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