When anyone mentions the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the Enchantments area immediately comes to mind and usually works its way into the next sentence of the conversation. And you can't deny its preeminence as one of the most beautiful gems of the Pacific Northwest. But say you've already been, or what is more likely, you didn't win the lottery to get a permit to stay overnight and the thru-hike sounds too brutal. Luckily there are so many other wonderful places to explore in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The area comprises over 400,000 acres along the crest of the Cascade Range in Central Washington. Hike through old-growth forest with a mix of Douglas fir, western redcedar, noble fir, silver fir and mountain hemlock. Summit some of the other amazing peaks in the Stuart Range. The area is just as rich in wildlife, deer, elk, mountain goats, black bears, songbirds and raptor such as osprey, hawks and eagles.
Given its proximity to Seattle and other cities in Central Washington, the trails in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness can become crowded on summer weekends or holidays. Plan your trip around these peak times if you want to avoid sharing the views with a lot of other people, and make sure you pack out all that you bring in with you.
Yes, this is one busy place, but as you gain ground above the Snow Lake Basin on the way to Gem Lake and Wright Mountain, the crowds begin to dissipate. At the same time, the views only get better the higher you go. There are a number of secluded (and less private) campsites to choose from around Gem Lake, and from here you can drop your packs, scramble up the ridge to the top of Wright Mountain, and gain some amazing, well-earned views of Washington's Central Cascades.
Nothing beats a long, rough road to the trailhead to keep the crowds to a minimum. Bear and Deer lakes are within a half mile of each other to the southwest of larger Lake Dorothy. You'll have your pick of campsites along these lakes, especially if you are able to make it in here mid-week. Wild blueberries growing on the trail are another perk that'll make for a wonderful day hike or overnight backpacking trip.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, including a portion of the hike to Red Pass. From here you'll gain impressive views of Lundin Peak and Red Mountain. But first, the trail starts from Snoqualmie Pass and into the Commonwealth Basin, with old-growth forests and more great vistas of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
The hike up to Granite Mountain Lookout is a very popular day hike, but for good reason. There are few other places where you can gain so much ground so quickly, and the views from atop Granite Mountain are amazing, to say the least. The fire lookout is often open in the summer, where a ranger can help orient you to the surrounding mountains.
Views are a given, but a hike through wildflowers, old-growth forest, alongside and overlooking isolated mountain lakes, and wonderful places to setup a backcountry camp is what the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is all about. The Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake and onto Mount Defiance requires a creek crossing that can be prohibitively high in early spring, but it is a great hike in this incredible alpine area once the creek passable.
Ok, so you checked out the five hikes above and still feel like you want to get into the Enchantments when you're up in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but you don't have a permit to stay overnight. Organize a shuttle and consider the thru-hike, a grueling day crossing the entire area, or pick out sections that you can day hike into and then camp outside of the restricted camping area. Regardless of what you choose to do, this area is beautiful, and if you are able to plan around late summer to early fall, you might also get to see the changing colors of the larch that make this highly photographed area even more visually striking.