The fabled Enchantments are the most quintessential hike in Washington! This alpine wonderland sparkles with countless pristine lakes in a finely polished granite basin guarded by rows of jagged peaks and majestic mountain goats. It’s a place one could only dream of which is why there’s no easy way to get there. The “easiest” route takes 7 miles gaining 4,400ft just to reach the first lake in the Core/Upper Enchantments.
We’d be setting out for a thru hike starting from the Stuart/Colchuck trailhead ending at the Snow Lakes trailhead taking us 18+ miles gaining 4,400ft while losing 7,000ft. Check out the National Forest map below to see the route. Ideally you would want to break the hike up by camping in either the Colchuck or Core zone. To do so (between May 15th-October 31st) you’ll need a highly sought after overnight permit. Your only chance to get one of those overnight permits is to apply for the lottery which is held February 15th through March 2nd.
We were unsuccessful in our attempt at the lottery so we decided to test our fortitude with a day hike on the last Saturday of June! The four of us took two cars so we could drop one off at the Snow Lakes trailhead Friday night. Once together we drove down National Forest Road 7601 finding an excellent dispersed camping spot about 10 minutes from the trailhead. Along with excellent trail maps Gaia GPS has some dispersed campsites listed which was very helpful.
We fell asleep early that night to the soothing sounds of Eightmile Creek. It was a short sleep as we were up around 2am to start our hike by 3:20am. The first 4 miles and 2280ft of gain took us to the stunning Colchuck Lake right as the sun rose.
This is a worthy destination on its own! The perfectly still aquamarine water provides an epic reflection of the twin spires, Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks. It’s also the perfect place to have breakfast!
After gazing at our steep route up Aasgard Pass we skirted around the right side of the lake crossing over some big boulders and creek beds.
From this point forward there are cairns marking the way up through the talus and scree of Aasgard (over 2000ft of gain in .75 miles). Go left of the larch grove halfway up to avoid the snow then work your way back to the top right of the pass.
It’s a calf burner but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It helped to climb early which kept us in the shade until reaching the pass. The views during the entire ascent are spectacular whether you’re looking up towards Dragontail Peak and the wicked walls of granite or down towards Colchuck Lake and Cashmere Mountain.
At 8:45am we topped out at 7,800ft before dropping into the Core Enchantments Basin. Our spirits were very high as we gazed at the first of many crystal clear tarns!
We heard a lot about the local residents and right off the get go we had the pleasure of meeting some!
The 5 miles ahead are a leisure stroll snaking through the most beautiful lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness! The names of these lakes set extremely high expectations and they delivered! Some were drawn from mythology and others are simply our most positive adjectives. It starts with Tranquil Lake and Isolation Lake below.
From here we dropped about 200ft passing a collection of tarns with Prusik Peak and the Temple coming into view. Each lake is connected by Snow Creek. In some areas it thunders below a canopy of ice. Don’t fall in!
There was still plenty of snow in the basin but nothing that required extra traction. Past the small lakes we had an awesome view a few hundred feet down to Crystal Lake. Looming high above is McClellan Peak, The Chessmen and Crystal Lake Tower.
It seems the mountain goats only relax at epic viewpoints. Thought the guy below was winking at me but he was just taking a wiz.
And this next dude was supporting the #freethenip movement!
Looking back and to the south from here was Little Annapurna looking like its namesake!
This place is unbelievably cool and so is this babe!
From here the trail rounds a mound of granite but we choose to go up to the top for a better view and little break.
What spot to take a rest!
We were eating our sandwiches in the middle of a snowy paradise surrounded by toothy peaks.
From here we also discovered a view of Mount Adams, Washington’s 2nd highest peak. The four of us climbed Adams together last year!
Such a perfect day! It was only 10:30am and we were half way through the hike! While looking north you couldn’t help but think about Fred Beckey who made the first ascent on Prusik Peak (below) in 1948. Absolutely insane!
We were also looking over Perfection Lake which was perfectly still!
After resting up we’d continue the hike between Perfection Lake and Inspiration Lake below.
Safe to safe we were in a beautiful spot! The mountain goats agreed.
My favorite hat from the North Cascades National Park has a mountain goat on it. This was the perfect place to wear it.
Next we ran down the snow before jumping across some rocks to round Perfection Lake and head south along the eastern shoreline.
McClellan Peak was looking mighty fine and if you can tell in the picture below some nasty clouds started to roll into the upper basin.
Love how Little Annapurna looks from here. Definitely want to climb it!
After Perfection was the small Sprite Lake. We remembered we needed a group photo so this was the spot. No better group to suffer with than these wonderful people!
Snow creek continued to twist, turn and fall as we worked our way down to Leprechaun Lake.
Once we collected the pot of gold we dropped another 200ft to our last lake in the Core Enchantments, Lake Viviane. Hard not to be awestruck looking at Prusik Peak, The Temple and Lake Viviane!
It’s all downhill from here. There was 6000 more feet to lose in about 10 miles. We thought it was supposed to be 7 miles so the long, steep and slow hike down was really a pain in the behind and in the mind. Before that pain we were as happy as can be, planning our return trips and saying farewell to our mountain goat friends!
The trail here was very steep and rocky. Saying we took it slow is an understatement. After losing 1,500ft rock hopping we arrived at the big ole Snow Lakes.
Our timing today was perfect as the weather towards the Core Basin did not look great.
It’s a long flat hike around the southern shoreline of Snow Lakes. It was very buggy. The scourges of mosquitoes were viciously biting through all our clothing. We moved quickly until we had to cross a masonry spillway at the midway point of the lakes. Going to have to get your feet wet here.
We now had another steep rock field to get down to Nada Lake. The view of Nada Lake right before the scramble was the best part of the descent. By the way Nada Lake is indeed a lake.
Descending the steep talus slopes was tough but the incredibly long and gradual sections of switchbacks are the real challenge. It took foreverrrrrrrrrr.
Some of us got a little frustrated at times. You’ll see what looks like the bottom end of a valley until you finally round the corner and see an entirely new valley with no end in sight. Even when we could see the final destination it still took us another hour or so. Not a big fan of long drawn out switchbacks but it’s hard to be mad in such a beautiful place!
It was late in the day but we finished it! We made a great decision to stay in a hotel in Leavenworth that night. We got to celebrate with a big German beer and pass out hard! We plan to make many return trips to the Core Enchantments but when we do we will be starting from Colchuck and also finishing at Colchuck. Going down Aasgard will no doubt be strenuous but it can’t be as bad as the tortuously long Snow Lakes Trail. I’d love to return in the fall to witness the larches turn yellow and hopefully one year we’ll get a camping permit so we can tackle some of these incredible mountains. A day trip up Dragontail Peak is also a must!
The Enchantments are not only one of the most spectacular places in the Cascades they’re one of the most spectacular places in the World!