The Enchantments (alpine)

November 26, 2013 by  

The Enchantments (alpine), 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!

Report to Team

Please feel free to send if you have any questions regarding this post , you can contact on

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are that of the authors and not necessarily that of U.S.S.POST.


Comments are closed.