The Enchantment Lakes is a high alpine basin full of lakes, larch, mountain goats, and fantastically stark granite that is considered by many to be the best hike in the state. Options abound - plenty of places to camp, side trails, summits, and more ensure that you will be wishing you had marked a few extra days on your backpacking permit!
The first thing you need to know about the Enchantments is that you will need a permit if you plan to camp overnight anywhere in the area (you do not need a permit for a day hike beyond the self-issue permit at the trailhead). Failure to have a permit will result in you being fined and asked to leave by the rangers. These permits are given out by lottery each year by the Leavenworth Ranger Station, and the success rate for Enchantment zone permits is around 50%. Check with the ranger station to see when the permit drawings start - if you want an Enchantment zone permit, you need to make sure you have your application in before the start of the drawings. If you like taking your chances, 25% of the permits are given out day-of in an on-site lottery at the Leavenworth Ranger station. Again, check with the ranger station for details.
Generally-speaking, there are two ways to approach this area. The traditional way is to approach from the Snow Lakes trailhead about 4 miles outside of Leavenworth on Icicle Creek road (trail 1553). From the trailhead, you have roughly 10 miles and 6000 feet of elevation gain before you reach the bottom of the Enchantments. This way in is often described as grueling and long, which is fairly apt. The other way that many people approach the basin is from the Stuart Lake trailhead another 9 or so miles beyond the Snow Lakes trailhead (trails 1599 and 1599.1). From this trailhead, you're looking at around 6 miles and about 4400 feet of gain to the top of the basin, but don't be fooled - 2300 of that 4400 feet is gained in a single mile up Aasgard Pass. This route is often described as a level above the Snow Creek route, but many people actually prefer this way in.
In planning your approach to the Enchantments, you need to make two key decisions. First, are you going to do a car shuttle? Many people take two cars, drop one off at one trailhead, and drive to the second trailhead. The hike then becomes a one-way. The second decision you need to make is which trailhead to start from (and finish at if you don't do a car shuttle). Which direction to go is largely dependent on the type of pain you want to endure. If you don't mind doing an insanely steep section in return for a shorter approach, choose Aasgard Pass via Colchuck Lake. If you don't mind a really long approach in return for a gentler gain, choose the Snow Creek approach.
Assuming a one-way (car shuttle) and starting from the Lake Stuart trailhead, park at the insanely busy trailhead and take trail 1599.1. This part of the trail passes through a nice stand of timber along Mountaineer Creek. About two miles in is a foot bridge that provides a great spot to take photos. At 2.5 miles, you'll reach a junction with trail 1599.1 to Colchuck Lake. Head left over the foot bridge and take an immediate right after the bridge to head towards the lake.
Follow the trail past the boulder field and enter the forest again. The way climbs steadily through the timber up to the lake basin, with nice views of the surrounding mountains and the drainage that holds Mountaineer Creek and Lake Stuart. After 1.6 miles, you'll reach the lake. Colchuck Lake is a great spot to camp for those backpacking. There is a great campsite across from the path to the toilet (about 1/4 mile from where you first see the lake), and a few more past that.
To reach Aasgard Pass, follow the trail around the lake for 1.1 miles. The way passes a small inlet as well as a small tarn to the right of the trail, works its way through a boggy area, and eventually deposits you at a rock slide at the base of Colchuck Peak. To continue, head left around the lake and through the boulder field. Cairns mark the way, but use caution as many of the boulders are exposed and falls will not be very pleasant. Midway through the boulder field is a patch of brush you must pass through (the trail is well-marked), followed by a smaller boulder field, and then another bit of brush, where you will quickly reach the base of Aasgard Pass.
From the bottom of Aasgard Pass, the route works its way up and to the left. Cairns mark the route, although in some places you may have difficulty spotting them. The route passes to the left of the rock formation you can see about halfway up, skirting the brush that will be on your left. Once you reach the rock formation, the route hugs the left wall and climbs ever further up. Clear of the formation, the way moves back towards center slightly and then up again, until you reach a waterfall, at which point the route passes underneath the falls. After refilling your water bottle and dunking your head under the falls, the route cuts side-hill to the right. Use caution in this section as the route is not well marked and there are few cairns. The way eventually works its way up and almost all the way to the right of the pass below Dragontail Peak, where you'll emerge into the upper Enchantment Basin. Routefinding in this section can be difficult at times; if you lose the cairns, just be sure to follow this general route description and you'll be fine.
Once in the upper basin, take a moment to rest and recharge, and be sure to turn around and look across Colchuck Lake to a view of Mt. Baker in the distance. When you're ready, head left around the tarn up a small ridge (cairns mark the way). The path will take you cruelly up a hundred or so feet and will eventually deposit you above Tranquil Lake. Tranquil Lake is a great spot to refill water, and there are excellent campsites on both the near and far end of the lake. Below you, Isolation Lake also has a few campsites nearby; some of the best overlook the lake next to the rocks at nearly the same elevation as Tranquil Lake.
From Tranquil Lake, descend along the left side of Isolation Lake and follow the cairns through the notch. The way then descends across a bit of slab granite and down to the lakes below. Snow is sometimes present in this section of the trail, so use caution. Once in this area, you'll be treated to a view of some of the well-known peaks in the basin - Prusik Peak, The Temple, McClellan Peak, and Little Annapurna are all visible. If you fancy a side-trip, the scramble up Little Annapurna is an excellent choice and can be done easily by following the bedrock on your right up to the summit. Stay left on the way up, but not too far left as it quickly turns into a cliff!
Moving down the basin, you'll encounter your first larch trees as well as views of Crystal Lake to your right and Inspiration Lake below to your left. From the overlook to Crystal Lake on the right side of the trail, the way goes left towards Inspiration Lake. There are a few spots on the descent to the lake that can be tricky, in particular when snow is present, so be careful. After reaching the lake basin, the main trail heads left around the small knoll, and will turn right down a small boulder field towards Perfection Lake. Inspiration Lake has several good campsites available in the basin, or you can continue to Perfection Lake below for other options.
After descending to the Perfection Lake basin, you'll encounter another trail junction, this time heading up to Prusik Pass. From this junction, you are approximately 10 miles from the Snow Creek trailhead. For the rest of the Enchantments, keep straight/right and head around Perfection Lake. About 1/4 mile past this junction you'll see the trail split; keep left to follow the main trail (the right fork dies in a few hundred feet but is a nice picnic spot). The trail goes for a few hundred feet, then turns left and will take you past Sprite Lake.
At Sprite Lake, continue your descent until you reach the slab granite. Cairns mark the way down this granite formation, and will lead you to the trail on the far side of the small basin. You'll pass Leprechaun Lake on your right. The trail crosses a creek and heads left across a small knob above Lake Viviane. This section of the trail offers classic views of Prusik Peak looming large above the lake.
As you follow the trail around the knob, you'll come to an exposed section of granite with a pretty steep drop off. The trail is marked by rebar steps hammered into the rock and roughly works itself right and then cuts back sharply to the left. Use extreme caution in this section, especially with heavy packs or in poor weather conditions. After descending the slabs, continue on the trail until you cross the creek and reach a few obvious campsites. This is the last of the Enchantment Lakes before your descent.
To descend, first make sure you've already crossed the creek and follow the path around the hill to the left. Pay careful attention to the cairns and rebar steps hammered into the rock. Again, use extreme caution with heavy packs and/or poor weather as several sections are very exposed. After about 1/4 mile, you'll arrive at a gulley with a cairn visible at the bottom. Don't go directly down the gulley; keep heading straight and up on the small hill in front of you you'll see the rest of the cairns. Follow the cairns down below the bottom of the gulley and you'll see the trail widen, which you can then follow all the way down to the bottom of the drainage. When you reach the bottom, you'll see a foot log that crosses the creek. Cross it to continue and turn left to head towards Upper Snow Lake.
The trail winds around Upper Snow Lake, passing many excellent campsites and several backcountry toilets. From the foot bridge, it's about 1.5 miles to the small dam that separates upper and lower Snow Lakes. Much of the time the dam is dry and exposed and you can simply walk across. However, if the water is high, the dam may be underwater, so exercise caution crossing especially if the downed trees are floating on the water!
From the dam, it is 6.5 miles to the Snow Creek trailhead. The trail ascends slightly and then turns to drop into the drainage below the lakes. Cross the boulder field and you'll arrive at Nada Lake in about 1.5 miles. Later in the summer and in the fall you'll see the water pouring out of Lower Snow Lake - this water flow is controlled by the folks at the salmon hatchery and is used to regulate the water level in Snow Creek. At Nada Lake, there are several good campsites, although in the summer Nada Lake is well known for being infested with bugs, so if you plan to camp there, bring bug spray.
The trail works its way left around Nada Lake and descends to the valley below. You'll pass through some beautiful timber and eventually reach a bridge over the creek. From here, follow the trail down through a series of switchbacks and work your way down the canyon. About two miles from the trailhead you'll see the Snow Creek Wall on your left, and if you're lucky, some climbers working its many routes.
From here, you're about 1.5 miles from the trailhead or so, and you should be able to see it soon, which is pretty agonizing as you are still at least 30 minutes away! The trail works its way to the far right and then switchbacks down the ridge until you reach the bottom by the creek. When you reach the bottom, you'll cross a small bridge over an irrigation canal. Continue straight for a few hundred feet to reach the big bridge over Icicle Creek. Cross the bridge, turn left, and ascend about 50 feet to reach the parking lot and the end of your awesome hike!
Many people prefer visiting the Enchantments in the fall, when the larch trees turn yellow and create a very unique scene in the basin. Getting a permit can be tough for this or many other times of the year, so there is also the option to day hike the basin. No permit (other than the self-issue permits at the trailhead) is required for the day hike, known as the Enchantment Traverse or the Death March, but the day hike is extremely long and grueling. Still, it's one of the easiest ways to ensure you see the larch turn.
If you go, you should be aware of several things. First, practice good Leave No Trace principles - this area is very beautiful but also very fragile, and we need to exercise extra special care here so everyone can enjoy it. In particular, please urinate on the rocks or in a backcountry toilet. Mountain goats crave salt, and will paw up vegetation to get at the salt in your urine. Second, be aware of your abilities and don't attempt this if you aren't a strong hiker/backpacker. Not only will you not enjoy yourself, you could put yourself in danger. Finally, don't forget to enjoy yourself! If you haven't been before, a backpack trip is strongly recommended so you have some time to stop and take it all in!
From Seattle, take US2 east towards Wenatchee. Upon reaching Leavenworth, turn right onto Icicle Creek Road. At about 4 miles, the Snow Creek Trailhead is on your left. For the Stuart Lake Trailhead, continue another 4 miles or so and turn left on road 7601 (about a mile past the Eightmile Campground). After the turn, stay straight (left is the Bridge Creek Campground) and follow the road to the trailhead. The first trailhead you will encounter is the Eightmile Trailhead; this is NOT the one you want. Keep going over the bridge and another mile or so to the end of the road and the Lake Stuart Trailhead.
Recent Trip Reports
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There are 180 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Enchantment Lakes — Nov 02, 2013 — Quinton
Issues: Blowdowns | Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Our goal was to hike the Enchantments traverse, starting Friday night and ending Sunday evening. We ...
Our goal was to hike the Enchantments traverse, starting Friday night and ending Sunday evening. We got on the trail around 7:30 PM and bumped up to Colchuck under clear skies and stars in about three hours. We passed two groups coming out with reports of good hiking but cold at the lake. It was indeed cold at the lake but we were well prepared for that. Right about the time our tent was up the wind started to build and there was a light snow falling. That night was windy and wet but not too cold at the lake. The next morning the temperature fell below freezing but the summit of Aasgard was clearly visible. A fresh dusting on the granite peaks around us made for a breathtaking sight.
We started the climb up Aasgard in moderate wind and flurries of snow. Traction shoes are required for the pass at this point, but I can't provide a report past that because we never made it over the top. Around 3/4 of the way up we encountered gusts of wind well above 70 mph, and near white-out conditions. After being blown over a few times (I'm over 6' tall and pretty sturdy) we decided to backtrack to Colchuck and reevaluate. Round-trip from Colchuck 3/4 of the way up Aasgard, and back to Colchuck took almost 4 hours. At the lake we ran into some climbers who gave us an updated forecast of 100+ mph winds on the summit and 12-24 inches of snow with improving conditions Sunday. We didn't feel like waiting around and hiking from Colchuck to the Snow Lake trailhead in one day so we aborted for plan B and headed for Stuart Lake.
On the way down the trail, now covered in 6-12" of fresh snow, we had to climb over four trees that had fallen since we hiked in 24 hours earlier. At that point we decided to avoid risking getting hit by a falling tree, so we headed back to Leavenworth for some hot soup and a beer.
Moral of the story: if you are headed this way be prepared for winter weather, bring traction for your shoes, and as the snow builds it may be time to break out the snowshoes or alpine touring gear. There are some trees down across the trail now that require rerouting through the bushes in places. All in all a great adventure, but not for the faint of heart.
Enchantment Lakes — Oct 26, 2013 — analonthetrail
Features: Fall foliage
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Started at the Nada/Snow Lakes trailhead around 9:30 am. The weather was cool and dry for this long ...
Started at the Nada/Snow Lakes trailhead around 9:30 am. The weather was cool and dry for this long uphill climb. I must admit, it's a tough one. I think one of the most important things on this hike is to follow the cairns. We lost the trail few times coming back down, but if you stop and survey where you're at you'll find a nice stack of rocks to get you back on track. We were on our hands and knees a lot of the time from Snow Lakes up to the Enchantments. There are areas of rebar, concrete, and/or holes in the rocks to help you gain traction for the climb up and down. Keep your mind on the prize - the destination is more than worth it! The only time we needed our microspikes was on a very slick and icy rounding from Lake Viviane to Leprechaun Lake. A couple behind us took it super slow without traction, but I would highly recommend bringing something.
We set up camp on a high bluff at Leprechaun Lake. The forecast called for a clear, cool night. We, along with others who camped down in the basin, experience powerful wind gusts all night that had us holding our tents up with our hand to keep it from smacking us in the face. Eventually, around midnight, we decided to move our tent down into a more sheltered area of the bluff where we could stake our tent down and further support it with trekking poles. Worked like a charm.
We had snow flurries for breakfast (yum!). The snow picked up on our way down. Luckily there was a group ahead of us to lead the way. The tracks got covered up quickly by about 1/2" of snow. By the time we reached Nada Lake there were no signs of rain or snow. Both the Nada/Snow Lakes TH and Colchuck TH were surprisingly empty on Sunday afternoon - probably less than 10 cars each.
To read more about our journey and see more photos please visit our blog: http://analonthetrail.blogspot.com/
Colchuck Lake, Enchantment Lakes, Snow Lakes, Nada Lake — Oct 26, 2013 — firebeard
Issues: Snow on trail
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Through hiked the Enchantments beginning at Colchuck Lake Trailhead and finishing at Snow Lakes Trai...
Through hiked the Enchantments beginning at Colchuck Lake Trailhead and finishing at Snow Lakes Trailhead. Snow free until you hit Aasgard Pass where it becomes intermittent compact icy snow. Crampons or microspikes are nice to have as you work your way up. It can be done without but makes slower going and a bit iffy.
The upper enchantments are snow covered but again compact. Snowshoes not needed. Made a side trip up Little Annapurna where the crampons were handy once again. Nice steps in the snow from previous hikers when the snow was soft. Beautiful clear skies and views from atop.
Lower enchantment basin was mostly snow covered. Trail down to snow lakes was difficult to find and we ended up bushwacking/scrambling our way down to snow lakes. At this point it began to darken up. No snow from snow lakes back to the car. Hikes in the dark for about 3 hours but had no issues. Larch season is over no more golden tinge on the larches (bummer).
Enchantment Lakes — Oct 26, 2013 — Apanda4
Issues: Snow on trail
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Took the Leavenworth Taxi to set up a one way overnight backpack through the enchantments beginning ...
Took the Leavenworth Taxi to set up a one way overnight backpack through the enchantments beginning at the Stuart Lake Trailhead.
Left around 9ish and got to Colchuck around noon. Good trail until hitting the boulder field at the end of the lake. We got lost in the boulders, but eventually found the marked trail around Aasgard pass. The going was easier along the marked route. Patchy snow/ice around the boulders required care and time. Did eventually put on microspikes and my partner put on his crampons partway up the pass when the snow became more continuous. There was more snow and ice than expected based on previous trip report. Definitely bring traction, gaiter and poles. There were places where a fall would be extremely bad. Steps have been beaten in by previous hikers, but they were pretty icy. Snow was reasonably continuous through about halfway down the lake basin. We camped past tranquil lake. Consider the wind when choosing a tent spot; the howling kept us up.
Woke Sunday to a goat and a beautiful sunrise before the hike out. Snow steps around the knob near lake Vivianne were exposed and icy. Rebar and slab sections down to Snow lake were mainly dry, although it snowed after we passed through them. Rest of the trail was in great shape- just a few trivial downed trees and muddy bits.
Enchantment Lakes, Snow Lakes — Oct 19, 2013 — ravisraman
Issues: Snow on trail
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My wife and I did a 3 day / 2 night backpacking trip. We started at the Snow Lakes Trailhead with th...
My wife and I did a 3 day / 2 night backpacking trip. We started at the Snow Lakes Trailhead with the goal of camping in the Enchantments (near Lake Vivian). We changed plans after realizing our fitness wasn't up to par carrying heavy packs, and instead opted to camp at Nada Lake for both nights and make a day-trip up to Lake Vivian and beyond.
We were super happy with our choice, we got a great campsite and the weather was warmer at Nada vs up higher.
Hiking up to Lake Vivian there was snow on the trail, but nothing too severe (hiking boots were fine). We spoke with several people hiking through the entire length of the Enchantments and they mentioned there was a short stretch where snowshoes or added traction would help, but wasn't necessary.
We really lucked out in that the weather was 100% clear for our entire trip.
The Larch Trees were still a blazing yellow/orange color (through probably a week or so past their prime fall color).
We say mountain goats and deer.....what more could we ask for???
Amazing trip, and I can't wait to go back next year, with proper fitness to make camp all the way up near Lake Vivian or Beyond.