-hiking it all in one day, to spending the night (or a couple). But also it can be tough to plan an adventure in the Enchantments because there is just a lot to know about the 20-mile long trail (including, just how tough is it actually?!).


After thru-hiking the Enchantments in one day (one veeery long day) we have got a lot of those answers for you. So, if you are considering hiking in the Enchantments - either via a day trip, a thru-hike or a backpacking adventure - we recommend you read our full Enchantments Planning Guide below.


Happy adventuring!









ENCHANTMENTS PLANNING GUIDE | STEP-BY-STEP INFORMATION



🥾 QUICK OVERVIEW OF THE HIKING TRAIL


📌 TRANSPORTATION (GETTING TO THE TRAILHEADS, PARKING, THE HIKING SHUTTLE)


🎫 PERMITS AND REGULATIONS (BACKPACKING VS THRU-HIKING)


☁ WEATHER AND SAFETY


🎒 PACKING GUIDE (FOOD, WATER AND GEAR)


🏕 CAMPING AND LODGING



(Keep scrolling for the full guide OR jump to each section above to save time)








THE ENCHANTMENTS TRAIL MAP

Clear map of Enchantments hiking trail and five zones.
Enchantments Zones & Hiking Trail. Photo courtesy of Outdoor Status.





\\ The Enchantments Hiking Trail | A Quick Overview


Even though this is one of the most popular trails in all of Washington state, the Enchantments trail should not be underestimated. It is a darn tough trail. Especially if you decide to do it all in one day (aka thru-hike it). While the beauty and the insane landscape makes it 100% worth it, still be prepared for a long and tough day on the trail.



TOTAL DISTANCE: ~20 miles (32 kilometers) one-way

TYPE OF HIKE: point-to-point (see more on this below)

TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN: around 5,000 feet

HIGHEST POINT: the infamous Aasgard Pass, which sits at 7,800 feet (2377 meters)

TIME NEEDED TO DO THE THRU-HIKE: 10-15 hours; depends on your fitness level and how often you stop (we did it in 12 hours and took our time by the many lakes)


➳ You can find more stats on the Enchantments hiking trail on Alltrails.




WHICH WAY SHOULD YOU GO?


Because the trail is point-to-point, you can technically go either direction - start or end at either the Stuart Lake or Snow Lake Trailheads. But for the most part, people usually begin at the Stuart Lake and Colchuk Lake Trailhead and then hike over Aasgard Pass and then back down to Snow Lake. By going this direction, you save yourself 2,600 feet of elevation gain. But you still have to climb up the infamous Aasgard Pass - where you climb 1,900 feet in less than a mile.


We decided to follow everyone else and hike over from Stuart Lake to Snow Lake. While climbing over Aasgard Pass was tough, if you take your time and drink plenty of water, you should be fine. Plus, from the top of the pass the rest of the trail is a nice gradual downhill hike.




View of Aasgard Pass in the Enchantments

Top down view of Colchuk Lake from Aasgard Pass.
Aasgard Pass (top) and the view of Colchuk Lake from the top of the pass (bottom).





\\ Transportation to the Enchantments


The Enchantments are located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in central Washington state. The closest urban center to the trail is the popular tourist town of Leavenworth, which will have all of the necessary supplies you will need before setting off into the Enchantments; including, a large chain grocery store, restaurants, lodging, and outdoor gear shops.


It takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach the Snow Lakes Trailhead (the closest one too Leavenworth) and nearly 3 hours to reach the Stuart and Colchuk Lakes Trailhead from Seattle.




HOW TO GET TO THE ENCHANTMENTS


If you are planning to drive from Seattle to the Enchantments then the directions are pretty straightforward. To start, head out towards the town of Monroe and Highway 2/Stevens Pass Highway. Once on Highway 2, keep driving up and over Stevens Pass and down into the town of Leavenworth (from Seattle, it is around 120 miles to Leavenworth).


Once in Leavenworth, you need to decide what trailhead you want to start your adventure from: Stuart and Colchuk Lake Trailhead or Snow Lake Trailhead. Most people choose to start from the first one since it cuts down on the overall elevation gain.


DIRECTIONS TO THE STUART LAKE/COLCHUK LAKE TRAILHEAD

Once in Leavenworth, head down Icicle Creek Road for about 9 miles until you see the turn for Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake and Bridge Creek Campground (it will be on the LEFT). Head up this unpaved forest road (known as Eight Mile or Forest Service Road 7601) for roughly 4 miles until you get to the end of the road. There will be a large parking lot with a bathroom.


DIRECTIONS TO THE SNOW LAKE TRAILHEAD

The directions to the Snow Lake Trailhead are pretty similar to the one above. The only difference is that Snow Lake is a fair amount closer to town than the Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake Trailhead. From downtown Leavenworth, drive along Icicle Creek Road for roughly 4 miles until you see the parking lot for Snow Lake Trailhead on your LEFT.


The drive from the Snow Lake Trailhead up to the Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake Trailhead takes about 30 minutes.




READ MORE | HIKING THE NECKLACE VALLEY TRAIL IN THE ALPINE LAKES WILDERNESS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE






PARKING AT THE TRAILHEADS


Parking at both trailheads can be chaotic. Therefore it is always a good idea to arrive at the trailheads early, carpool when possible or find an alternative mode of transportation.


If you do find yourself parking at either trailhead, you will need to either pay $5 for a parking pass (which you can get in person or online ahead of time) or show that you have the right pass already. In the case of either Enchantment's trailheads, you can use an Annual National Park Pass (this costs $80), or the Northwest Forest Pass (this annual pass costs $30).


Learn more about the required parking passes for the two main trailheads here.


💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are looking to rent a second car to leave at one of the trailheads, then your best bet is to rent one in the nearby town of Wenatchee (which is located about 30 minutes east of Leavenworth). You can find availability and the best prices for car rentals at rentalcars.com.




THE TRAILHEAD SHUTTLE


If you don’t have two cars and if you really don’t feel like hitch-hiking, then your only other option is to book a seat on the shuttle bus that runs from Snow Lake Trailhead to Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake Trailhead. This shuttle service is run by the Loop Connector, a private shuttle company out of Leavenworth.


DETAILS

| COST: $24 per passenger

| START: the shuttle picks you up at the Snow Lake Trailhead at your desired time (in the morning)

| TIME: you can book the shuttle for 5 AM, 6 AM, or 7 AM on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday


BOOK YOUR SHUTTLE RIDE




HITCHHIKING


If you are comfortable catching a ride from a stranger, then you have a pretty good chance of hitchhiking between the two trailheads. This is what we ended up doing when we thru-hiked the Enchantments and we had no problems finding someone (actually a whole group) to drive us up from the Snow Lake Trailhead to the upper Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake.




Wide view of the Snow Lake zone in the Enchantments

EXPLORE MORE | THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO EXPLORING NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK IN WASHINGTON






\\ Permits and Regulations for the Enchantments


Because hiking and backpacking in The Enchantments is so popular, there is a highly regulated permit system in place.


There are actually two different permits available depending on what activity you want to do: an overnight permit if you are backpacking along the Enchantments trail, or a day-use permit if you are just planning to do an out-and-back hike or the entire 18-mile thru-hike.


Below you will find everything you need to know about getting the right permit for your adventure.




OVERNIGHT PERMITS


If you are hoping to spend multiple days in the Enchantments, then you will need to get a backcountry or overnight permit ahead of time. Because this area is so popular, the permits are distributed in an online lottery run by the national forest (and done online via the recreation.gov website).


The permits can be really tough to get - in fact, we have talked to multiple people who have tried multiple times and have never gotten one. Obviously it helps to enter the lottery on the first day (see date below) but if you are unlucky, don't fret. You can still always thru-hike it in one day, visit during the off-season or try again next year.


When does the lottery for permits open? In 2022, the lottery opened on February 15th. We have heard the lottery usually opens in mid-February every year.


When does the lottery for permits close? In 2022, the lottery closed on March 1st. If you were lucky enough to get an overnight permit to the Enchantments, then you were able to see your permits online on March 17th.


Do you ALWAYS need an overnight permit to backpack in the Enchantments? No, you only need an overnight permit if you are planning to backpack in the Enchantments from May 15th to October 31st. Therefore, if you are fine backpacking in the off-season you do not need to worry about a permit.


Can you camp anywhere in the Enchantments with an overnight permit? No. Due to the high number of people visiting and backpacking in the Enchantments you will receive a permit that tells you what specific ZONE you need to camp in. There are five zones: the Core Enchantments, Colchuk, Stuart, Snow and Eightmile/Carolina. Each zone has its own quota/number of people allowed (see the map below for an idea on the specific zones).


Do you need a permit if you AREN’T planning on backpacking/staying overnight? Yes, you still need a day-use permit before setting off on the trail. Read more about this below.


You can learn more about the Enchantments overnight permit and lottery system here.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: didn't get a permit but still reeeeally want to backpack in the Enchantments? Then consider checking out Outdoor Status, a website that helps you snag sold-out permits for some of the most popular hikes. Sign up and be notified instantly if an Enchantment permit becomes available.




Map of the camping zones in the Enchantments
The 5 Camping Zones in the Enchantments




DAY-USE PERMITS


Before setting off on the trail from either the Stuart Lake or Snow Lake Trailheads you will need to first fill out a day-use permit. This is totally free and super easy to do. You can usually find the day-use permits in a box near the start of the trail or by the trail map. Once you fill out the day-use permit, simply put the bottom part in the provided box and then attach the TOP portion to your backpack (it needs to be easily visible to any passing ranger).


💬 INSIDER TIP: we were told that the rangers that monitor the Enchantments area can be very strict about people spending the night without a proper backcountry permit. So much so, that if they find you with a day-use permit and a backpack full of overnight gear they might send you straight back to the parking lot. Don’t break the rules - if you don’t have an overnight permit, don’t camp overnight. The regulations and specific overnight quotas are in place for a reason, be a good steward and follow the rules.


While thru-hiking the entire Enchantments trail is pretty popular, it is not your only option. We saw many people doing much shorter day hikes out to one of the numerous alpine lakes. Colchuk Lake seemed to be the most popular hiking destination, likely because it is the closest lake to one of the trailheads (it is roughly 8 miles round-trip from the Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake Trailhead).


Other great day-trip hikes would be to head out to Lake Stuart (8.7 miles round-trip), to Eightmile Lake (7.2 miles round-trip) or to climb up Dragontrail Peak (13 miles round-trip).




LEARN MORE | HOW TO STAY SAFE HIKING AND BACKPACKING

IN BEAR COUNTRY






\\ Weather and Safety in the Enchantments



WEATHER IN THE ENCHANTMENTS


Because you are high up in the alpine and above 5,000 feet for most of the hike, be prepared for the weather to change quickly. ALWAYS come prepared for every type of situation - from hot, sunny days to downpours and thunderstorms (to even snow).


The best time to hike in the Enchantments is going to be from July to early September. During this time of year, most of the snow will be melted, wildflowers will be blooming, temperatures will be nice and warm and you have a higher chance of sunshine.


But, if you want to beat the crowds, then definitely consider hiking in the off-season - either in late September or October when the leaves start to change (beautiful!) and the temperatures really start to cool down (though be aware snow is definitely possible), or in June when the temperatures start to warm up but the crowds (and mosquitos) aren't out in full force (though snow is still likely to be found along the trail and on the forest road up to the trailhead that early in the summer).


We thru-hiked in early August and found the weather to be absolutely perfect (sunny, hot and clear). BUT, it was also really busy. Also, during that time of year, the bugs (especially mosquitos and flies) were brutal.




Family of mountain goats in the Enchantments
Family of mountain goats in the Core Enchantment Zone.



MAJOR SAFETY CONCERNS


For the most part, there really aren't any huge safety concerns when hiking or backpacking in the Enchantments. It is likely that your biggest issues will come from either lack of food and water or if you are really unlucky (or not very smart) from a run-in with a resident mountain goat.


Dehydration is definitely something you don't want to experience - especially when you are at that high of altitude (5,000+ feet) and in direct sun. Luckily, there is a lot of fresh water throughout the Enchantments so as long as you come prepared with an adequate water filter system you shouldn't have a problem. And honestly, if you don't have a filter you can still probably get away with drinking some of the water at the really high altitudes since it is directly from the snowmelt near the top of the mountains (but obviously be smart about this).


Mountain goats are said to be quite common along the trail - something we can attest to after seeing a couple of different groups of them (including even a few babies). If you come across a mountain goat while hiking or backpacking, do what you would do with any other wild animal and give it plenty of space. The mountain goats in the Enchantments are usually pretty harmless, so as long as you don't do anything to make them become aggressive (like spooking them or getting too close to their young) you shouldn't have a problem.


But, with that being said, there have been issues with mountain goats when it comes to human pee. Mountain goats seem to have a thing for the salt in urine, so much so that there have been instances where the goats will follow hikers a bit too closely. To prevent this, try to use the many available bathrooms along the trail (you can find them on a map or look out for the "toilet" signs).


A few other things to be aware of while out adventuring in the Enchantments is that bears do live in the area so always monitor your bags and especially your food (and even more so if you are backpacking/overnight camping). Likewise, campfires are prohibit