Guide to The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

There is a place where jagged snow-covered peaks melt into reflective turquoise blue waters and where mountain goats will literally walk directly up to those who dare venture into their home turf. Sound enchanting? Well, that’s because it is, literally. This magical place is known as The Enchantments and it is consistently thought of as the number one backpacking trail in not only the Cascade Mountain Range but in the entire state of Washington. We’ve got all the details in this complete guide to The Enchantments so that you can take on and fall under the enchanting spell of this magical place.

The Enchantments from Prusik Pass
A panoramic view of The Enchantments Core Zone from atop Prusik Pass.

Guide to The Enchantments Quick Links

Where are The Enchantments?

Scale of The Enchantments
A day hiker stands on cliff taking in the scale of The Enchantments’ granite cliffs.

The Enchantments refers to a large portion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington State near the picturesque Bavarian town of Leavenworth, WA. This area is broken into five zones. The Enchantments are found inside the Core Zone but getting there is no easy feat as it requires some epic elevation gain and a very tough permit lottery or one insanely long and strenuous day hike.

Which Way Do I Go?

Kid Goat
A baby mountain goat looks on as we traverse The Enchantments.

There are four ways to hike The Enchantments. It can be done as a thru-hike from west to east (5,425′ of total elevation gain with 7,516’ of loss), or east to west (7,516’ of total elevation gain with 5,425’ of loss) or as an out-n-back from either end. It’s most commonly done from the east to remove the obstacle known as Aasgard Pass (2,187’ of elevation gain in less than a mile).

Colchuck Trailhead (3,420′) to Snow Lakes Trailhead (1,330’)

The Enchantments Map
A reference map and elevation profile for The Enchantments hiking trail.

This guide to The Enchantments recommends taking on the trail as a thru-hike from west to east (Colchuck Trailhead to Snow Lakes Trailhead). You get to experience the entire trail and although summiting Aasgard Pass from the west is tough it has less elevation gain than the alternative. In no way would I ever suggest descending Aasgard with a heavy backpack. The terrain is too steep and it would be murder on your knees.

  • Type: Thru-Hike
  • Rating: Extremely Strenuous
  • Distance: 19.25 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,420′
  • Elevation Loss: 6,510’
  • Recommended Time: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Season: Late-July to Early-October 
  • Camping Permits: Required

Backpack or Day Hike?

Hiking Isolation Lake
We saw these day hikers cutting across the land divide of Isolation Lake.

Backpacking The Enchantments is nearly insane as it requires going over Aasgard Pass with fully loaded backpacks. This is no easy feat. The only thing more insane is to take this on as a day hike, but many do. Usually, as a last resort because backpacking permits are hard to obtain. Only the fittest and most experienced mountain runners should take on this trail in a single day and I wouldn’t recommend they do it as a day hike either. This is a tough but gorgeous trail and who wants to speed through this kind of beauty? Saver the journey by winning a backpacking permit.

If you do decide to take on the challenge of this epic journey as a day hike don’t forget you to need to grab a day-use permit. These self-registration permits can be acquired at either trailhead and there is no limit. Make sure you keep a steady pace to finish before darkness sets in and carry a headlamp in case you don’t.

Backpacking Permits

Perfection Lake & Prusik Peak
Jennifer stops to take in Prusik Peak and Perfection Lake while backpacking The Enchantments.

Backpacking permits are exceptionally hard to come by. The system is a lottery where all those interested apply online for a permit in mid-February for the entire summer season (May 15th – Oct 31st). The lottery is run the following month issuing permits for the summer season to those lucky few who win. There are 16 people allowed into the Core Zone via the advanced lottery.

There are also 8 permits reserved for last-minute entries as well. This is another lottery that is run the day prior to the start date at the Leavenworth Ranger Station. While you do have better odds of snagging one of these permits the competition for the limited slots is still very tough.

For more information on the lottery system check out the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest website.

The Three Zones of The Enchantments Trail

Guide to The Enchantments Zones

The Enchantments are found in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness which is broken into five camping zones. This means that your issued permit allows you to camp in the zone listed on your permit. The Enchantments trail passes through 4 of the 5 zones (Stuart, Colchuck, Core Enchantment, & Snow Zones). However, while the trail starts in the Stuart Zone this would not be a zone worth camping in as it is too far from The Core Zone. The Core Enchantment Zone should be the camping goal when backpacking The Enchantments as this area is gorgeous. Spending as much time in The Core is highly recommended and desired. This is obviously the hardest permit to acquire as well but hold out for it as it makes the journey truly enchanting.

The Stuart & Colchuck Zone Sections of Trail

Colchuck Lake Pond
This small pond is found on the backside of Colchuck Lake before hiking Aasgard Pass.
  • Trail Boundary: Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake Trailhead to Aasgard Pass
    • The Stuart Zone is really only for camping when visiting Stuart Lake and not The Enchantments.
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Colchuck Lake Trailhead Elevation: 3,420’
  • Colchuck Lake Elevation: 5,570′
  • Aasgard Pass Elevation: 7,840′
  • Elevation Gain: 4,420’

The Core Enchantments Zone

Sunrise on Dragontail Peak
Watching the sunrise on isolation lake inside the Core Zone of The Enchantments.
  • Trail Boundary: Aasgard Pass to the eastern shore of Lake Viviane
    • The Snow Lakes Camping Zone may not start until the valley floor 1200′ lower than Lake Viviane but you will not find a flat enough spot to camp on that section of the descent. We list it this way as the immense beauty of the Core Zone is found within this trail boundary.
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Aasgard Pass Elevation: 7,840’
  • Lake Viviane Elevation: 6,812′
  • Elevation Loss: 1,028’

Snow Lakes Zone

  • Trail Boundary: Lake Viviane to Snow Lakes Trailhead
  • Distance: 9.5 miles
  • Lake Viviane Elevation: 6,812’
  • Snow Lakes Trailhead Elevation: 1,330’
  • Icicle Creek Bridge Crossing Elevation: 1,298′
  • Elevation Loss: 5,514′

Parking Guide to The Enchantments

Getting to the Snow Lakes Trailhead is easy as the Icicle Creek Road is paved all the way there. The parking lot is very small and if you arrive after the sunrise you will struggle to find a parking spot. Parking along the south side of the road is allowed.

The gravel road up to the Colchuck Lake Trailhead (AKA: Stuart Lake Trailhead) is a very rough road but vehicles of all types make the journey. While this lot is larger than the Snow Lakes parking lot it also gets very crowded and you will want to arrive before the sun rises to ensure a spot.

Shuttle

Having decided to take on The Enchantments as a thru-hike you will have to physically get from one trailhead to the other to start the hike. If your group has multiple vehicles you could obviously drop a vehicle at one end and carpool, but if you are like us with only one vehicle then you will need to arrange a shuttle. All the shuttle services we found picked up from the Snow Lakes Trailhead and dropped off at the Colchuck Lake Trailhead. There are a few shuttle options in the area but we used the Leavenworth Shuttle & Taxi Service. They were very responsive to last-minute inquiries and booked us on an early morning shuttle. The price was reasonable given the road conditions. Uber & Lyft would not be good options as there is little to no service at either trailhead. Hitchhiking seems like a possibility but we wouldn’t recommend it because of the rough road conditions (few driving the road after the initial onslaught of the early morning rush).

Backpacking Season

Goat Cooling Off
The mountain goats really seem to appreciate that the snowpack lingers in areas of The Enchantments for most of the summer.

I would not take on The Enchantments Trail when there is even the slightest possibility of snow lingering on Aasgard Pass. For that reason, very late July would be the earliest I would suggest attempting to grab a lottery permit. If you do have the flexibility to apply for the last-minute in-person lottery, you can start calling the ranger office about trail conditions in early to mid-July. Autumn usually comes to this part of the Cascade Range in late September. The Enchantments are covered in larch trees that turn yellow in the fall and that makes the terrain even more enchanting, but make sure you pack for colder weather and are prepared for early snow conditions.

Best Camping Spots

Camping at Isolation Lake - Guide to The Enchantments
Our campsite at Isolation Lake inside the Core Zone of The Enchantments is one of the best sites we’ve ever had in the backcountry. Please make sure you are staying in already disturbed spots when in this kind of delicate terrain.

No guide to The Enchantments is complete without discussing the best areas to camp along the trail. Again make sure that your permit is for the desired zone you wish to camp in. We highly recommend holding out for the Core Zone as it is truly the heart of The Enchantments. Once inside the Core Zone you should endeavor to camp on established campsites but there will be no markers. You simply look for flattened areas or in some cases rocks pilled up as windbreaks. Our favorite spots were Isolation Lake, Inspiration Lake, and Sprite Lake. 

Isolation Lake (7,735′)

Isolation Lake is an amazing spot to watch the sunrise on Dragontail Peak. Dragontail is the highest peak inside The Enchantments. Isolation also has a lot of mountain goats that call the area home.

Inspiration Lake (7,185′)

Inspiration Lake
Inspiration Lake is a great place to camp inside the Core Zone.

The cliff area on the southeastern corner of Inspiration Lake overlooks Perfection Lake and Prusik Peak making for epic sunrises and sunsets. This area also has a lot of mountain goats that call the rocky terrain home. Snow Creek runs through the area with a waterfall crashing down into Perfection Lake below.

Sprite Lake (7,069′)

The eastern edge of Sprite Lake is beautiful with Snow Creek flowing alongside it. The views across the creek towards Prusik Peak are some of the best of the iconic rock climbing peak.

Other Great Camping Areas

If you are looking for more secluded but equally beautiful spots check out Crystal Lake (7,010′) or climb up to Gnome Lake (7,372′) for true isolation.

Guide to The Enchantment Toilets

Not so Enchanting Toilet
The Enchantment’s toilets are anything but enchanting.

While there are no designated camping areas there are privies. A privy is a wilderness toilet and in the case of The Enchantments, they are wooden boxes with a lid and no seat. That is it. There are no walls or privacy to these privies. In most cases, the park’s service seems to enjoy the challenge of placing them on cliffs with beautiful overlooks but also wide open to prying eyes below. Make sure you bring your own toilet paper as well.

Urine

The use of a privy isn’t necessary if all you have to do is urinate. However, you should do so at least 200′ from any water source, trail, and your campsite. This is one of the seven Leave No Trace Principles for any wilderness area. In addition inside The Enchantment Core Zone, you should endeavor to not urinate on plants and try to aim for crevices in the rocks. This is to make it more difficult for the mountain goats to locate the salts in our pee. The locals are becoming habituated to our presence.

Backpacking Gear

Best Backpacking Gear
It is hard to imagine that this is what we have the potential of packing into our backpacks.

We’ve put together a full post on our Backpacking Gear which is ideal for terrain like The Enchantments. Our gear is meant to be flexible for 3-season camping but is targeted for mountain backpacking. The Enchantments Trail has a lot of elevation gain and most of the summer the higher elevations will be cool if not cold while the lower elevations can be hot. It is important to dress in layers.

Guide to The Enchantments Day Hikes

Dragontail Peak
Dragontail Peak is the highest mountain in The Enchantments. Look close to spot the hikers traversing the snowpack. There is also a hiker standing on the summit.

Along with the amazing main trail through The Enchantments, there are several shorter trails that provide some amazing aerial views of the alpine terrain. This guide to The Enchantments recommends the Little Annapurna and Prusik Pass to anyone spending a night or two in The Core Enchantments. Crystal Lake is also worth exploring for views of one of the many beautiful alpine lakes in The Core Enchantments area. Dragontail Peak should only be attempted by hikers traveling with microspikes and ice-axes as snow can easily cover the steep trail all year round.

Dragontail Peak (8,842’)

  • Starting Location: Aasgard Pass
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Rating: Dangerous (Snow often covers the trail all year)
  • Total Distance: 1.25 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,011′

Little Annapurna Peak (8,440’)

  • Starting Location: Intersection with The Enchantments Trail in the Snow Creek Lakes Area
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Rating: Moderately-Difficult
  • Total Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 910′

Prusik Pass and Gnome Tarn Loop

Prusik Peak from Gnome Lake
Prusik Peak as seen from Gnome Lake.
  • Starting Location: Intersection with The Enchantments Trail at Perfection Lake
  • Type: Loop
  • Rating: Moderately-Difficult
  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 460′
  • Highest Elevation: 7,560′

Crystal Lake (7,010′)

  • Starting Location: Intersection with The Enchantments Trail at Perfection & Sprite Lake.
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Rating: Easy
  • Total Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 65’

Recommended Itineraries – A Guide to The Enchantments

4-Day (Ideal)

Snow Creek Below Sprite
This view of Snow Creek and Prusik Peak from the east side of Sprite Lake is one of my favorite spots in The Enchantments.
  • 1st Day: Colchuck Lake Trailhead up Aasgard Pass and camp at Isolation Lake (Core Zone).
  • 2nd Day: Breakfast with the Mountain Goats, hike up Little Annapurna, and then move camp to Inspiration Lake or the east side of Sprite Lake (Core Zone).
  • 3rd Day: Hike up Prusik Pass and over the ridge to Gnome Tarn. Hike to Crystal Lake. Move camp to Snow Lakes. (This is in the Snow Zone so make sure you apply for the proper permit.)
  • 4th Day: Hike out to the Snow Lakes Trailhead.

3-day (Good Alternative)

  • 1st Day: Colchuck Lake Trailhead up Aasgard Pass and camp at Isolation Lake (Core Zone).
  • 2nd Day: Hike up Little Annapurna and then move camp to the east side of Sprite Lake. Hike up Prusik Pass and over the ridge to Gnome Tarn. Hike to Crystal Lake. 
  • 3rd Day: Hike out to the Snow Lakes Trailhead

After The Enchantments

Food

Jetboil in The Enchantments
Cooking with our Jetboil at Isolation Lake.

After a long grueling backpacking trip with mostly freeze-dried meals, it is essential to refuel on hearty food. Leavenworth is a unique Bavarian-style town so the most obvious choice after exploring The Enchantments is to get some authentic Bavarian cuisine and a beer. For this, look no further than the tasty treats at the München Haus.

If Bavarian food isn’t your style or you want to mix it up with an amazing pizza than check out Rudloof’s Pizza. The pies are huge and loaded with toppings.

Showers

At the end of an epic multi-day backpacking trip, the only thing more pressing than a filling meal is a long hot shower. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim in Leavenworth. The Leavenworth KOA is the only campground in the area that allows public access to the showers. However, at $16/person the fee is a steep one.

Accommodation

After a really long hiking adventure, you are going to need a place to lay your head for a night or two. If you are looking for luxury after roughing it in the backcountry look no further than the Storybrook Riverside Inn which sits right on the river in downtown Leavenworth. If you are traveling in an RV or looking to spend another night or two in a tent you can always go to the KOA or one of the more affordable National Forest campgrounds like Eightmile or Bridge Creek Campgrounds. Finally, for those looking to save money and who are traveling in a self-contained rig like ours the city of Leavenworth provides a parking lot where they allow boondocking (check your Campendium app).

Guide to The Enchantments

Guide to The Enchantments
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Regardless of whether you day-hike or backpack The Enchantments you are in for one of the hardest but most rewarding trips of your life. We highly recommend taking the experience at a slow pace to be able to fully experience all the beauty of the landscape as well as the wildlife that inhabits it. If you find this guide to The Enchantments helpful or inspiring for your future adventures please leave us a commit below and share the post on your social networks.

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