Skip to content

Hiking the Enchantments

Hiking the Enchantments | Backpacking the Enchantments | How to get an Enchantments permit | How to get a permit for the Enchantments | Best hikes in Washington | Best backpacking trips in Washington | Washington hikes | Things to do in Washington | Backpacking Washington | How to hike the Enchantments | Hiking the Enchantments in one day | Enchantments Permit | Enchantments Core Zone | Enchantments Snow Lakes

This past September we got to knock off an item from our bucket list: hiking the Enchantments in Washington!

Ever since moving to Washington and learning about this beautiful region, we had our sights set on backpacking there. After entering the permit lottery in 2018 and failing to get permits, we didn’t feel too confident going into the 2019 lottery.

We coordinated with two friends (Yvonne and Jeffrey) on the dates we wanted, zones we wanted to apply for, and other logistics. But on March 20, we got the disappointing news that we did not get permits. 

Enter: Christie, our Enchantments savior. Christie is Yvonne’s friend, who I had met before, and happened to enter the lottery the day before it closed. And she got permits! But the best part–she got six permits, which meant that Yvonne, Jeffrey, Adam, and myself could all go with her and her boyfriend Jackson!

There was a catch though: we got Snow Lake permits, not Core permits (If all of this sounds like a foreign language, don’t worry, we will explain it all down below!) But we couldn’t miss the opportunity to go, so we committed to the permits and figured we would make it all work. So on September 14, with fully loaded packs, we headed into the Enchantments! 

The Enchantments Washington

While our experience hiking the Enchantments wasn’t the traditional experience–we didn’t have a Core permit and we skipped Aasgard pass due to weather concerns–we had such a fun, rainy and memorable three days. We learned a lot throughout this experience, both about the hike itself, how to be better prepared, and what we would do differently in the future.

Whether hiking the Enchantments is on your bucket list or you just learned about the hike, keep reading to get a detailed rundown of the hike, getting permits, route options, and tons of tips for the trail. And to watch our experience, check out our vlog below!

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About the hike

So what the heck are the Enchantments? 

The Enchantments is a region in Washington, just 15 miles southwest of Leavenworth, a super cute Bavarian village town. Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, the Enchantments is full of alpine lakes, rocky peaks, larches, mountain goats, and incredible views.

Over the years, the hike has become increasingly popular, making winning a permit in the lottery almost like winning the actual lottery. But the wait, stress, and uncertainty of getting to access this area is worth it!

Note: Dogs are not allowed in the Enchantments

The Enchantments

Map of the Enchantments

The map below shows the area that make up the Enchantments. There are five total regions: Eightmile/Caroline, Stuart, Colchuck, Core, and Snow. Here’s a quick rundown of each one!

Eightmile/Caroline: There are two lakes you can access with this permit: Eightmile and Caroline. We day hiked to Eightmile Lake a couple years ago and it was beautiful, although not as scenic as some of the other Enchantment lakes (like Colchuck).

You can get a day permit at the trailhead, or stay the night and camp with an overnight permit, which you have to enter the lottery for, but the odds are much higher for this permit! Note: in 2019 they reduced the number of permits due to wildfire damage.

Stuart: The Stuart zone is named after Lake Stuart, which is a 9 mile round trip hike. This is another hike that is a doable day trip, but if you’d like to stay overnight, you’ll need to enter the Enchantments lottery for a permit. But similar to Eightmile/Caroline, this permit is much easier to get!

Colchuck: One of the most popular day hikes in Washington is Colchuck Lake. The lake’s clear, blue (and freeeezing cold!) water is almost as impressive as the backdrop: the jagged and dramatic Dragontail peak.

We day hiked the 8 miles round trip to Colchuck a couple summers ago and despite running out of water (rookie mistake), it is still one of our favorite hikes in all of Washington!

Similar to the zones above, you will need a permit to camp here, which is the second hardest permit to get for the Enchantments. But don’t worry, if you don’t get one, a day hike is still super worth it!

Core: The most popular (and coveted) area is the Core zone, which is where the majority of the lakes reside. To get to this zone, you have to climb up the infamous Aasgard Pass, a steep and rocky area directly to the left of Dragontail peak, which gains 2,000 ft elevation gain in ¾ of a mile…ouch.

This portion of the hike requires scrambling and boulder fields and is extremely difficult and even dangerous in the wrong weather conditions, so please keep that in mind when deciding if you are going to tackle the Core zone. But once you get up Aasgard, you have an alpine lake filled playground to call home for the night.

As we mentioned, we did not end up going to Aasgard Pass, so we cannot speak to that experience, but we can attest that the lakes at the top are magical! One awesome thing about this permit is that you can camp in any of the zones, which gives you a lot of flexibility in your trip!

Snow: This is the zone we camped in during our time in the Enchantments. The zone is named after Snow Lake, the final lake before you climb up into the Core zone. Snow Lake was beautiful and more scenic than we thought it would be, so while it’s not the most ideal permit to get, it still makes for a very fun trip! 

For this blog post, we will specifically be covering the Colchuck, Core, and Snow zones, which is what makeup the super popular portion of the Enchantments.

Miles

Here is a rundown of the mileage for different portions of the hike, directly from the Forest Service. One thing that’s good to know is that we saw a lot of different mileage reports for this hike.

Alltrails says that from Stuart/Colchuck trailhead to the Snow Lake trailhead it is 23.6 miles, but we confirmed with a ranger during our hike that it is 19. 

The Whole Core Enchantment Loop– Stuart Lake Trailhead to Snow Lake Trailhead:
Approximately 19 miles / 6000 foot gain and 7800 foot loss

Snow Lake: Snow Creek Trailhead to the Upper Snow Lake Dam
6.5 miles / 3800 foot elevation gain (and another 1.5 miles to the far end of the lake).

Colchuck Lake: Stuart Lake Trailhead to first view of the lake
4.2 miles / 2200 foot elevation gain.

Core Enchantments:
From Colchuck Lake to the top of Aasgard Pass:
2.5 miles / 2500 foot elevation gain

From the inlet of Upper Snow Lake to Lake Viviane:
1.5 miles / 1400 foot elevation gain

Trail Conditions

The hike is a mixture of a regular dirt trail and rock scrambling. With a daypack, the scrambling isn’t too bad (I hate rock scrambling and didn’t cry!), but with backpacking packs on, it can be pretty brutal at times. If you are not comfortable rock scrambling, this hike may not be the best fit for you.

When to go

The permit season for the Enchantments is between May 15 and October 31. What this means is that you have to obtain a permit in the lottery (or in the other methods we cover below) to stay overnight during those dates.

However, the Forest Service warns that hiking or camping on snow is highly likely during May, June, late September and October, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. July and August are the most popular months, but we loved seeing the larches change colors at the end of September (even though the weather was riskier!).

If you do not get a permit during the permit window, or happen to be visiting outside of that window, there is a small chance you can hike in the area during other times of the year, but you will likely encounter a lot of snow.

The road to Colchuck lake does close in the winter, but it typically is open for a bit after October 31, giving you a little bit of a window to do the hike depending on the weather. 

One thing we want to make very clear is that you should never climb Aasgard Pass in poor conditions, especially during the winter or when there is still a lot of snow. In fact, people have died doing so from falling into crevasses or waterfall holes. 

Getting a permit

Now the hard part: getting a permit. In 2018 (still waiting on 2019 numbers), 17,586 people applied for 708 Core permits…giving them a 4% chance to snag one. CRAZY! The odds are even lower if you’re applying for a permit in July or August.

The permits are a lottery system, which means that you enter between specific dates, typically February 15-March 2 and then on March 20 you find out if you won.

Winning is completely up to luck, which is the hard part of the lottery system. If you get lucky, you have until March 31 to accept your permit, otherwise those do become available to the public. 

When you apply, you select your entry date and location and pay a $10 non-refundable application fee. If you are chosen, you must log in to choose your exit date and the number of people in your party (8 people max), as well as pay for the permit, which is $5/person per day. You can also choose an alternate leader.

If you do not get a permit through the lottery, there is still hope! Here are two ways you can get  a permit after the lottery closes:

  1. Check back on April 1 at 7 AM PT to see if any permits were not claimed. 
     
  2. On Mondays-Saturdays, there is a walk-up lottery at the Wenatchee River Ranger Station office in Leavenworth. The Forest Service has a lot more info on how this works, but here is the gist of it:
     
    • They only give out one permit per zone per day, with up to 8 people per permit.
       
    • Arrive by 7:30 AM to enter the walk-up lottery. There are usually more people present than permits, so they have to draw names, which occurs at 7:45 AM. 
       
    • If there are still advance permits that did not sell, they will also give these away during the walk-up lottery.

Our tip: even though this didn’t work for us, apply with friends to increase your chances. Four of us applied together and each put the same dates, zones, etc. While we did not get lucky, that method will increase your chances. Thankfully Christie applied and was able to bring us along!

Route options

The Enchantments Washington

After you get notified that you won the Enchantments lottery, you’ll want to figure out your route and how many days you want. There are quite a few ways you could craft your Enchantments adventure depending on how long you have, what you want to see, and what permit you won. 

After doing the hike, seeing what others have done, and researching the options, here are four of the best options (in our opinion) if you receive a Core or Snow permit.

Didn’t get a permit? Don’t worry, not all hope is lost. You can either try to get a walk up permit (covered above) or day hike it (covered below).

Option #1: Core Permit

This is the most ideal route, with a coveted permit for the Core Zone

Day 1: Hike to Colchuck Lake and set up camp
 
Day 2: Hike up Aasgard Pass and find a good camping spot in the Core. Wander around the Core a bit
 
Day 3: Spend all day exploring the Core. See some of our recommended stops below!
 
Day 4: Hike out through Snow Lake

Option #2: Snow Permit

This is what we planned to do, but Mother Nature had other ideas.

Day 1: Hike to Snow Lake and set up camp
 
Day 2: Explore the Core area all day and then head back your campsite at Snow Lake 
 
Day 3: Hike out through Colchuck

Option #3: Core Permit

If you only want to see the Core, this would be a good option for you!

Day 1: Hike to Colchuck Lake and set up camp
 
Day 2: Hike up Aasgard Pass and find a good camping spot in the Core. Wander around the Core a bit
 
Day 3: Spend all day exploring the Core. See some of our recommended stops below!
 
Day 4: Hike out through Colchuck

Option #4: Snow Permit

This is the route we did. It is a great option if you have been to Colchuck Lake before and hate the idea of Aasgard Pass!

Day 1: Hike to Snow Lake and set up camp
 
Day 2: Explore the Core area all day and then head back your campsite at Snow Lake 
 
Day 3: Hike out through Snow Lake

Day Hike: As we mentioned above, if you do not get a permit to backpack, you can dayhike it! You will want to make sure you have cars at both trailheads (see “The Trailheads” section below).

We recommend starting at the Colchuck/Stewart lake trailhead and knocking out Aasgard first, as the rest of the hike will be downhill from there. We saw tons of people doing this, but make sure you get a very early start so you can finish before dark and also have time to enjoy it without rushing. Warning: this will be a long and exhausting day!

What to bring

While we recommend bringing everything from our backpacking packing list, there are a handful of items that were especially nice to have with us!

External charger

This is a must for a multi-day backpacking trip! While you’ll have no cell phone service, being able to charge your phone to take photos, look at a map, etc is crucial. We recommend this RAVPower Charger, which has two charging ports!

Map

The trail is fairly obvious in spots, but as we mentioned earlier, sometimes you encounter rock scrambles and finding the right path can be hard. We highly recommend getting the Alltrails app so you can see the map (even without cell service) and make sure you’re going the right way. It’s also nice to see how far you have to your next stop 🙂

Good meals

After a long day of hiking, there is nothing better than a hot meal. We are big fans of Wild Zora backpacking meals, especially the beef ones, as they are super natural and healthy.

If you’d like to try them out, use our code APLUSK20 for 20% off your order! They also make some amazing meat and veggie bars. Our friends all brought Mountain House meals and loved theirs too!

Cathole Trowel

Nature may call during your trip and when it does, you’ll need a cathole trowel! You’ll want to make sure you go to the bathroom 200 feet from a water source and that you dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter.

As for toilet paper, Leave No Trace says “use only plain, white, non-perfumed brands. Toilet paper must be disposed of properly! It should either be thoroughly buried in a cat hole or placed in plastic bags and packed out.”

There were also toilets near the campsites, but they are literally just a wooded box with a hole and not much privacy.

Clothing items

Layers are a great idea any time of the year while hiking the Enchantments. Since you’ll be at a higher elevation, the nights may get cool. We were so thankful we brought layers as we froze during the hike. 

The weather in the mountains can change quickly, so always bring a rain jacket just in case! Something we wish we had brought were waterproof pants. Our friends had some and we were a taddddd jealous when their legs were nice and dry!

If it’s warm out, bring a swimsuit so you can swim in one of the lakes!

Water filter

While we have a pretty large Camelback bladder to store water, it wasn’t enough water for a three day hike. We bought a new water filter for the trip and the water filtered super fast–it was amazing! Our friends also brought water treatment liquid that worked great too!

Headlamps

Having a headlamp is not only one of the 10 hiking essentials, but is especially important if you plan to hike for sunrise, or just have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Bring rain entertainment

One of the best things we did was download Netflix and books in case it rained. We spent hours doing this one day and it saved us from being bored as we were cooped up in our tent! 

The Trailheads

You’re all packed and now it’s time to start the hike! But where do you start? There are two trailheads for the Enchantments: Stuart/Colchuck Lake and Snow Lake.

You can either start and end at the same trailhead or start and end at different trailheads depending on the route you’re going to take.  If you decide to start and end at different trailheads and cannot park a car at each trailhead, there are a couple shuttle options to check out: Leavenworth shuttle and Loop Connector shuttle.

The Snow Lake trailhead is off of Icicle Creek Road and has a decent parking lot. However, our friends had to park on the side of the road. A lot of people were doing this and it is allowed.

The Stuart/Colchuck Lake trailhead is down a VERY rough forested road. This is where we parked our van because we thought we would exit the trail this way. We had to go about 3 mph in the van (not joking lol!), but we made it down the road in one piece.

They have two parking lots in this area (the first one is for Eightmile and next one is for Stuart/Colchuck), as well as an overnight only parking area for those with overnight permits. They are now prohibiting parking along FS Road 7601 and they have a ranger with a sign telling you if parking is full before you get too far down the road.

Both trailheads get really busy, so arrive early! We arrived at Stuart/Colchuck at 7 AM and got the last overnight permit spot and there were lots of day hikers that were struggling to park. 

PS: the trailheads all have bathrooms! They are pit toilets, but it’s good for a last minute bathroom break before hitting the trail!

Tips for the Hike

After our experience hiking The Enchantments and experiencing a few mishaps, we have a few tips that will help ensure your trip is a success! 

  1. Start early: We mentioned this before, but we really mean it! The earlier the better. If you plan to day hike, we would recommend getting to Colchuck Lake for sunrise so you have enough time (and to actually enjoy the hike). And whether you’re backpacking or day hiking, arriving early is key to ensure sure you get parking.

  2. Be flexible: We went into our trip thinking it may be okay weather, that we would see the entire core, and that we would go down Aasgard. And none of that really happened. But by being flexible and going with the flow, we still had a blast!

  3. Look for cairns: Cairns, which are stacked rocks, will help you a ton when navigating the rock scrambles and boulders on the trail.

  4. Download a map: Alltrails was super duper helpful for us! We had some spots where we were uncertain and it helped guide us, as well as give us an idea of how far we had hiked.

  5. Always carry your permit! Every hiker has to carry a permit signed by the group leader at all times and the group leader must always carry their ID. The group leader does not have to be with you during any day hikes, but you must all enter and leave the Enchantments together. For day hikers, you will need to fill out a permit at the trailhead and keep that on you. We got stopped by a ranger and he asked to see our permits, so they do check! 

Top Spots to See

The Enchantments as a whole is gorgeous, but there are a few spots that you should especially check out and spend some time at. Note: We did not visit all of these spots due to timing, but we wanted to!

  1. Lake Vivienne: Maybe it’s because it was the first glimpse we got into the core, but we loved this lake! The reflections, the peak behind the lake, and the larches made it extra special for us. 

  2. Gnome Tarn: We REALLY wanted to go here, but didn’t have time. According to Alltrails, it’s photographed as much as Lady Gaga, so it’s definitely not a super big secret. This spot is famous for the awesome view of Prusik Peak. We believe it is about an extra mile each way to get to this spot.

  3. Inspiration Lake: This is where we turned around, but we loved the view here! The reflections on the water were stunning and there was still some snow on the other side of the lake, which made it even more beautiful.

  4. Colchuck Lake: This is one of our favorite hikes in Washington and definitely worth going to whether you have a Core permit or just want a fun day hike!

  5. Little Annapurna: We considered summiting Little Annapurna, but due to weather we were unable to. Little Annapurna is in the Core zone, so it would be a good way to spend part of a day if you’re hiking in the Core. It does require some scrambling though!

Where to go after

Munchen Haus

After you finish your hike, it’s time to celebrate! And our favorite way to celebrate? With FOOD! 🙂 We highly recommend driving into Leavenworth after your hike and grabbing a bratwurst or sausage from Munchen Haus! Another good spot to check out is Yodelin. And after you eat dinner, make sure to go grab some ice cream from Whistlepunk!

Our final thoughts

The Enchantments Washington

We hope this blog post helped give you some more information to help plan your trip to the Enchantments! Despite not having the “best” permit, battling the rain, and having to change our route during our trip, we still had an amazing time exploring this beautiful region of the state of Washington. 

We would love to do this hike again in the future, however, we think we would do it a bit differently. Instead of backpacking, we’d love to try day hiking it next time.

While Aasgard Pass terrifies us, we want to experience it once in our lifetime and we’d rather do it without the heavy packs.

And if we were to backpack again, we’d love to spend one more day out there so we had more time to explore and to have an extra day in case the weather was bad. 

No matter what route you take, how many days you have, or if you get a sunny day or a cloudy day, the Enchantments truly are a magical place and 100% worth the permit headaches to visit in whatever capacity you can. It is one of our favorite Washington memories and we cannot wait to experience it again someday!

Hiking the Enchantments?

Pin this blog post to prep for your trip!

Plan your next trip with our travel guides

Leave a Comment





Scroll To Top