A Brief Guide to The Enchantments in the North Cascades

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The crowning glory of Washington State's Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the stunning Enchantment Lakes basin is over 7,000 feet in elevation and can only be attained by two approaches.

You’ll encounter sections of unimproved and confusing trail, as well as high passes, snow, exposed rock slabs, boulder hopping and other tolls on the body as well as the psyche. It’s especially important to consider the weather, as it can arrive fiercely, without notice. It isn’t uncommon for snow to fall, even in the summer.

The Enchantments don’t come easy. If you begin at the Stuart Lake Trailhead and go up by way of Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass, you’ll have 6,000 vertical feet of elevation gain and 7,800 vertical feet of elevation loss. If you begin at the lower Snow Creek Trailhead, reverse the numbers. As you can see, it can be a grueling undertaking that isn’t indicative of the 19 miles. Hiking Aasgard Pass, you gain or lose about 2,500 feet in less than a mile! Many people feel it’s easier to go up Aasgard so there’s more downhill on the way out.

Enchantment Lakes Traverse

An autumn snowfall covers the barren landscape at the highest point during your hike (7,800 feet).

Getting There

Both trailheads are located in central Washington, near the town of Leavenworth. The most direct route from Seattle is via HWY 2. You can also take Interstate 90 and US 97 over Blewett Pass. Either way, once in Leavenworth, turn onto Icicle Creek Road at the west end of town. In about 4 miles, you will arrive at the Snow Creek Trailhead parking lot on the left. To get to the Stuart Lake Trailhead, continue another 4 miles or so to Eightmile Road (N.F. 7601) and turn left. Follow this dirt road 3.8 miles to the very end and park. A Northwest Forest Service Pass is required at the trailheads.

The Shuttle

You have three options for the shuttle.

  1. Your group can bring a second vehicle.
  1. If you are comfortable with it, you can hitchhike. It’s probably easier to leave your car at the lower Snow Lake Trailhead and hitch to the higher Stuart Lake Trailhead, since in the morning more drivers are going toward the upper parking area.
  1. If you enjoy even more of a workout, you can stash a bike for the ride back to your vehicle at the end of the day.

Gear

Have warm clothes, the 10 Essentials, a flashlight and sturdy shoes (perhaps gaiters) as you may encounter snow patches. Recent conditions can be found with the Forest Service.

Permits

At either trailhead, fill out a free day-use permit—it’s required for your thru-hike/run. If you encounter a ranger along your route, he or she may ask to see it. For overnight camping, paid permits are required and are very hard to come by (most are assigned by lottery). For more info, see the U.S. Forest Service website.

When to Go

Because of the high elevation of the Enchantment Lakes Basin and the possibility of sleet or snow, your best bet is to plan a trip between late July and early October. The golden larch season is in full swing around September and October and is especially rewarding.

Enchantment Lakes Traverse

Adam Roberts standing high above Crystal Lake.

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