The Enchantments Traverse – Alpine Lakes Wilderness (18 mile point-to-point)

Trip Overview: The 20 mile Enchantments Traverse backpacking trip goes the beautiful and popular Enchantments Lakes region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Cascade Mountains. +5,800 / -7,900 feet of elevation across the course of this trek with a peak elevation of 7,860 feet. Highlights include glacial-fed alpine lakes, impressive granite peaks, spectacular views, and alpine meadows. This region is one of the most sought after areas to backpack in Washington State. The majority of the images here are more a trip in September and are representative of late summer conditions.

Enchantments-backpacking-overall-map
Overall map of this backpacking itinerary in The Enchantments region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington State. The hike is divided across three days. Day 1 (magenta) is in the Cholchuck Zone, Day 2 (yellow) is in the Core Enchantment Zone, Day 3 (red) is in the Snow Zone.
  • Higher resolution version of the overall map for The Enchantments trek (PDF)
  • Topographic map of Alpine Lakes Wilderness for purchase (amazon link)

Jump to Day 1: Stuart Lake Trailhead to Colchuck Lake
Jump to Day 2: Colchuck Lake to Inspiration Lake
Jump to Day 3: Optional day in core of The Enchantment Basin
Jump to Final Day: Inspiration Lake to Snow Lakes Trailhead

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Preparations:

Click here to read more about Permits

Permits:  Permits are required for overnight camping in The Enchantments from May 15 through October 15. Demand is very high, so permits are given out using a lottery system. Permit applications are accepted between February 15 and March 2 of each year, and applications are processed in a random lottery starting on March 20th. Any permits not obtained during the lottery are available for reservation on a first-come, first-serve basis starting April 1st.

On the permit application you must choose one of the five zones that make up The Enchantment area and you may only camp within the zone you select (and get a permit for). You may day hike into other zones, but are not allowed to camp there. The major exception is if you obtain a permit for the Core Enchantment Zone. Core Zone permit holders are allowed to camp in any of the five zones. Thus, a permit for the Core Enchantment Zone is the most sought after and is required for the itinerary described here. 

If you do not get the Core Zone permit, you can only day hike into The Enchantment Lakes Basin and cannot camp there. To do a similar itinerary without the Core Zone permit, you can try to obtain two different permits: one for the Colchuck Zone for the first night of your trek and one for Snow Zone on the subsequent night(s). You could first use a Colchuck Zone permit to camp one night at Colchuck Lake. Then, you day hike through the Core Zone and camp at Snow Lakes for one or two nights using a Snow Zone permit for those nights. This could also be reversed if need be, or you could possibly combine permits from the Stuart Zone and Snow Zone if the Colchuck Zone is fully booked.

enchantments-zones
The different zones that make up The Enchantments area. On your permit application you must choose which zone you will enter. Permits for the Core Zone are the most popular and hardest to obtain.

To apply for a permit, you submit an application (between February 15 and March 2) with an entry date and zone request and pay a $10 fee. You then must check your application after March 20th to see if you were selected for a permit. If you were, you must claim your permit by March 31st and must provide an exit date (max stay is 14 days) and group size (max size is 8) and pay a $5 per person per day fee. Applications are submitted using this recreation.gov website and detailed information about the permit process can be found on the USFS website. For reference, statistics on the number of applications and permits issued can be found here.

If you do not win the lottery, you may still have a chance to get a permit. Any unclaimed permits are opened up for first-come, first-serve reservation starting on the morning of April 1st. Also, one “walk-in” permit per zone is reserved for each day. To obtain a walk-in permit you need to arrive at the Wenatchee River Ranger District Office in Leavenworth at 7:30 am the day of your hike (there is lottery every day except Sundays). At 7:45 am, a random lottery is used to determine which individuals will be given the walk-in permits. Arriving very early to wait in line will not increase your odds since it is a lottery system.

Click here to read more about Logistics

Logistics: There are no long loop hikes in The Enchantments, so backpackers must either hike in and out using the same trail or must hike point-to-point between different trailheads. This itinerary starts at the Stuart Lake Trailhead and ends at the Snow Lakes Trailhead, so one must figure out how to travel between the trailheads at the start/end of the hike.  These two trailheads reside on either side of the core Enchantments Lakes Basin, so this itinerary allows for a modest distance trek that includes the most beautiful section of The Enchantments Wilderness. The trailheads are about 20-30 minutes apart by car, and to negotiate the transfer you can hitchhike, you can bring two cars, or you can try to arrange a taxi ride or shuttle.

If hitchhiking, I recommend parking at the Snow Lakes Trailhead and trying to catch a ride to the Stuart Lake Trailhead at the start of your trek. There should be more traffic near the Snow Lakes Trailhead since it is closer to town and you should have a better chance of finding a ride. Alternatively, you can have your group bring multiple cars and park one at each trailhead. This involves some shuttling between trailheads so that you can leave one car at each point, but can be worth it if you don’t want to deal with finding a hitch. Lastly, you can arrange for a shuttle or taxi ride before or after your hike to bring you to your car. This option is clearly the most expensive, but may be useful for groups with one car who do not want to hitch.

Click here to read more about Difficulty

Trail Conditions and Difficulty: Backpacking and hiking in The Enchantments is difficult given the steep trails and abundant elevation gain. Be sure to plan a reasonable itinerary that does not cover too much distance. For an enjoyable experience, plan for fewer than 10 miles a day on average. Many people also like to spend multiple days in the Core Enchantments Zone (if permits allow) and relax and go on day hikes. If you are lucky enough to get a Core Zone permit, try to maximize your time there!

Most of the trail along this itinerary is easy to follow. The trail up Aasgard Pass is not well maintained, so a bit of route finding is required. That said, the likelihood of getting lost is low here given that it is a popular hiking area.

If you are hiking in May, June, late September, or October, you are likely to encounter snow in The Enchantments. Exercise caution when traversing snow fields. Several hikers have died glissading down Aasgard Pass. If you are not familiar with snow travel techniques, plan to go on your trek in July or August. 

 

 

Supplies: There is not much concern for bears in The Enchantments so there is not a requirement for bear canisters. That said, rodents and goats in the area are known to forage through hiker supplies. At the very least, you should hang your food in an ursack to prevent rodent/goat issues.

You likely will want bug spray because the mosquitoes can be out in force in certain areas where the snow has recently melted. I prefer a picaridin based spray because it does not damage plastics and synthetic fibers like high concentration DEET sprays do. I also like to pre-treat my clothes and tent with permethrin spray repellent. The permethrin treatment stays on your clothes for up to 7 washes, so it helps reduce the amount of spray you need to put on your skin.

The other essential item for this trek is an inflatable sleeping pad. Most of the campsites are on pretty hard granite or gravel surfaces, so a good mat makes all the difference. You likely will want trekking poles since they help your knees on the steep climbs and descents. If you are hiking early in the summer (May or June) or late in the fall (October), the snow will likely be present in the higher elevation areas. In this case, you may want microspikes/crampons and an ice ax. That said, only experienced backpackers should go on this trek when there is still plenty of snow on the trail.

 Below is a list of the gear recommended for backpacking in The Enchantments:

Hiking clothes

Clothes for camp

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

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……….

Day 1: 4 miles; +2,450 feet / -280 feet; Stuart Lake Trailhead to Colchuck Lake

Enchantments-backpacking-day-1-map
Map of the Day 1 hike in The Enchantments from the Stuart Lake Trailhead to Colchuck Lake.

Map of the Day 1 hike in The Enchantments (PDF)

Enchantments-backpacking-day-1-elevation
Elevation profile for the Day 1 hike in The Enchantments from the Stuart Lake Trailhead to Colchuck Lake.

The first day of the trek starts with a 4 mile trek up to Colchuck Lake. This day should not be too difficult and will set you up nicely to tackle Aasgard Pass on the next day.  The campsites on the West side of the lake provide the best views of the lake and of the mountains guarding the Core Enchantment Zone.

People lunching on the rocks on the way to Colchuck Lake.
The hike starts with relatively boring uphill hike through the forest. Near the ~1.3 mile mark you reach a footbridge that crosses Mountaineer Creek (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Colhuck Lake Trail.
After the footbridge, the trail still meaders through the forest for another mile or so (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Colchuck Lake, with Aasbard Pass off in the distance.
Eventually you approach Colchuck Lake around the 3.5 mile mark. The views at this point are great with the mountains framing the lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Colchuck Lake -- and here is where I first noticed Aasgard Pass
The trail skirts continues South along the West side of Colchuck Lake. Along the way you have a great view of Aasgard Pass (aka Colchuck Pass) (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Our campsite at Lake Colchuck amidst the huge RV-sized boulders.
There are some nice campsites tucked in the boulder fields on the West side of Colchuck Lake. This campsite provided nice views of the lake and of the Aasgard Pass (pictured: MSR 2 person tent, credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Aasgard Pass from near out campsite in the huge boulder field be
View of Aasgard Pass from the campsite at Colchuck Lake. On the next day you hike up over the pass and enter The Enchantment Lakes Basin (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Colchuck Peak as viewed from our campsite at Lake Colchuck.
View of Colchuck Peak and the surrounding mountains from the campsite at Colchuck Lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
I couldn't resist another snapshot of Aasgard Pass and how I tho
Aasgard Pass at sunset. At great campsite view (credit: Brian Holsclaw)

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……….

Day 2: 3.5 miles; +2,600 feet / -1030 feet; Colchuck Lake to Inspiration Lake

Enchantments-backpacking-day-2-map
Map of the Day 2 hike in The Enchantments from Colchuck Lake to Inspiration Lake.

Map of the Day 2 hike in The Enchantments (PDF)

Enchantments-backpacking-day-3-elevation
Elevation profile of the Day 2 hike in The Enchantments from Colchuck Lake to Inspiration Lake.

The hike on the second day takes you up over Aasgard Pass (aka Colchuck Pass) and into The Enchantments Lakes Basin. This area is the most beautiful section of this wilderness area. The hike over Aasgard Pass is tough >2,000 foot climb over the course of less than 2 miles. Plan to take it slow and be careful about choosing your route, especially if there is still snow on the trail. After the 2 mile mark, you are in the Upper Enchantments and will come across several alpine lakes. All the lakes are beautiful and there are a variety of campsites. Many people choose to camp near Inspiration and Perfection Lakes, which are at the 3.5 mile mark. After making camp, you are free to relax or go on some day hikes. Just be sure to store your food carefully if you leave your pack behind because there are many mountain goats in the area that will gladly go through your supplies.

Good morning, Lake Colchuck.
Looking across Colchuck Lake in the morning (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Aasgard Pass to the left, Dragontail Peak in between, and Colchu
Looking up at Aasgard Pass (left), Dragontail Peak (middle), and Colchuck Peak (right), (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Headed up Aasgard Pass.
Starting the hike up Aasgard Pass to The Enchantments core. Note that there is not a well defined trail up the pass. You must follow faint trails and try to find the best route along the way (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Headed up Aasgard Pass..looking back down towards Lake Colchuck
Looking back down at Colchuck Lake from part way up Aasgard Pass (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Headed up Aasgard Pass.
The trail continuing up Aasgard Pass. The climb is steep but the views over the pass make it worth it (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Headed up Aasgard Pass.
Looking West at Dragontail Peak as we continue up Aasgard Pass (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Up-aasgard-pass-colchuck-lake-background
Heading up Aasgard Pass with great views of Colchuck Lake in the background (credit: Leif Jacobson)
enchantments-backpacking-view-colchuck-from-aasgard-brookpeterson
View of Colchuck Lake from Aasgard Pass (credit: Brook Peterson)
small-lake-near-top-of-aasgard-pass
Near the top of Aasgard Pass there is a small lake below the steep Dragontail Peaks (credit: Chris Rapp)
Mountain Goats near the Enchantments-side of Aasgard Pass.
There are several mountain goats that make The Enchantment Lakes Basin their home (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
dragontail-peak-view-of-upper-enchantments-region
View of the entire Upper Enchantments region which you hike through after Aasgard Pass (on left). In view are Tranquil and Isolation Lakes (center) and several of the small lakes to the East (right) of them. The trail meanders through these lakes before dropping down a ridge. Note that this view is from the top of Dragontail Peak, which requires a difficult scramble to reach (credit: Randy T)
Enchantment-lakes-from-aasgard-pass
First view of the alpine lakes in The Enchantments Lakes Basin after going over Aasgard Pass (credit: Will Thomas)
Headed down into the Upper Enchantments, Guylaine photographs a
Around the 2 mile mark the trail begins to flatten and you reach the primary pass. At this point you are entering the Upper Enchantments region (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Backside of Dragontail Peak, I believe...from the Upper Enchantm
Looking back at the South side of Dragontail Peak after hiking into the Upper Enchantments region (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Isolation Lake in the upper Enchantment zone.
Isolation Lake in the Upper Enchantments area (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Isolation Lake in the upper Enchantment zone.
Isolation Lake with the Witches Tower and Dragontail Peak in the background (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Upper Enchantments.
Snow field and mountain peak in the Upper Enchantments area (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Walking across one of many small snowfields in the Enchantments.
The trail continues Southeast through the Upper Enchantments region (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Tranquil Lake.
The top of Prusik Peak in the distance can seen as you hike through the Upper Enchantments region (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Looking down towards Crystal Lake
Around the 3 mile mark you reach a ridge and can see Crystal Lake down below (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Inspiration Lake.
The trail then turns to the Northeast and descend down towards Inspiration Lake. There are several popular campsites in the vicinity of Inspiration Lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Looking down towards Inspiration Lake.
Inspiration Lake with Prusik Peak in the background (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Inspiration Lake.
The trail then goes across a land bridge between Inspiration Lake and Perfection Lake. This is the view of Inspiration Lake looking North from the land bridge (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
First shots of Perfection Lake with McClellan Peak beyond.
View of Perfection Lake with McClellan Peak behind it on the right (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Our campsite at Inspiration lake, overlooking Perfection Lake an
View of the campsite on the land bridge between Inspiration Lake and Perfection Lake. This view shows the camp, Perfection Lake, and Prusik Peak pictured: MSR 2 person tent and Osprey Atmos 65 Liter pack, credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Perfection Lake - as viewed from a bluff near our campsite.
View of Perfection Lake and Prusik Peak from the night 2 campsite (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Who invited the mountain goats for breakfast??  We didn't bring
Be sure to hang your food or keep it in a bear canister. The mountain goats are constantly searching for food and salty treats (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Prusike Peak and Perfection Lake at sunset.
Sunset over Perfection Lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)

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……….

Day 3 (optional): Side trips in The Enchantments Basin

Enchantments-backpacking-core-zone-sidetrips-map
Map showing several day hikes within the core zone of the The Enchantments. Hike to Little Annapurna summit (green), to Prusik Pass (blue), and to Crystal Lake (maroon).

Map of the various side trips in The Enchantments Basin (PDF)

If you decide to spend an extra night camping in the Core Enchantment Zone, there are several great day hikes you can do. Each involves a fair amount of elevation gain, but they are reasonably short. You can get some great views by climbs to the top of Little Annapurna Peak or Prusik Pass. Or, you can find some solitude by making a short trip to Crystal Lake.

Little Annapurna: 2.6 miles; +/- 1,360 feet from Inspiration Lake

Prusik Pass: 1.4 miles; +/- 750 feet from Inspiration Lake

Crystal Lake: 2.2 miles; +/- 820 feet from Inspiration Lake

crystal-lake
Satellite view of Crystal Lake showing a beach like shore along the East edge of the lake

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……….

Final Day: 10.5 miles; +730 feet / -6,550 feet; Inspiration Lake to Snow Lakes Trailhead

Enchantments-backpacking-day-3-map
Map of the final hike in The Enchantments from Inspiration Lake to the Snow Lakes Trailhead.

Map of the final hike in The Enchantments (PDF)

Enchantments-backpacking-day-2-elevation
Elevation profile of the final hike in The Enchantments from Inspiration Lake to the Snow Lakes Trailhead.

On the last day you hike out to the Snow Lakes Trailhead. This is a longer hike at 10.5 miles, but it is almost all downhill. The trail starts off by wrapping around Perfection Lake and passing small Sprite Lake. It then drops down into the Lower Enchantements region and passes by Leprechaun Lake and Lake Viviane. The scenery in the Lower Enchantments is great just as it was in the Upper Enchantments. At the ~1.5 mile mark you begin the steep descent down to Snow Lakes. The trail follows along Snow Creek so you get some great views of Snow Creek Falls. Between miles 3 and 5.5 you pass by Snow Lakes and Nada Lake. After that you have the final 5 mile descent along the Snow Lakes Trail, which leads to the trailhead. The last section of the trail is not the most exciting since it heads back into the forest. However, you will be motivated to get back to your car!

Inspiration Lake.
View of reflections in Inspiration Lake in the morning (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
The most beautiful meadow around Perfection Lake, such an incred
The trail starts off by passing through a meadow on the North end of Perfection Lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Prusike Peak in the distance as viewed from the gorgeous meadow
Meadow along Perfection Lake with Prusik Peak in the background (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Perfect Lake meadow.
Trail and meadow along the east shore of Perfection Lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Some of these smaller trees go up to my knees and are hundreds o
View from the trail as it approaches the outlet of Perfection Lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Perfection Lake.
View from the Southeast end of Perfection Lake (near the outlet) with Little Annapurna peak in the background (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Sprite Lake.
The trail then passes by the smaller Sprite Lake, which is fed by the outlet stream from Perfection Lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Looking down a glacier-carved section as we descend into the Low
After passing Sprite Lake, you descend into the Lower Enchantments area (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Enchantments Trail, we cross the log to get across the little cr
Following the trail into the Lower Enchantments area (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Possibly Leprechaun Lake(?)
The trail passes along the North shore of Leprechaun Lake and McClellan Peak can be seen in the background (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
The glacier-work is clearly evident in this section with huge ro
The trail goes over a large granite section along the shore of Leprechaun Lake (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Glacier carved granite.
A view of Prusik peak and the first glimpse of Lake Viviane while hiking through the Lower Enchantments (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Lake Vivian.
At the 1.5 mile mark, the trail passes the South shore of Lake Viviane and you get a really nice view of Prusik Peak and The Temple (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Snow Lakes - we would have to work out way down and to the far s
The trail then starts a steep descent following the Snow Falls Creek leading to Snow Lakes (seen in background) (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
A section of the Enchantments Lake trail as it drops down toward
Descending down to Snow Lakes (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Dropping down to Snow Lakes.
The trail in this section is very steep and trekking poles help easy the stress on your knees (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
The logboom at the end of Upper Snow Lake.
At the ~3 mile mark you reach a bridge at the inlet of the upper Snow Lake. There is a large log jam here (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Upper-snow-lake-enchantments
The trail then heads East along the South shore of the Upper Snow Lake. There are some nice views of The Temple across Snow Lake (credit: Will Thomas)
View-looking-west-from-snow-lake-outlet
At the ~4 mile mark you reach the dam and outlet of the upper Snow Lake. This is the view looking west back towards the Core Enchantment Zone (credit: Will Thomas)
Snow-lakes-dam-log-jam
The trail then cross the dam between the two Snow Lakes. There is another large log jam in this area (credit: Darius Nabora)
An incredible rock slide on the other side of Nada Lake, and an
Around the 4.5 mile, you get a nice view of Nada Lake as the trail continues to descend (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Major burn area below Snow Creek Wall on the way out.
After passing Nada Lake, the trail head back into the forest for the next ~5 miles to the Snow Lakes Trailhead (credit: Brian Holsclaw)
Major burn area, from a large forest fire in the mid-90s.
This section of the trail is not the most exciting… (credit: Brian Holsclaw)

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Here are some similar trip reports!

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Desolation Wilderness – Twin Lakes, Island Lake, Lake Aloha (12 mile trek)

6 Replies to “The Enchantments Traverse – Alpine Lakes Wilderness (18 mile point-to-point)”

  1. The Enchantments are such a wonderful area… I applied for permits 3 years in a row before I got them and it was worth the wait!! This point brings back so many good memories 🙏

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    1. Hi Olia – Yes, there are mountain goats that live in the main Enchantments Lakes area. The goats crave salt and thus are attracted to camper’s urine, sweaty clothing and equipment, and food scraps. To help keep the goats away, you are supposed to use toilets where available and are supposed to pee on bare rocks or between rocks (instead of in soil or on plants) at least 100 feet away from your camp and the trail. You also want to make sure you do not wash dishes or leave food waste near your camp. Lastly, be careful leaving any sweaty clothing hanging or outside your pack/tent. The goats can steal clothing and chew on equipment to get salt. You want to watch your clothing when it is hanging and want to store it in your tent when you are not around to watch it.

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