Our Experience Thru-Hiking the Enchantments (Is it Worth it?)

Often considered the Crown Jewel of Hiking Trails in Washington State (by the Washington Trails Association at least), the Enchantments are often very high on every outdoorsman and women’s bucket list. We ended up hearing about the Enchantments from a friend of ours after planting ourselves in the state for a couple of summer months. Somehow this famously beautiful trail had never hit our radar — but after doing a quick Google search and checking it out on Alltrails we decided it must be pushed to the top our hiking list.

The only problem? Permits for backpacking the trail were almost 100% unavailable (the permit lottery opens in February). Feeling slightly deflated, we instead started looking at whether we could just do the whole trail in one day — aka thru-hike it.

Now, nowhere did we read that the Enchantments trail was in any shape or form easy. In fact, every article talked about the large elevation gain, the long distance and the grueling climb over Aasgard Pass. But we weren’t deterred. So we looked at our calendars, did a bit of planning, and headed over to the trailhead to see what it was really like to thru-hike the Enchantments in one day.

Below is hopefully everything you need to know about thru-hiking the entire Enchantments trail in one day — including the actual trail data, specific distances to major points of interest and helpful tips on trail safety and what to bring with you.

SOME FACTS ABOUT THE ENCHANTMENTS

| The trail is located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and is part of the large Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest (read about another fantastic trail in this region here).

| There are 700 lakes and ponds in the Enchantments area; including, such popular ones as Colchuk, Inspiration and Isolation.

| Similarly, the area is home to the peaks of Cashmere Crags — which rate among some of the best rock-climbing sites in the entire western United States.

| The area was first explored by Europeans in the early 1900s. It got its name after one of those men wrote of the area, “It was an enchanting scene. I named the group Enchantment Lakes.” Though of course Native American tribes had traveled through and lived in the area loooong before any Europeans arrived.

| Dogs are banned from the area by the Forest Service because they hoped their lack of presence would help the local mountain goat and ptarmigan populations to recover (it did).

MAP OF THE ENCHANTMENTS TRAIL

CAN YOU THRU-HIKE THE ENCHANTMENTS IN ONE DAY?

Yes, you totally can! But, be prepared for a long hard day on the trail.

At roughly 20 miles one-way, the Enchantments trail should definitely not to be underestimated. We did the whole thru-hike in one day and it took us about 12 hours to go from Stuart Lake Trailhead to Snow Lake Trailhead. This did include taking a couple of short snack breaks, a swimming break in one of the alpine lakes and then a long lunch break, so if you are really pushing it and stopping less, you can definitely do the whole thru-hike in less time.

Below is a quick breakdown of the entire Enchantments trail, including its elevation profile.

THE ENCHANTMENTS TRAIL BREAKDOWN

ELEVATION GAIN: around 5,000 feet of elevation gain across the entire 20-mile length of the trail; this includes climbing 1,900 feet in less than a mile up and over Aasgard Pass.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: most people who thru-hike the entire Enchantments will start at the Stuart Lake Trailhead and end at the Snow Lake Trailhead. This is mostly due to the fact that by going counter-clockwise, you drop your elevation gain by 2,600 feet.

TIME NEEDED: 11–15 hours depending on how fast you are hiking and how many stops you take. It took us almost exactly 12 hours from point to point, although this included a quick swim break in one of the lakes and a couple of snack/lunch breaks. Make sure to pack plenty of food and the proper gear to ensure you enjoy (almost) every second of it. But also be prepared to still be sore the next day!

DIFFICULTY: quite tough, even strenuous (likely an 8/10). It is a long hike to do in one day so definitely be prepared for a full day of hiking. Likewise, there is a fair amount of elevation gain overall.

A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO THRU-HIKING THE ENCHANTMENTS TRAIL IN ONE DAY

START

You will likely start your thru-hike at the Stuart Lake/Colchuk Lake Trailhead like we did. If you are planning to park at the trailhead (and not take the shuttle) then you will need a parking pass. You can either pay $5 to get a day pass (which you can do in person or online ahead of time — here) or you can simply hang up either an Annual National Parks Pass or a Northwest Forest Pass.

We also suggest that if you are planning to park at the Stuart Lake Trailhead get there nice and early. We arrived at 6:30 AM and we were still definitely not the first ones there (the lot was full by 8 AM). There is one bathroom available, a nice big trailhead sign with important information, and a station to fill out your day-use permit (which you WILL need to do the whole thru-hike).

Once you are ready to go, attach the day-use permit to the top of your bag (so it is easy to see), and hit the trail.

COLCHUK LAKE

Distance from the Trailhead: 4 miles

Along the hike up from the trailhead, you will cross Mountaineer Creek (twice), and see the turn-off for Stuart Lake. When you get to the trail marker for Stuart Lake, head to the left towards Colchuk Lake. From the intersection, you are about 2/3 of the way to Colchuk Lake. But, you still have another 1,000 feet of elevation to gain (keep your head up!).

Eventually, the lake will come into view and you will be able to see the stunning turquoise water and the surrounding jagged peaks. You will keep heading along the righthand side of Colchuk Lake until you reach the far left corner (where the infamous Aasgard Pass begins). Along this section of the trail you will find it is a bit tough to follow the trail because there are a lot of small social trails that either head down to the water's edge or to one of the backcountry campsites. When in doubt, just keep going to the right of the lake. Near the far side, the forest will thin and you will have to cross a rock field.

This rocky scree field has a mix of smaller rocks and very large boulders. While there are some very large and obvious cairns (trail markers) to guide you, really the main goal here is to just cross the rock field and make it to the other side of the lake. You will easily be able to see Aasgard Pass and the start of the climb from this point.

💬 INSIDER TIP: along this last rocky section there will be a couple of loose boulders. Always watch your step and take your time. Also, near the end of the trail, you will likely see a small stream. If you are carrying less water and are looking to filter and refill along the trail, then this is a good spot to do it before the climb over Aasgard Pass. If you do forget, don’t worry, there are some small streams closer to the top.

AASGARD PASS

Distance from the Trailhead: 5.2 miles to the bottom of the pass

We had heard so much about this mountain pass before setting off on the trail. Many hikers we talked to mentioned how tough Aasgard was. And to be totally honest — it was tough. Even for two young, highly active hikers we still found climbing over Aasgard Pass to be quite strenuous.

Be prepared to go slow, sweat a lot and question whether it really is worth it (we promise it is!). Luckily, once you get to the top you have pretty much done all of the elevation gain for the rest of the hike (woo!).

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the bottom part of the climb has a pretty easy trail to follow. While it sometimes fades in and out in the really rocky sections, for the most part, you can still see it quite well. If you do find yourself off-trail, look around for more cairns. And when in doubt, make sure to go to the far LEFT side of the climb (this is the safest route).

From the top of the pass, you will see Dragontail Peak to your right (it is the large, pointed mountain). This is the tallest peak in the Enchantments at 8,840 feet (2,694 meters) high. If you are looking to summit Dragontail Peak, then you will need to head to the right of the first mountain basin above the pass. The trail climbs even higher up the mountain (and along a snowfield). You can find the full Dragontail Peak trail map here.

ISOLATION LAKE AND THE START OF THE CORE ENCHANTMENT ZONE

Distance from the Trailhead: 7 miles to Isolation Lake

Once you reach the top of Aasgard Pass, you have officially made it to the Core Enchantments Zone. This part of the hike is absolutely magical. Crystal clear lakes surrounded by slabs of granite and colossal, jagged mountain peaks.

The trail here zig-zags around many of the alpine lakes — including the largest one, Isolation. Similarly, you will have to cross a couple of mountain streams, sometimes on slick rock (so be careful). Meander your way through this beautiful alpine biome, keeping an eye out for mountain goats, marmots and ptarmigans (a sizeable bird in the grouse family).

One important thing to know about this part of the Enchantment’s trail is that once you climb over Aasgard Pass, you are above 7,700 feet (closer to 7,800 actually). And until you drop down to Inspiration and Perfection Lake, in the Lower Core Enchantments, you will stay above 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). Because of this high altitude, you will want to be careful about sun exposure (there is very little shade), dehydration and altitude sickness. Luckily, if you are smart you can counteract all three issues (namely by taking your time, applying lots of sunscreen and wearing sun protective clothing and drinking plenty of water).

Within the Core Enchantments Zone, there are numerous campsites dotted around the various lakes and toilets available along the trail (please use them).

INSPIRATION LAKE AND PERFECTION LAKE

Distance from the Trailhead: 8.3 miles to the start of Inspiration Lake and 8.6 miles to Perfection Lake

This is kind of the boundary between the Upper and Lower Enchantments. Once you pass the last small, clear alpine pool you will start heading downhill. Eventually, you will get to a steep section that may or may not be covered in snow. If it is, plan to slide down it (or glissade if you are really feeling adventurous). No matter what, make sure to take your time on this section for it is a bit steep and rocky.

Once past that one downhill section, you will clearly be able to see Inspiration Lake. The trail heads along the right bank of it and then curves around to Perfection Lake. If you have the time, definitely consider stopping along the side of Inspiration Lake and going for a nice swim. We promise the water is not that cold, instead it is just super refreshing!

Before you get to Perfection Lake you will see another trail split off to the left of the trail. This route heads up to Prusik Pass (and then onto Prusik Peak). If you have the time, and the energy, this could be a really fun side-trip (the views of Prusik Peak are supposedly amazing). If you don’t want to add on the mileage, then just keep hiking around the Enchantments Trail as it follows the left side of Perfection Lake. You are sitting at almost exactly 7,000 feet of elevation at Perfection Lake.

LEPRECHAUN AND VIVIANE LAKES

Distance from the Trailhead: 9.6 miles to the start of Leprechaun Lake

From Perfection Lake, you will hike down and around two more major alpine lakes: Leprechaun and Viviane. The first lake, Leprechaun, sits at 6,880 feet and has a couple of campsites and bathrooms nearby. The second one, Lake Viviane, is in a very pretty mountain bowl with a super jagged ridgeline along the opposite bank as the trail. After you pass Lake Viviane, you will need to hike down a somewhat tricky section that has some rebar bars knocked into the rock. If the granite rock isn’t wet or slick you should be able to walk slowly down the rock face no problem. But if there is any water present, definitely make sure to take your time and use the rebar for extra grip.

Once you get down the rebar section you will get one more awesome view of Lake Viviane before you start climbing downhill even more. This section of the trail really begins to lose elevation fast, so get your knees ready.

This is also when the alpine biome starts to end. Instead of wide open granite slabs, you will instead be hiking through dense green forests once again. If it has been a hot day (like it was when we thru-hiked) the shade will be a very welcome respite from the harsh sun. The forest trail includes a fair amount of switchbacks and large, rocky drops. Along the right side of the trail, you will follow the very pretty Snow Creek, which eventually drains into Snow Lake. About halfway down the trail between Lake Viviane and Snow Lake, you will be able to see Upper Snow Falls through the trees.

Right before you reach Snow Lake you will have to cross over Snow Creek via a wooden log bridge. If it is dry it should be super easy, but if it is wet and slippery, you may need to take your time to make sure you are placing your feet just right.

Once you get to Snow Lake you will start the long 1.5-mile hike around the lake along the right bank.

SNOW LAKE

Distance from the Trailhead: 11.6 miles to the start of Snow Lake

From the start of Snow Lake, you will begin hiking to the right, through dense trees and past a good number of backcountry campsites. There will also be a lot of toilets available (just look for the signs). If you can, use these instead of just going out in the woods (find even more Leave No Trace Principles here).

This part of the trail, in our opinion, was a bit boring just because you are in a deep forest and you can’t really see the lake that well. Luckily, it is only about 1.5 miles or so until you reach the far side and spit out of the trees to get a great view of the lake and its lower half (there is a very odd concrete dam that separates the two). Make your way across the concrete bridge/dam and then back into the forest.

But soon enough you will leave the woods behind once again and spit out high above Nada Lake (the last lake on the trail). To your right, you will see a very large, rumbling water drainage. This is a remote-controlled drainage that was built in the 1930s to control the flow of freshwater to the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery down below.

NADA LAKE AND THE SNOW LAKE TRAILHEAD

Distance from Trailhead: 14 miles to the start of Nada Lake

This is likely the longest and most boring section of the trail. Once you hike down to Nada Lake from Snow Lake (a distance of about 1 mile), you will begin the final climb out of the basin and down to the Snow Lake Trailhead parking lot, a distance of roughly 6 miles.

We highly recommend refilling your water bottles before leaving Nada Lake, for there will be less water along the trail from then on out. Likewise, because this is towards the end of the hike, you might be starting to lose a bit of light. If that is the case, you can definitely start to pick up the pace here and not get too tired (there is a lot of elevation loss in this section).

In fact, we ended up running the last couple of miles of the trail because we were with a group that was trying to get to the Snow Lake Trailhead before dusk (which we luckily did).

Congratulations, you have officially thru-hiked the entire Enchantments trail! It is very likely that you are tired, sore, hungry and maybe ready for a nice, cold refreshing drink. Luckily, the cute town of Leavenworth, and its numerous Bavarian-style restaurants, is only about 15 minutes away.

Now, you just have to pick up your vehicle that you left at the Snow Lake Trailhead (if you had two cars or if you rode the Loop Connector Shuttle) or try to find someone to give you a lift back up to the Stuart Lake Trailhead (a distance of roughly 30 minutes).

\\ Safety Concerns We Had Thru-Hiking in the Enchantments

For the most part, there really aren’t any huge safety concerns when thru-hiking or backpacking in the Enchantments. It is likely that your biggest issues will come from either a lack of food and water or if you are really unlucky (or not very smart) from a run-in with a resident mountain goat.

Dehydration is definitely something you don’t want to experience — especially when you are at that high of an altitude (5,500+ feet) and in direct sun. Luckily, there is a lot of fresh water throughout the Enchantments so as long as you come prepared with an adequate water filter system you shouldn’t have a problem. And honestly, if you don’t have a filter you can still probably get away with drinking some of the water at the really high altitudes since it is directly from the snowmelt near the top of the mountains (but obviously be smart about this).

Mountain goats are said to be quite common along the trail — something we can attest to after seeing a couple of different groups of them (including even a few babies). If you come across a mountain goat while hiking or backpacking, do what you would do with any other wild animal and give it plenty of space. The mountain goats in the Enchantments are usually pretty harmless, so as long as you don’t do anything to make them become aggressive (like spooking them or getting too close to their young) you shouldn’t have a problem.

But, with that being said, there have been issues with mountain goats when it comes to human pee. Mountain goats seem to have a thing for the salt in urine, so much so that there have been instances where the goats will follow hikers a bit too closely. To prevent this, try to use the many available bathrooms along the trail (you can find them on a map or look out for the “toilet” signs).

A few other things to be aware of while out adventuring in the Enchantments is that bears do live in the area so always monitor your bags and especially your food (and even more so if you are backpacking/overnight camping). Likewise, campfires are prohibited throughout the Enchantments so come prepared with proper cooking gear if backpacking. Finally, dogs are not allowed anywhere within the Enchantments area.

💬 INSIDER TIP: while the trail is pretty easy to follow 90% of the time, there are sections in the really high alpine areas where it can be a bit tough to make it out (mostly because the trail is along granite slabs). If you think you have lost the trail while hiking, just look out for large wooden trail markers (like the one below) or rock cairns.

\\ What to Bring With You When Thru-Hiking the Enchantments

Having the right stuff with you on the trail will make or break any adventure. This is even more true when that adventure includes hiking 20 miles and climbing over 5,000 feet of elevation. Some of the most important things to carry with you along the trail are: a water filter (this will greatly help you decrease your water weight, see our recommended filters below), bug spray (the mosquitos and flies can be ferocious, especially by the lakes), sunscreen, sunglasses and a sun hat (up in the high alpine the sun is extremely intense, so definitely come prepared), a headlamp or two just in case you get stuck out on the trail after dark, a rain jacket (this is Washington after all), and of course plenty of snacks.

► Check out our full Hiking Gear List Guide to the Enchantments.

RECOMMENDED WATER FILTERS

One of the best ways to cut back on your hiking load — especially in the Enchantments where water is very readily available — is to bring along a water filter. This super easy one by Grayl combines a water filter inside an actual water bottle — meaning less gear to carry and less time actually filtering. A true win-win. Recommended water filter.

Or if you instead want to get an actual filter system that allows you to filter lots of water at once, we recommend the top-notch Katadyn water filter. This filter has been our go-to for all hiking and backpacking adventures for many years. Plus, it takes up very little space, is easy to clean and works pretty darn fast. Recommended Katadyn water filter.

Thru-hiking the Enchantments is definitely something all outdoor adventurers should have on their bucket list. While the trail is tough — 20 miles, 5,000+ feet of elevation gain — the natural beauty is 100% worth the effort. We believe that this is one of the best trails in Washington — if not the whole USA. While it is popular (aka busy) you can still definitely find a bit of solitude and peace along its miles and miles of singletrack trail.

Hopefully, our first-hand account of thru-hiking the Enchantments inspires you to head out and hit the trail yourself. And if you have any questions about planning your hike, figuring out how to get to the trailhead, or if you just want to learn more about the Enchantments in general, then please check out our Ultimate Planning Guide to the Enchantments.

Happy adventuring!

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Backroad Packers

Backroad Packers

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Two adventurers creating in-depth travel guides to inspire you to slow down and get off the beaten path more.