The Enchantments Thru-Hike
Connect Stuart Lake, Colchuk Lake, and Snow Lakes Trails to traverse the Enchantments in a single, 18-mile push.
With alpine lakes, mountain goats, and jagged peaks, this almost mythical trek rivals the world's best trails and scenery. If you can get one of the widely sought-after backcountry permits, or are a strong hiker who can pack in the miles in a single day, this is a part of the country—and the world—you shouldn't miss.
The Enchantments are located in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Alpine Lakes Wilderness area on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range in Washington state, near the town of Leavenworth. The area is broken up into five zones, with the Core Enchantment zone being the most renowned (and most regulated). See this link for a more complete description of the different zones, plus permitting information.
From the town of Leavenworth 2.5 hours from Seattle, the access points to the Enchantments are only a short drive up Icicle Creek Road, and then a long hike in from the two main parking lots (which can get crowded in the summer). Accessing the area requires hiking up either the Snow Lakes Trailhead on the eastern side of the Enchantments, or to Colchuck Lake on the west, via the Stuart Lake Trailhead located up a winding dirt road.
The Snow Lakes area is easier to get permits for, and if you plan for a few days, you'll have time to do day-hikes into the Core Enchantments area even if you don't win the lottery to overnight there. The Snow Lakes Trail leaves from the Snow Lakes parking lot on the edge of Icicle Creek Road and only 5 miles outside of town, winding its way up 3,800 feet in elevation over 6.5 miles. Add in another 1.5 miles to reach the far end of the lakes, and another 1.5 miles and 1,400 feet elevation from Upper Snow Lake to Lake Viviane, inside the Core Enchantments area. If you have a permit, there's camping at Snow Lakes so you can break up the trip. From here, you can continue down the trail, crossing the Core Enchantments area and exiting via Colchuck Lake.
Colchuck Lake via Stuart Lake Trailhead
If you're heading up the 4.2 mile one-way Colchuck Lake route via the Stuart Lake Trailhead, be prepared for a mighty climb up Aasgard Pass (also known as Colchuck Pass), with a very challenging nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile to reach the Core Enchantments area (but well worth the hard work). Use extreme caution when snow is present, due to hidden hazards.
Hoping to do the whole Enchantments Trail? Complete the thru-hike from either the Stuart Lake Trailhead or the Snow Lakes Trailhead, but be prepared for 18 miles and significant elevation gain and loss. Worth the effort? Absolutely. Starting at the Stuart Lake Trailhead gets you up to the core area faster (at least as mileage goes), though it's a tough climb, with an easier exit at Snow Lakes. Alternately, you can go the other way and have a relatively easier but longer approach with a shorter, harder descent on the other side, down Aasgard Pass. Just plan to have a vehicle at either end, or a friend to pick you up, as there's virtually no thru-traffic at the Stuart Lake Trailhead, making getting back to civilization trickier. The Snow Lakes Trailhead parking lot gets a lot of traffic with local hikers and rock climbers, and offers closer access to the town of Leavenworth.
Due to the length and elevation gain, this is a trail best left to more experienced hikers.