The Enchantments are located in the Cascade Mountains within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, just 15 miles southwest of Leavenworth, Washington. This area is highly sought after by hikers, backpackers and climbers because of its unique and beautiful landscape filled with granite, alpine lakes, larches, mountain goats and incredible nearby mountain peaks.
There are a few ways outdoor enthusiasts can experience The Enchantments. The most desired way is to score an overnight backpacking permit and camp in one of the five zones: Core Enchantments Zone (most popular), Colchuck Lake Zone, Stuart Lake Zone, Snow Lakes Zone or Eightmile/Caroline Zone. With an overnight backpacking permit, visitors are able to take their time getting up into the zone in which they’re permitted to camp in. Once in the permitted zone, permit holders are able to explore nearby areas at their leisure without having to complete their hike in one day.
Another option is to thru-hike The Enchantments in a single day. Hikers can enter The Enchantments through the Stuart Lake Trailhead and climb into the Core Zone of The Enchantments via Aasgard Pass, making this a shorter and steeper option. Or hikers can enter The Enchantments via the Snow Lakes Trailhead and climb up seven miles into the Core Zone, with the last two miles from Upper Snow Lakes to Lake Viviane and Leprechaun Lake being extremely steep and difficult. The route from the Snow Lakes Trailhead is the longer option with a higher elevation gain.
Thru-hiking The Enchantments in one day was one of the hardest and most beautiful day hikes I’ve ever done in my life. It wasn’t the distance that made this hike so incredibly challenging for me. WTA says this trail is 18 miles, but my Garmin inReach clocked me in at 21.69 miles for the day. It was the terrain that made this one so difficult. There was everything from constant scrambling, climbing and route finding to steep inclines and steep descents followed by a long slog out in the dark.
We started from the Stuart Lake Trailhead at 4:30AM and headed up to Colchuck Lake. After a quick breakfast stop at Colchuck Lake, we walked around the lake, scrambled over the boulder field and then started the steep ascent up Aasgard Pass. From here, we gained 1,900 feet in less than a mile over boulders, loose scree and often times were at the mercy of various cairns placed throughout the “trail” guiding us up the pass. There’s no real defined trail here. It took me three hours to get from the boulder field at Colchuck Lake to the top of Aasgard Pass.
The rest of the trail was all downhill, sort of.
Once at the top of Aasgard, we stopped for a lunch break somewhere in the middle of the Core Zone. I had a fantastic foot soaking at Inspiration Lake. Then it was sauntering around Perfection Lake (my favorite lake in the entire Enchantments area), Sprite Lake and Leprechaun Lake before starting the steep two-mile descent from Lake Viviane to Upper Snow Lake. From Lower Snow Lake and Nada Lake, all the way back to the Snow Lakes Trailhead, I hiked in the dark with a headlamp. I reached the Snow Lakes Trailhead at 11:00PM
Total hiking time for me on this trip was 18.5 hours.
Would I do this one again? Heck yes, but only if I got to camp in the Core Zone for 3-4 days. There are so many areas up there I want to go back and explore. I also want to see this area when the sun is out and the sky is clear. Unfortunately, when we went to hike our thru-hike in the middle of September (in 2020), we got stuck hiking in all of the thick smoke from the nearby wildfires.
A Backcountry Camping Permit is required when camping overnight anywhere in The Enchantments basin zoned area from May 15th through October 31st. This is to help regulate the amount of foot traffic traveling in the fragile environment. A free day-use permit is required for day hikers doing this trail and is available at either the Stuart Lake trailhead or Snow Lakes trailhead. Don’t forget to display your Northwest Forest Pass or the America The Beautiful Pass in your car at the trailhead. Dogs and campfires are strictly prohibited in The Enchantments.
Location: Central Cascades – Leavenworth Area
Length: 18 miles, one-way (according to WTA)
Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
Highest Point: 7,800 feet
Link to Trail on WTA
Watch the Video: HIKING WASHINGTON | Thru-Hiking The Enchantments in One Day
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