a perfect reflection in the enchantments.

Ultimate Enchantments Lottery Guide: What to know for your 2024 trip

After backpacking the Enchantments twice since 2018, with another trip to Colchuck Lake baked in there, I know a thing or two about the Enchantments lottery, the permit process, and this beautiful area. In my first year, we struck out on getting any permits in the random drawing.

But then my buddy and I woke up early on a Sunday morning and snagged one of the available Enchantments permits, which had been thrown back in. This second chance at the Enchantments lottery was one of the prettiest trips I’ve ever been on.

Inside, I will help guide you through the permit process and hopefully help land you a trip into the magical Alpine Lakes Wilderness. (Though there’s no secret sauce here. It’s just pure dumb luck.)

Your Enchantments Lottery Guide

Inspiration Lake in the Core Zone. This is the first lake after Aasgard Pass on your Enchantments thru hike.

First things first

Before you do anything, make an account with Recreation.gov. Creating an account is the only way to apply for a permit. From there, wait for the Enchantments lottery to open up. When it opens, there is a $6 application fee. If you happen to win, there’s a $5 fee per person per day.

Three ways to secure a permit in 2024

There are three ways to land an Enchantments permit.

The first is to apply and get a permit through the lottery. 75% of the total permits are awarded this way.

The second is to find an open permit either online when permits go back into the system or when another person cancels throughout the year.

The last way to get an Enchantments permit is to do it via walking up to the Leavenworth Ranger Station. They offer permits here you cannot get online and release them weekly.

Only one group per zone will be issued for the walk-up, and there is an eight-person max for the Core Zone. Furthermore, if more people show up than permits available, there’s a drawing. This means it is not first come, first serve, and there is no need to camp out beforehand.

Group Leaders and Alternative Leaders

When you apply, you have to designate a group leader and an alternative leader (in case the group leader cannot come). However, and this is key, an alternative leader cannot apply for a permit in the same season.

Your Start Date Matters

The official policy states that you must start your Enchantments trip on the day that your permit says. That’s what the official policy says…

Important Dates to Know for Hiking the Enchantments

These are the details you need to know.

The Enchantments Lottery Opens

February 15, 2024 at 7am PT

Views of the Core Zone while thru hiking the enchantments.

The Enchantments Lottery Closes

February 29, 2024 at 11:59pm PT

Applications Drawn for your backpacking trip

March 7, 2024 1:55am PT

View Enchantents Lottery Results

March 14, 2024 (on and after)

Confirm your permit selections by

March 31, 2024 at 11:59pm PT

Unclaimed Permits Available to Public

April 1, 2024 around 7am PT (so set your alarms)

Permits are required for all overnight recreation

From May 15 through October 31, permits are required to stay overnight in the Enchantments. Before and after these dates (which will be pretty cold) are free for exploring.

What other rules are there for the Enchantments Lottery and Permits?

How Many Groups or people are allowed in the Enchantments?

The Enchantments are one of the most gorgeous places in Washington. And because of this, limiting the number of people who can recreate (at least in terms of overnight camping) is one way to help protect the area’s fragile ecosystem.

You can select how many people are in your group when you apply. All zones except the Core Zone have group limits. Theoretically, this means you could have three groups of eight in the Colchuck Lake Zone or three groups of two people.

tent view backpacking washington enchantments

For the Core Zone, however, they limit it to 24 people per day. So, technically, it could be more favorable for you to apply with smaller group sizes.

Below are the maximum limits for the areas:

  • *Core Enchantments Zone : 24 people per day (cannot increase group size after lottery) 
  • Colchuck Lake Zone: three groups per day 
  • Stuart Lake Zone: four groups per day
  • Snow Lakes Zone: five groups per day 
  • Eightmile/Caroline Zone: three groups per day  
Per Recreation.gov

Can I add people to my group after the Enchantments Lottery?

If you are not in the Core Zone, you may add people to your group up to eight days before your trip. However, if you did land Core Zone Enchantments Permits, your group size is locked in.

Carrying your Enchantments Permits

When you enter into the Enchantments, you have to have a printed permit and have it signed by the permit holder. The official website says unsigned permits on a cell phone are not valid. (I do not know if you can sign a permit and then take a photo of it.) Furthermore, every group member must carry a copy of the permit.

What area should I try to apply for the Enchantments Permits?

In my two trips here, I’ve gone from the Snow Lakes side through the core and then vice versa. So, I understand the Core, Colchuck, and Snow Lakes zones well. However, I don’t have any understanding of Stuart Lake or Eight Mile.

That being said, the photos of the two areas are quite pretty. They just aren’t the “core zone” level stunning. However, I’m going to apply for those areas this year and branch out a bit.

Core Zone

This is the best zone, hands down. It’s absolutely stunning and offers so much potential for adventure and exploration. But let’s put aside the beauty for a moment.

What makes the Core Zone the best area of the Enchantments Lottery is you only have to hike up Aasgard Pass once. By being able to camp inside, you have access to the entire area without having to exert extra effort.

For others outside, they have to climb up and down each day to explore. This is taxing and minimizes your time inside the tranquil area.

Now, let’s get to the beauty. Being able to camp next to any of the half-dozen lakes in this zone is a cheat code – especially from the photography vantage point.

Aasgard Pass
Reaching the Core Zone

You can get into this area from the Colchuck and Snow Lakes zones. If you go via Colchuck, it’s shorter, about seven miles, but you have to tackle Aasgard Pass. The other route, through Snow Lakes, is around 10 miles with similar elevation gain but is more spread out.

Colchuck

The Colchuck Zone, with Colchuck Lake, is an unbelievably beautiful area. The lake with Dragontail Peak rising above it is simply picture-perfect.

Campsites in this area are only a 4-6 mile hike, depending on where you want to camp. There are a few designated areas in the trees on the right side of the lake. Or you could be a little braver and camp on the rocks at the back of the lake.

My group did this as they didn’t want to do the entire push into the Core Zone in one day.

Snow Lakes

The Snow Lakes push is a LONG day. To get what I’d say is the best campsite, you need to hike about 10 miles to the back of the lake. It’s also not tremendously pretty. Like, it’s nice, but nothing grand.

Stuart Lake

Same trailhead as Colchuck Lake. You branch off towards Stuart Lake, maybe halfway on your way to Colchuck.

Colhcuck Lake in the Enchantments. It's the first lake on your Enchantments thru hike
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Eight Mile Lake/Caroline Lake

To reach these lakes, you’ll start at a lower trailhead. If you want to experience some pretty places but do not have to deal with the crazy trailhead, maybe consider this area. If you’re looking for a more extended trip, try to get up to Windy Pass above Caroline Lake.

What are the hiking distances to each destination throughout the Enchantments?

  • Colchuck Lake: 4.2 miles / 2200 foot elevation gain.
  • Colchuck into the Core Zone: 2.5 miles / 2500 foot elevation gain
  • Eight Mile Lake: 3.3 miles / 1300 foot elevation gain.
  • Caroline Lake: 5.6 miles / 3100-foot elevation gain.
  • Stuart Lake: 4.6 miles / 1600 foot elevation gain.
  • To Upper Snow Lakes: 6.5 miles / 3800-foot elevation gain (and another 1.5 miles to the far end of the lake).
  • Snow Lakes into the Core Zone: 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 7800 foot loss
Looking down at Crystal Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Tips for the Enchantments Lottery

Landing Enchantments Permits is incredibly difficult, and landing Core Permits during the Enchantments Lottery is like winning the lottery. In 2022, 36,827 people applied. They awarded only 2,528 permits.

For comparison, in 2012, 2,330 people applied, showing social media’s power.

Is there a “cheat code” for scoring Enchantments permits?

There is no cheat code or way to beat the system. However, there are a few tips that could increase your odds of landing an Enchantments permit.

Choose less desirable dates

The first one is choosing dates that are early or late in the backpacking season. Fewer people will apply for these times, increasing your chances of being selected.

That being said, your conditions will not be great (especially early in the year) and may be covered in snow. In 2022, we had Core Zone permits for the first week of July, which happened to be a heavy snow year.

The entire core zone was covered in snow, and the lakes were predominately frozen. While nice, it was not dazzling and didn’t have the allure of true summer alpine conditions.

Furthermore, you could choose late into October but might be contending with winter conditions. Please note that the end of September and early October is larch season in Washington, and this is one of the prettiest spots for fall colors.

Smaller Groups in the Core Zone

As you read above, the core zone Enchantments lottery is based on people, while other areas are based on groups. If you are aiming to land the core permits, picking a smaller group increases your odds. However, it doesn’t matter with other sections as they simply choose a group.

Middle of the week Enchantments Permits

As you can assume, more people apply for dates overlapping with the weekend to decrease the number of vacation days they have to take. If you happen to land one of these coveted weekend dates, more power to you.

But if you want to increase your odds, choosing a starting date on a Tuesday or Wednesday may help you out…slightly.

Sunset from Above Aasgard Pass in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Don’t Aim for the Core Zone during the Enchantments Lottery

Everyone aims for the core zone. So, don’t aim for the core zone region if you want to win. Pick another section and go from there.

Final Thoughts on The Enchantments Lottery

Landing a Core Zone permit is one of the hardest things to do in the outdoor space. Thousands apply, and very few get it. But, if you’ve never been to this region, you should still find some way to venture into this stunning area. It is worth extra effort to ascend the lower areas into the alpine zone.

Good luck with the Enchantments lottery and landing your Enchantments permits!

Until next time, adventurers, stay safe!

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Bio:

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside