Washington Hikes Enchantments Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Everything you need to Know to Backpack the Enchantments

When they named the Enchantments, they didn’t mislead one bit. The rugged yet beautiful terrain provides more epic views of Washington State than you can take in at once. So, how do you get the chance to backpack the Enchantments?

Sitting 15 minutes outside Leavenworth and inside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you’re in for an absolute treat once you lace up your boots and hike the enchantments. So keep reading if you’re looking for all the information you’ll need to backpack the Enchantments and conquer this trail.

– Updated May 15, 2023 –

Everything You Need to Backpack the Enchantments

Washington Hikes backpack the Enchantments Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Peaks near Aasgard Pass | backpack the enchantments

Planning your trip to Backpack the Enchantments

You’re going to want to plan – way ahead. If this isn’t your specialty, then this might not be the trip for you. The most crucial part will be finding your group – up to 8 people – and then finding a time that works for everyone.

Once you have a range of dates, sit tight, and wait for the permits to open up to backpack the Enchantments.

backpack the enchantments

The Enchantments Lottery

In 2023, the permits opened on February 15 at midnight and closed at 11:59 pm on March 1. Then, you wait again.

Log back in on the morning of March 8 (or the date they tell you) and see if you secured permits. Don’t fret if you don’t get them; we didn’t secure permits right away, either. If you didn’t land a permit on April 1 at 7 am, all unclaimed permits are sent back to the system, and it’s a first come, first serve, free for all. This is how we landed our permits.

You can read the official site here. (Make sure to read through this as there are changes yearly.)

When applying, know the odds. Landing a core spot is hard. In 2019, over 26,000 people applied for permits – 18,835 for the core zone. Unfortunately, they only handed out 358 permits (1,238 people) for a 1.9% success rate. Snow Lakes, where we stayed, has a higher success rate, with about 33% getting a permit. Colchuck had about a 13% rate in 2019, with nearly 2,600 applications and less than 370 available.

Once you lock in your date, depending on your location, you’ll want to get your flights/lodging/travel plans in order. I’ll leave that part up to you.

Backpacking The Enchantments Trail

Below we’ll dive into many frequently asked questions so you go in as well-equipped as possible!

How hard is the Enchantments hike?

This is a strenuous hike that inexperienced or out-of-shape people should not do. You need a combination of grit, endurance, and strength to complete the entire hike. Suppose you’re newer to hiking or want to start small, hike to Colchuck Lake. It’s an eight-mile hike round trip with gorgeous views.

What months are best to hike the Enchantments?

The best time to hike and backpack the Enchantments is July into October. The Core Zone sits around 7,000 feet which takes a lot of time to melt out this far north. However, once it does melt, it’s one of the most stunning places in Washington. You will feel like you landed on a new, more beautiful planet!

backpack the enchantments colchuck lake hike

How long does it take to hike the Enchantments trail?

Expect the entire hike to take all day. Many people start before dawn and finish at dusk. For many, it can be over 17 hours of hiking, if not more.

What is the best area to backpack in the Enchantments?

You’ve won the nature lottery if you land the permits to backpack into the Core Zone of the Enchantments. This is the best zone because it’s beautiful, and you only have to hike into the basin once. Once you’re there, your most challenging ascents are behind you.

Are there bears in the Enchantments?

There are supposedly bears in the Enchantments, but I’ve never seen them in my three trips to the area. They are pretty uncommon, especially in the core zone, where there is not much for a bear to eat. Mountain goats, however, are extremely common. So if you don’t see mountain goats in the Core Zone, that will be surprising.

What should I do if a goat approaches me while backpacking in the Enchantments?

Stay calm. They are attracted to the salt in your sweat and pee. Odds are they will approach when you are peeing. Speak to them calmly, and they should stay aware. Furthermore, pee on rocks when able, as it will help protect the ground from goats digging.

mountain goat lake viviane backpack the enchantments

Are bear canisters required in the Enchantments?

No, they are not. While bears are less likely to find their way into the Enchantments areas, you still have to worry about mountain goats, marmots, and squirrels. I used my sleeping bag compression sack to hold food one year, and something chewed through it and got my nuts.

How many miles is the Enchantments hike?

The Enchantments are 18-20 miles long, depending on how many side trails you do. However, if you backpack for four days, expect your total mileage to be close to 27, with side hikes included.

Can you backpack the Enchantments without a permit?

You cannot backpack the Enchantments without a permit. This can result in a fine if caught. And if you’re wondering about risking it, rangers frequent the area. I’ve been stopped and asked to show our permits before. Additionally, you cannot day like the Enchantments without a permit. However, if you have an America the Beautiful pass, this counts as your permit.

Can you thru-hike the Enchantments?

Most definitely! It’s one of the more demanding hikes in the area, about 18-20 miles long. You also need to park cars at two different trailheads. I personally do not recommend it, as the 10 miles out past Snow Lakes are not enjoyable.

Washington Hikes Enchantments Alpine Lakes Wilderness backpack the enchantments

Where to stay before hiking Enchantments?

Staying in Leavenworth the night before and the night after you backpack the Enchantments is the best bet. You won’t want to drive back to Seattle after hiking 7-12 miles. So book the hotel room and take it easy!

How to Pack for the Enchantments

While it’s unnecessary to have backpacking experience for hiking the Enchantments, I’d highly suggest having someone in your group who knows the ins and outs of backpacking and can guide you on gear.

Also, do a trial run – maybe one night at the minimum in the wilderness – to test your equipment and ensure everything feels good. There’s nothing worse than starting to hike and finding that something rubs poorly, your water filter doesn’t work, or your sleeping pad leaks.

If you’re interested, you can see my entire pack here.

The absolute necessities for Backpacking the Enchantments

After these, there’s room if you plan on summiting some peaks or want a little more ‘luxury.’ All links are affiliate links that help support my freelance business.

Not necessary, but nice to have to backpack the Enchantments

  • Microspikes (might be necessary depending on your hiking date)
  • Ice Axe (see above)
  • Helmet
  • Pillow
  • Camera and accessories
  • Hammock (if you have the Core, you probably won’t have any trees to use)
  • Waterbottle
  • Bug head net
  • Bug spray
  • Sandals/Flip-flops to wear at camp

In the end, everyone’s different. Some like a heavier pack and to camp with more luxury. Some want to go ultra-light and rough it. There’s no correct answer. Whatever you’re most comfortable with.

Hiking Backpacking the Enchantments Washington

Backpack The Enchantments – How to plan your trip

Your first and last days in the Enchantments are pretty much set as hiking in and out of the Enchantments.

Snow Lakes Permits

If you have Snow Lakes, you’ll have a 10-mile hike to start your trip. This day is going to feel like it never ends. I love hiking the Enchantments, but this way is the worst, in my opinion.

I recommend going to the far end of Upper Snow Lake and snagging that campsite. It’s perfect and right on the water. From here, getting into the Core Zon is easily attainable. The first two lakes from this side are Lake Vivianne and Leprechaun Lake.

To reach these, you’ll have a pretty good elevation gain for about 90 minutes, and then you can cool off in the lakes or explore more of the area.

Colchuck Permits

It’s about 5.5 miles to the back of Colchuck Lake if you want to go that far to set up camp. Back there, you’ll have to camp on rocks. Various campsites will be all along the right side of the lake, next to the trail.

As you know, if you have Colchuck Permits, you have to go up Aasgard Pass to reach the Core Zone.

Now, that’s a helluva chore. Plan for two hours both ways – up and down – as you have over 2,000 feet of elevation in a mile on loose gravel. The downside to the Colchuck permits is I’m not sure I’d want to do this more than one day. Simply put, Aasgard is not fun and wears you down mentally and physically.

I couldn’t imagine tackling it on back-to-back days.

crystal lake backpack the  enchantments alpine lakes wilderness

Core Zone Permits

If you land the Core Zone permits, you lucky dog!

Few people know this, but you can camp anywhere in the Enchantments with a Core Zone Permit. Due to this, some people camp at the back of Colchuck for an easy Day 1 before hiking up the rest of the trip. But, as you’ve read, Aasgard Pass is strenuous, especially with full packs.

Once you get into the Core, it’s relatively flat compared to what you just accomplished. Furthermore, this is the golden zone. You’ll pass somewhere between 6-8 lakes, each making your jaw drop even further and making for an excellent place to go swimming.

TL;dr: Hiking the Enchantments means your jaw will drop at every turn.

Additionally, this is where you’ll get to do some off-trail excursions. McClellan Peak, Little Annapurna, Dragontail Peak, and Pusik Pass are all accessible from the Core. Ensure you know the correct routes and have the gear to keep you safe. Weather conditions and the amount of snow will also play a factor in what is doable.

backpack the enchantments map alpine lakes wilderness

Backpacking The Enchantments – Trail Stats

This is the official distance and elevation breakdown via the US Forest Service.

Snow Lake: Snow Creek Trailhead to the Upper Snow Lake Dam

6.5 miles / 3,800-foot elevation gain (and another 1.5 miles to the far end of the lake).

Colchuck Lake: Stuart Lake Trailhead to the first view of the lake

4.2 miles / 2200 foot elevation gain.

Core Enchantments:

from Colchuck Lake to the top of Aasgard Pass:

2.5 miles / 2500 foot elevation gain

from the inlet of Upper Snow Lake to Lake Viviane:

1.5 miles / 1400 foot elevation gain

The Whole Core Enchantment Loop, Stuart Lake Trailhead to Snow Lake Trailhead:

approximately 19 miles / 6000 foot gain and 7,800-foot loss

colchuck lakehiking the enchantments alpine lakes wilderness

Getting in Shape to Backpack the Enchantments

I’ll be blunt. It would really help if you were in shape when hiking the enchantments. This is a daunting trail with lots of elevation gain. So you’ll want to go into it in the best condition possible for the best time!

How do you prepare for hiking the Enchantments?

At the minimum, you’ll want to hike, run, or do some cardio three-five days a week. Additionally, adding a leg day or two each week to strengthen those muscles that will carry your body weight and an extra 30-40+ pounds on your back will significantly benefit you.

Tossing a bunch of weight into your back and simply walking around your neighborhood will help you prepare to backpack the enchantments. Even better, find a mountain or steep road and walk up and down that with your weighted pack on. Finally, there’s nothing better than simulating hiking the enchantments.

Washington hiking the enchantments Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Lake reflection | Hiking the enchantments

FAQ: Backpacking the Enchantments

Can you swim in the Enchantments?

Yes, you can! I swam in Upper Snow Lakes and Lake Viviane, which was wonderful. The perfect way to cool off after a long day of hiking. Just know it will be somewhat cold as it’s all snowmelt.

Can you drink the water in the Enchantments?

You can drink the water in the Enchantments but filter it out before doing so. I recommend this gravity filter to keep things simple and lightweight.

How late can you hike the Enchantments?

If the weather is good, many people hike and spend time backpacking the Enchantments for fall colors and larches. That usually happens in late September into the first week of October.

Of course, the temperatures will be chilly then, but if you have weather-appropriate gear, you can still enjoy time here into October.

Wrapping Up Hiking the Enchantments

To wrap it up, do your due diligence when you backpack the Enchantments and head into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Ensure you’ve crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s, as this isn’t where you want to forget something significant. But don’t do it all alone. You have a group for a reason; the more involved and invested people, the better.

Hiking the Enchantments is an incredible experience with a special meaning to many who venture through it yearly. It’s what everyone thinks of when they think of Washington and the PNW.

Be respectful. Leave no trace. Take it all in.

But just as important, enjoy it and have the most incredible time with your friends. You’ll remember backpacking the Enchantments forever.

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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