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 146 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Enchantment Lakes #1553 — Sep 08, 2005 — Tennesseetreader
Issues: Snow on trail
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Flew in from Memphis, TN and had four days to hike in Washington. I took a chance and got a permit ...
Flew in from Memphis, TN and had four days to hike in Washington. I took a chance and got a permit in the daily lottery to hike and camp in the Enchantments with two friends. Entered via the Snow Lake trailhead. The weather was perfect for this normally hot and dry approach to the basin. Temps in the 70's made the hike to Nada and Snow Lake quite pleasant (even with the grueling climb). We camped at Snow Lake which is very low due to the State draining it into Nada Lake (the man made water fall is spectacular). On 9/9 we started up to the lower basin. Many people were coming down saying that it was snowing up above. We ignored it and kept on hiking. By the time we reached Lake Viviane, it was snowing and blowing and bitter cold. We set up camp at Prussik Pass for the night. I managed to take the remaining 3 hours of daylight left to dayhike to Aasgard Pass and back; what incredible scenery! Saturday morning we awoke to 3-4"" of snow on the ground and it was still snowing. I began to wonder if we could get out before becoming snowbound for a couple of days. We packed up and were able to get back down to Snow Lake and the way out. The snow was melting off the the still summer warm rocks and we were able to negotiate the difficult path down. Overall the scenery was incredible and the snow made the trip an adventure! (pic 1 - snow lake drainage; pic 2 perfection lake in the snow).
Enchantment Lakes #1553 — Jul 25, 2005 — 5ameobas
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Started Thursday the 21st up to Colchuck Lake at Noon and 80 plus degrees on the trail. Next time I...
Started Thursday the 21st up to Colchuck Lake at Noon and 80 plus degrees on the trail. Next time I will start much, much earlier. Next morning we climbed Aasgard Pass in the pouring rain and set up camp above Isolation Lake. Skies cleared over night and allowed us a great day-hike up Little Annapurna. Unfortunatley, 10 minutes after we reached the summit, some other hikers coming up had spotted the body of some 22 year old climber at the base of Little Annapurna. Please don't climb alone! Back at camp we packed up and headed down to Inspiration Lake. Lots of goats and amazing views all along the way. Woke the next morning to a ruckus in camp. 11 goats were in our camp either eating, lazin' or chasing each other around. They hung out for several hours before we finally packed up for the trip down to Nada Lake. Another absolutley beautiful section of this hike. Take your time through this area and explore if you have time. Nada also provided some nice camps and surprisingly more goats! 5 days was enough, but I still could have stayed longer.
Enchantment Lakes #1553 — Jul 16, 2005 — CBig
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Started at the Colchuck/Stuart trailhead, intending only to go to Colchuck Lake; but met a gentlema...
Started at the Colchuck/Stuart trailhead, intending only to go to Colchuck Lake; but met a gentleman named Dean, who twisted my arm into doing the traverse up Aasgard Pass, through the upper and lower Enchantments, and out at the Snow Lakes Trailhead. I'm glad he convinced me! What a magnificent place! Aasgard Pass was darn steep, and darn cold above 7,000 feet, but the last twelve miles of this seventeen mile trek was all downhill from there. We passed about twenty five other hikers and climbers today. Very little snow remaining on the trail at The Enchantments. Aasgard Pass is an incredible flower garden right now. Dean and I both hobbled on blisters the last five miles, but a small price to pay for all we were privelaged to see today.
Enchantment Lakes #1553 — Jul 04, 2005 — R&M
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We entered via Snow Lake trailhead on July 1. We camped the first night at snow lake, then 2 nights...
We entered via Snow Lake trailhead on July 1. We camped the first night at snow lake, then 2 nights at Inspiration. Couldn't really camp much further without being on snow. We hiked out on the 4th via Aasgard Pass, summiting Little Annapurna en route. We could see Adams, Rainier, Glacier and Baker from the summit! Oh, and there are tons of ladybugs up there, very strange. Some of the upper enchantments were still snow covered, but will probably be fine in a few weeks. Trail could be followed just fine. Mosquitos were the worst I've ever experienced in Washington State, and tons of mountain goats as expected. Annapurna still had snow, but no problem getting up (minimal postholing) and we glissaded down. Aasgard pass is snow free and full of sliding gravelly fun! Swam in Colchuck lake on the way out, which felt fabulous after 4 days. Didn't get back in time for the fireworks after Annapurna and swimming on the last day, but the trip was fabulous. Perfect weather.
Enchantment Lakes #1553 — Jul 01, 2005 — john deer
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Our group had a permit for 4 days but only for camping at Colchuck Lake. After a leisurely start (a...
Our group had a permit for 4 days but only for camping at Colchuck Lake. After a leisurely start (almost 3 pm) we finally got to the lake and it took a while to fully evaluate 3 different camp sites. We eventually had dinner at about 8 pm. The second day was also a leisurely start (about 11) to go up Aasgard Pass and explore the Enchantments. After all these years of hiking, this was my first trip up to the pass and beyond. ""Ranger Rick"" in town had told us that there was still snow to the pass and that we would be ""potholing"" once we reached the pass. I guess he does not get out much. Neither case was correct. There was one teeny patch of snow below the pass and the snow above was periodic and reasonably consolidated. As most people know, there was some minor scrambling to get to the pass and plenty of loose dirt and rocks to kick loose. In the lower section, there were cairns everywhere so it was a challenge to pick the correct set of cairns.