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Our Experience Thru-Hiking the Enchantments in One Day

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Views thru hiking the Enchantments in one day

ARE YOU LOOKING TO THRU HIKE THE ENCHANTMENTS IN ONE DAY BUT ARE WORRIED WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE? LUCKILY, WE DID ALL THE HARD WORK FOR YOU - AND WROTE THIS SUPER HELPFUL PERSONAL GUIDE. EXPLORE IT ALL BELOW.

 



Often considered the Crown Jewel of Hiking Trails in Washington State (by the Washington Trails Association at least), the Enchantments are often very high on every outdoorsman and women's bucket list. We ended up hearing about the Enchantments from a friend of ours after planting ourselves in the state for a couple of summer months. Somehow this famously beautiful trail had never hit our radar - but after doing a quick Google search and checking it out on Alltrails we decided it must be pushed to the top our hiking list.


The only problem? Permits for backpacking the trail were almost 100% unavailable (the permit lottery opens in February). Feeling slightly deflated, we instead started looking at whether we could just do the whole trail in one day - aka thru hike it.


Now, nowhere did we read that the Enchantments trail was in any shape or form easy. In fact, every article talked about the large elevation gain, the long distance and the grueling climb over Aasgard Pass. But we weren't deterred. So we looked at our calendars, did a bit of planning, and headed over to the trailhead to see what it was really like to thru-hike the Enchantments in one day.


Below is hopefully everything you need to know about thru-hiking the entire Enchantments trail in one day - including the actual trail data, specific distances to major points of interest and helpful tips on trail safety and what to bring with you.




SOME FACTS ABOUT THE ENCHANTMENTS

| The trail is located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and is part of the large Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest (read about another fantastic trail in this region here).


| There are 700 lakes and ponds in the Enchantments area; including, such popular ones as Colchuk, Inspiration and Isolation.


| Similarly, the area is home to the peaks of Cashmere Crags - which rate among some of the best rock-climbing sites in the entire western United States.


| The area was first explored by Europeans in the early 1900s. It got its name after one of those men wrote of the area, "It was an enchanting scene. I named the group Enchantment Lakes." Though of course Native American tribes had traveled through and lived in the area loooong before any Europeans arrived.


| Dogs are banned from the area by the Forest Service because they hoped their lack of presence would help the local mountain goat and ptarmigan populations to recover (it did).








MAP OF THE ENCHANTMENTS TRAIL

Map of the Enchantments hiking trail and backpacking zones.
Enchantments Zones & Hiking Trail. Photo courtesy of Outdoor Status.






CAN YOU THRU-HIKE THE ENCHANTMENTS IN ONE DAY?


Yes, you totally can! But, be prepared for a long hard day on the trail.


At roughly 20 miles one-way, the Enchantments trail should definitely not to be underestimated. We did the whole thru-hike in one day and it took us about 12 hours to go from Stuart Lake Trailhead to Snow Lake Trailhead. This did include taking a couple of short snack breaks, a swimming break in one of the alpine lakes and then a longer lunch break, so if you are really pushing it and stopping less, you can definitely do the whole thru-hike in less time.


Below is a quick breakdown of the entire Enchantments trail, including its elevation profile.






THE ENCHANTMENTS TRAIL BREAKDOWN


🏞 ELEVATION GAIN: around 5,000 feet of elevation gain across the entire 20-mile length of the trail; this includes climbing 1,900 feet in less than a mile up and over Aasgard Pass.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: most people who thru-hike the entire Enchantments will start at the Stuart Lake Trailhead and end at the Snow Lake Trailhead. This is mostly due to the fact that by going counter-clockwise, you drop your elevation gain by 2,600 feet.




Elevation profile of the Enchantments trail in Washington
Photo courtesy of Earth Trekkers.



🕝 TIME NEEDED: 11 - 15 hours depending on how fast you are hiking and how many stops you take. It took us almost exactly 12 hours from point to point, although this included a quick swim break in one of the lakes and a couple of snack/lunch breaks. Make sure to pack plenty of food and the proper gear to ensure you enjoy (almost) every second of it. But also be prepared to still be sore the next day!



🥾 DIFFICULTY: quite tough, even strenuous (likely an 8/10). It is a long hike to do in one day so definitely be prepared for a full day of hiking. Likewise, there is a fair amount of elevation gain overall.











 

A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO THRU-HIKING THE ENCHANTMENTS TRAIL IN ONE DAY

 






START

You will likely start your thru-hike at the Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake Trailhead like we did. If you are planning to park at the trailhead (and not take the shuttle) then you will need a parking pass. You can either pay $5 to get a day-pass (which you can do in person or online ahead of time - here) or you can simply hang up either an Annual National Parks Pass or a Northwest Forest Pass.


We also suggest that if you are planning to park at the Stuart Lake Trailhead get there nice and early. We arrived at 6:30 AM and we were still definitely not the first ones there (the lot was full by 8 AM). There is one bathroom available, a nice big trailhead sign with important information, and a station to fill out your day-use permit (which you WILL need to do the whole thru-hike).


Once you are ready to go, attach the day-use permit to the top of your bag (so it is easy to see), and hit the trail.




COLCHUK LAKE

Distance from the Trailhead: 4 miles


Along the hike up from the trailhead you will cross Mountaineer Creek (twice), and see the turn off for Stuart Lake. When you get to the trail marker for Stuart Lake, head to the left towards Colchuk Lake. From the intersection, you are about 2/3 of the way to Colchuk Lake. But, you still have another 1,000 feet of elevation to gain (keep your head up!).


Eventually, the lake will come into view and you will be able to see the stunning turquoise water and the surrounding jagged peaks. You will keep heading along the righthand side of Colchuk Lake until you reach the far left corner (where the infamous Aasgard Pass begins). Along this section of the trail you will find it is a bit tough to follow the trail because there are a lot of small social trails that either head down to the water's edge or to one of the backcountry campsites. When in doubt, just keep going to the right of the lake. Near the far side, the forest will thin and you will have to cross a rock field.


This rocky scree field has a mix of smaller rocks and very large boulders. While there are some very large and obvious cairns (trail markers) to guide you, really the main goal here is to just cross the rock field and make it to the other side of the lake. You will easily be able to see Aasgard Pass and the start of the climb from this point.


💬 INSIDER TIP: along this last rocky section there will be a couple of loose boulders. Always watch your step and take your time. Also, near the end of the trail, you will likely see a small stream. If you are carrying less water and are looking to filter and refill along the trail, then this is a good spot to do it before the climb over Aasgard Pass. If you do forget, don't worry, there are some small streams closer to the top.




View of Colchuk Lake in the Enchantments


READ MORE | THE ULTIMATE PLANNING GUIDE TO HIKING AND BACKPACKING IN THE ENCHANTMENTS






AASGARD PASS

Distance from the Trailhead: 5.2 miles to the bottom of the pass


We had heard so much about this mountain pass before setting off on the trail. Many hikers we talked to mentioned how tough Aasgard was. And to be totally honest - it was tough. Even for two young, highly active hikers we still found climbing over Aasgard Pass to be quite strenuous.


Be prepared to go slow, sweat a lot and question whether it really is worth it (we promise it is!). Luckily, once you get to the top you have pretty much done all of the elevation gain for the rest of the hike (woo!).


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the bottom part of the climb has a pretty easy trail to follow. While it sometimes fades in and out in the really rocky sections, for the most part, you can still see it quite well. If you do find yourself off-trail, look around for more cairns. And when in doubt, make sure to go to the far LEFT side of the climb (this is the safest route).


From the top of the pass, you will see Dragontail Peak to your right (it is the large, pointed mountain). This is the tallest peak in the Enchantments at 8,840 feet (2,694 meters) high. If you are looking to summit Dragontail Peak, then you will need to head to the right of the first mountain basin above the pass. The trail climbs even higher up the mountain (and along a snowfield). You can find the full Dragontail Peak trail map