Hiking through the stunning basins, lakes, and peaks known collectively as the Enchantments is to experience the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at its best. Because it is one of the most scenic areas in the Washington Cascades, many decide to take their time hiking this demanding route; thru-hiking is also an option, however, for those who wish to push their limits. A thru-hike covers a course of terrain that could easily be done in three or four days in one difficult day. Both the schedule and pace are strenuous, but the thru-hike option carries the significant advantage of not requiring a permit, which can be difficult to obtain.
There are two points of entry to start this day hike, and if you plan on doing it in one go, you'll need to set a shuttle in the morning or the night before, or you can arrange a shuttle with Loop Connector or Leavenworth Shuttle + Taxi. Call 509.548.7433 for details.
If you begin the crescent-shaped trek at the 1,300-foot Snow Lakes Trailhead you will gain approximately 6,500 feet of elevation over the 10+ miles to 7,840-foot Aasgard Pass, the highest point on the route. If you decide to start at the 3,450-foot Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake Trailhead instead, you climb less overall, but the steep ascent up to Aasgard Pass will test you physically.
Expect to see a lot on this trail. With over eight gigantic alpine lakes, it is difficult not to linger as you make your way through the core section. Along the trail, watch for wildflowers and mountains goats. With enough scenic views to fill up your camera's memory card, be sure you are ready for this day-long adventure.
Should you want to spend the night, note that you will need a special overnight permit. 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 application, and these 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.
To mitigate detrimental human impact to the area there are further Rules and Regulations that have been established and should be well understood, including no campfires above 5,000 feet.
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.