Backpacking the Enchantments

The Enchantments are full of craggy, rocky peaks scattered with alpine lakes and mountain goats. Basically, it's a wilderness paradise tucked into the Eastern edge of the Cascades. The Enchantments can be day-hiked, although, at a total trail mileage of 17.6 miles and a net elevation gain of 6,500 ft., it's no easy feat.
To backpack in the Enchantments you have to obtain a permit through a lottery with the US Forest Service. Only a small number of people are allowed in the Enchantments at one time to limit the human impact and preserve the area. I was lucky enough to get invited on a trip in early June with a friend who won the lottery. Our trip was from June 9th-13th, which turns out to be an incredibly chilly time of year up there - fellow hikers, beware!

Thru Hiking Basics

Whether you're planning to backpack or day hike, I'd suggest starting at the Stuart Lake Trailhead in the Colchuk Zone and end at the Snow Lakes Trailhead in the Snow Zone. If you start from the Stuart Lake Trailhead you'll have a pretty steep ascent up Aasgard Pass - but I'd rather tackle that mountain going up than down!
You'll likely encounter snow on Aasgard Pass and over most of the Core Zone well into July, but don't let that stop you. Just make sure to bring crampons and trekking poles/ice axes (depending on how early you go/current conditions) for some of the sketchier parts.
If you want to day hike the Enchantments but not do the full thru hike, I'd suggest starting in the Snow Zone at Snow Lakes Trailhead. You can go in to Upper Snow Lake - or all the way up to Lake Viviane, the first lake in the Core Zone. It's still a challenging hike, but you should be able to hike it much more leisurely, with frequent stops for standing and staring in awe at your surroundings. Trust me, those stops are inevitable!
Total Distance: 17.60 miles
Starting Trailhead Elevation (Stuart Lake TH): 3,400 ft.
Tallest Elevation (Aasgard Pass): 7,800 ft.
Ending Trailhead Elevation (Snow Lake TH): 1,400 ft.
The Colchuk Zone
The Colchuk Permit Zone is where you'll enter if you begin at Stuart Lake Trailhead. It's mostly a forested area, with Colchuk Lake being the main attraction. The trail is fairly easy going here, with most of it on dirt through forest instead of boulders. You'll slowly but surely be going uphill for the majority of the way here.
Colchuk Lake is only about 4.75 miles in from the trailhead, but expect the hike to take a little bit longer than normal since you gain 2,170 feet from start to finish. This is another great day hike - and from Colchuk Lake you can get a nice preview of the gnarly, snowy, Aasgard Pass.
There are three large campsites at Colchuk Lake, and multiple vault toilets that are downright enjoyable to use, providing you concentrate on the beautiful views and not the stank!

The Core Zone

Hiking in the Core Zone starts off with a bang with the 7,800 ft. Aasgard Pass. You'll climb a steep 2,230 ft. over 1.6 miles from the base of Colchuk Lake to the top of the 7,800 ft. Aasgard Pass.
Expect to run into snow on Aasgard well into July. Since you're at such a steep angle on the slope the snow sections are slow going, and really require crampons and ice picks - or at least yak tracks and trekking poles if you're going later in the season. Be sure to check the current conditions before you leave. When you're not hiking through snow, expect to be clambering over boulders and navigating scree fields. It will likely take about three hours to summit the pass.
Once you make it over Aasgard you have about 5 miles on the main trail (and countless miles of side trails) to get through the Core Zone. The trail slowly descends the whole time, but most of the core is at about 7,000 ft. Since it's at such high elevation the snow sticks around late into the season. When I went in mid-June the entire Core was covered in hard packed snow, about 4 feet high on average. With trekking poles and enough warm layers, the snow is a welcome addition to the scenery. Most of the lakes were either covered in snow or partially frozen, which made for a beautiful sight.
The Snow Zone
Don't let the name fool you, we had our best weather of the trip in the Snow Zone! The Snow Zone begins during the descent from Lake Viviane to Upper Snow Lake. The trail to Upper Snow Lake isn't long, but you do lose about 1,380 ft. of elevation. Much of the trail down consists of boulder hopping (aka boulder butt sliding), which combined with the elevation loss means that members of the creaky knee club might be slowed down on this section a bit.
Once you reach Upper Snow Lake the rest of the trail out is relatively easy. You still continue to lose elevation on the way out, but most of the loss is contained in sections of switchbacks, meaning that there are large sections of meandering trail in the forest. It's pretty beautiful. There was a minor rockslide on a set of switchbacks between Nada Lake and the final campsite on the trail, but it's nothing that can't be tackled by summoning your inner mountain goat.
The final trailhead is at 1,400 ft. but you're able to see the parking lot for about the last 800 ft. of elevation descent which should motivate you enough! If that doesn't work, think about the bratwurst and beer waiting for you at Munchen Haus in Leavenworth - trust me, it's the perfect post Enchantments meal.
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