The Enchantment Lakes in Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness are considered by many to be the premiere hiking destination in the entire Pacific Northwest. As a part of the crescent shaped Stuart sub-Range, the Enchantment Lakes, referred to by most simply as the "Enchantments," are a series of high-alpine opal pools strung together like pearls amidst glacier-polished granite. Hiking in the Enchantments is an adventure you won't soon forget.
Beyond the series of pristine lakes, cascading water, smooth granite formations, craggy peaks, and golden larch trees from late September to early October, the Enchantments are also well known for an abundance of resident wildlife, including mountain goats, black-tailed deer, picas, hoary marmots, pine martens, and ptarmigans.
There are two trailheads that provide direct access into the Enchantment Lakes Core Area: the Colchuck Lake Trailhead is situated at 3,450 feet on the western end, and the Snow Lakes Trailhead that sits much lower on the Stuart Range's eastern end at 1,300 feet. From the Snow Lakes Trailhead off of Icicle Road you'll cross over Icicle Creek and start the roughly 6,500-foot total climb immediately. Here the trail starts in an area that was burned in the 1994 wildfire that swept through the Icicle Creek Valley. The trail then enters a lush forest dominated by a wide variety of fir and pine trees. After 5.2 miles you'll finally reach Nada Lake, the first lake, and from here the trek only gets better and better.
For many, 7,840-foot Aasgard Pass or the 8,364-foot summit of Little Annapurna make for the ideal turnaround point. Climbers may enjoy the extended challenge of summiting the 8,000-foot Prusik Peak, 8,040-foot Dragontail Peak, and even extending a traverse to 8,705-foot Colchuck Peak.
Because of its notoriety, the Enchantments are on everyone's to-do list, and access into this alpine wonderland is strictly controlled. Protected by the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the Forest Service has instituted a permit lottery for all overnight camping from May 15 through October 31 for the following five distinct camping zones (from east to west):
Application for the lottery takes place in February and March. However, the Wenatchee River Ranger Station in Leavenworth reserves a limited quantity for day-of applications that are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. For this backpacking trip, a permit for either the Snow or Core Enchanment Zone will be necessary, with the latter being most desirable.
Further, to mitigate detrimental human impact to the area, there are rules and regulations that should be well understood, including no campfires above 5,000 feet. Do note that permits are not required for day use only, and if you have the stamina, the Enchanments Thru-Hike is a popular 17.6-mile day-long trek among aggressive hikers.
Whether you are hiking the Enchantments over several days or on a thru hike, be sure to come prepared. For more information you can contact the Wenatchee River Ranger Station at 509.548.2550.