Above Leprechaun Lake. Near the end of the Core Zone while doing the Enchantments Thru hike.

An Expert Guide to the Enchantments Thru-Hike in 2024

The Enchantments are an insanely beautiful and ever-increasingly popular thru-hike in the Washington Cascades. Hours outside of Seattle, this area’s fame has reached platinum levels thanks to social media and the 10/10 views it offers. While strenuous in difficulty, the Enchantments thru-hike is just a hike and provides scenery few other trails can offer.

This is what makes the place so dang perfect.

Throughout this article, I’ll take you through what you need to know to hike the Enchantments trail, what the day looks like, and what to bring with you.

It’s time to dive into your Enchantments thru-hike!

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

Your Complete Guide for an Enchantments Thru-Hike

The Enchantments thru-hike research should take more time than just a minute, but if you’re rushed at the moment, and want a quick outline of the trek, scan the following section to get the most pressing issues. But come back later for more research!

Your 1 minute Guide to Hiking the Enchantments in one day

  • Distance: 18-20 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500+ feet
  • Time Needed to Hike: 15 or more hours
  • Difficulty: Strenuous – Only for experienced hikers
  • Permits needed: Self-Issued/America The Beautiful Pass
  • Cars Needed: 2 as this trail starts at one trailhead and ends at another, or take the shuttle
  • Starting Point: Stuart Lake Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Snow Lakes Trailhead
  • Travel From Seattle: 2.75 hours
  • Places to Filter Water: Colchuck Lake, every lake in the Core Zone, Snow Lakes, Nada Lake

Flying into Seattle? Book your flight here.

On the Trail. Breaking down the Enchantments Hike

Colchuck Lake

Once you’re geared up, you’ll begin hiking toward Colchuck Lake. Almost immediately from the start, you’ll pass a sign signaling an entrance into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This means drones are prohibited.

From the start, you’ll have about four miles to the front of the lake. This is where the gorgeous views of Dragontail Peak are found. I’ve always found the first half of the trail to the lake to be pretty easy, with the second half accounting for most of the leg burning.

You’ll have some switchbacks and a bridge crossing before reaching Colchuck Lake. Overall, it’s 2,200 feet of gain and about half of your total incline. From here, you’ll walk on the right side of the lake towards the back. It’s a good trail that goes up and down like a rollercoaster.

Up Aasgard Pass

Once you arrive at the back of Colchuck Lake, you’ll see the top of Aasgard Pass and a boulder field in front of you. If you didn’t take a break at the front of the lake, I recommend doing it here. The boulder field isn’t challenging, but it does require you to take your time and ensure you have solid footing while going across.

Once through it, you’ll find a light trail that will be your guide going up Aasgard Pass. This mile-long ascent should take you anywhere from 75 minutes (fast trail runners) to three hours (slow movers/those with heavy packs).

There’s not a specific trail going up, as everyone makes a slightly different rail on their own – but the general route is the same. You want to stay to the left as you hike up.

It’s a grueling ascent and one that you don’t want to rush simply because the footing can be loose, and an injury here is about the worst place you can get one.

By the time you’re going up Aasgard Pass, you might begin to see overnight campers coming down, which could help with your route finding. But as you get closer to the top, a better trail will emerge that you can follow.

The Core Zone

Reaching the Core Zone of the Enchantments is a huge accomplishment! Now, it’s nearly all downhill, and you’ll get to experience one of the most magnificent areas in all of Washington.

Isolation Lake and Tranquil Lake will be the first two lakes you see as you crest the pass. Over the course of the next three miles, you’ll experience over a half dozen lakes. My favorite is Leprechaun Lake, especially if you take a quick side trip up the spine above it. (As if you’re going up McClellan Peak.)

As you trek through the Core Zone, take your time, go swimming, and snap as many photos as you possibly can. It’s truly a wonderful place! As you walk, you will begin descending, but for the most part, it’s not noticeable.

I would strongly recommend taking a slight detour to the Crystal Lake overlook. It’s a breathtaking view with the lake over 500 feet below!

Possible side trips in the Core:

  • Summit Dragaontail Peak
  • Summit Little Annapurna
  • Gnome Tarn

Descending to Snow Lakes

Once you pass Lake Viviane, you’re out of the Core Zone and you’ll be heading towards Snow Lakes. This mile or so stretch can be steep and is on granite, so if it’s wet, be extra careful. Otherwise, I haven’t found it to be too hard or anything. But by this point, you’re at mile 9 and still have half of the trail left.

If it’s early in the season, you may have to take off your shoes to cross over the Snow Lakes Dam.

I’ll be honest: once you pass Upper Snow Lakes, it becomes less enjoyable and what I’ve coined a “death march.” By this point, you’re tired, and the views are considerably less pretty than what you saw prior. Plus, the constant pounding on your legs gets monotonous.

Overall, it’s about 10 miles from the Snow Lakes trailhead to the back of the Upper Snow Lakes. The pro for this part is you can move quickly on this section. The downside is that depending on how fast you’ve been moving, it might begin to get dark inside the canyon.

Planning your Enchantments Thru Hike

Do I need a permit for the Enchantments thru-hike?

If you only go for a day, you do not need a pre-reserved permit. But you need to get a free Alpine Lakes Wilderness permit, which is self-issued.

Additionally, you are required to display a pass to park at the trailhead. You can use the America the Beautiful Pass, NW Forest Pass, Overnight Visitor Pass, or pay $5 for a day pass.

The parking lot was not built for this hike’s popularity, so parking is allowed on the road leading to the parking lot. However, you can only park on the right side of the road.

Lastly, hiking the Enchantments is one of the busiest trails in Washington. Be prepared for utter chaos in the parking lot for this hike.

The view of Colchuck Lake from the middle of the ascent up/down Aasgard Pass.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

How Does the Leavenworth/Enchantments Shuttle Work?

If you don’t want to leave two cars, you can arrange a shuttle to pick you up at the Snow Lakes trailhead. Two different companies run services for the Enchantments.

Leavenworth Shuttle & Taxi: During the summer months – Starting June 1 – they offer pickups seven days per week, starting at 5:15 am. Their last shuttle is at 7:00 pm unless previously scheduled. Reservations need to be made 24 hours in advance. Cost: $30

Loop Connector: This service only has online reservations for the weekends. To schedule a weekday pickup, you have to send the website a request. However, Loop Connector is available for weekends in May. Lastly, these pickups start at 5 am. Cost: $24

What is the weather like in the Enchantments?

I recommend looking at the temperature of Leavenworth (which is about 1,200 feet in elevation). If you are going into the Core Zone of the Enchantments, this is a 5,500-foot increase.

For every 1000 feet of elevation, you can estimate a 3-5 degree change in the weather. So, using our Core Zone as an example, it could be in the range of 15-25 degrees cooler. At Colchuck Lake, it will be 9-12 degrees cooler.

Is June too early to hike?

June is a tricky month in Washington. It’s nicknamed June-uary, or Gloom June, due to its propensity to be dreary. Some years, a colder May and June will mean snow holds on longer in the mountains. But in others, a warmer June will equal faster melting.

It’s all about the temperatures. In saying that, it is possible to hike and backpack the Enchantments in June; plan to bring microspikes or snowshoes for the trek. Furthermore, be prepared for a less beautiful scene when you arrive in the Core Zone. I backpacked up there in early July 2022, and it was mostly snow-covered, and the lakes were fully or partially frozen.

Learn all about the Enchantments Lottery

Can you day hike the Enchantments?

If you don’t score overnight permits into the Enchantments, the only other way is to day hike it. However, while many go from Colchuck to Snow Lakes (as this guide outlines), there is another way to experience the Enchantments.

You can read about an out-and-back option here.

How do you train for the Enchantments thru-hike?

Training for the Enchantments thru hike is like any other long endurance hike. You’ll want to do plenty of miles, elevation gain, and weight lifting to strengthen your legs and core.

With the hike being around 20 miles, I would say be comfortable at 12-14 miles with about 4000 feet of elevation gain. The good part about hiking the Enchantments in one day is that it’s only uphill for the first seven miles. After that, it’s either flat or downhill. So you need to keep powering through, even when you don’t want to! (Pro tip: At mile 15, you won’t want to keep going!)

An Enchantments mountain goat. These are very common.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside
Isolation Lake in the Core Zone. This is the first lake after Aasgard Pass on your Enchantments thru-hike.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside
Sunset from Above Aasgard Pass in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

Mini Training Plan for the Enchantments Trail

  • Gym Time: 2-3 times per week. Focus on legs, core, and overall strength (maybe even some HIIT workouts)
  • Running/Hiking/Biking: 2-3 times per week covering 3-6 miles and 1,500 feet of elevation gain if hiking
  • Long Hike: 1-2 times per week. Build up to 3,500-4,000 feet of elevation gain.

What is the best time of the year to thru-hike the Enchantments?

The summer months are the absolute best time to thru hike the Enchantments. The days are long, and the weather is perfect. However, note that Leavenworth can see highs in the 90’s or 100’s during the summer. But, with the early start, this shouldn’t bother you too much.

Once you reach the core zone mid-day, you’ll be at 7,500 feet and 21 degrees cooler than Leavenworth’s high.

Fall is another great option to hike the Enchantments. It’s actually one of the best places to view fall colors in Washington. This timeframe is very weather-dependent as it could be snowy and cold or wholly consumed by wildfire smoke. Lastly, if you do it this late, your days are much shorter, so you’ll be hiking for longer periods in the dark.

Download my free Backpacking FAQ E-Book.

How long should the Enchantments thru hike take me?

This depends on you. Some trail runners speed through, while most others like to spend time enjoying the scenery, swimming in the lakes, or doing side hikes. So it could take you from 5 am to 9 pm – for a 16-hour day.

Something to note: Getting from the back of Colchuck Lake up to Aasgard Pass will take 90 minutes, if not longer.

Hikers in the Enchantments.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

The Enchantments Trail Location

Where is it located, and what is the drive time from Seattle?

The Enchantments are about 20 minutes outside Leavenworth on the Washington Cascades’ east side. They sit in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a gorgeous zone of high alpine lakes that require serious effort to attain. But once you’re there, you are in a heavenly place.

From Seattle, it’s just under a three-hour drive.

Where should I stay before or after?

There are campgrounds in the area, or you can stay in one of the many hotels in Leavenworth or Wenatchee.

Book a hotel in Leavenworth or Wenatchee

A Map of the Enchantments Trail Zones

The Enchantments are broken up into five zones – Eightmile/Caroline, Stuart, Colchuck, Core, and Snow Lakes – but for an Enchantments thru-hike, you’ll only encounter Colchuck, Core, and Snow Lakes.

Map of the Enchantments zones
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

How to Pack for a One-Day Hike in the Enchantments

Enchantments Thru-Hike Gear List

Photography Gear to bring on the Enchantments Trail

Because you want to keep your weight down, I’d limit it to one or two lenses, no tripod, and/or a GoPro.

Here’s what I brought or would suggest bringing:

  • Canon R5 – Any camera body works, but mirrorless is lighter
  • Canon RF 24-105 f/4 – a great all-around lens that gets you a wide angle and some zoom. Consiering that most of your photos will not be in low light, this is a wonderful option.
  • Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8 – perfect for nailing the wide angles. If you’re bringing a GoPro, not sure if you need this.
  • Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 – Second most versatile option behind the 24-105.
  • Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 – Perfect for wildlife and getting some layers at Aasgard Pass. However, pretty heavy for a day hike.
  • GoPro Hero9 – Lightweight and easy to document your trip on. Maybe consider a chest mount.
  • Peak Design Clip – The best way to carry your camera on this hike.

If I’m trying to be as light as possible, I’m taking one lens, and it’s likely the 24-105 f/4 plus a GoPro for video (plus my phone).

Inside the Core Zone on the Enchantments thru-hike.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

What are other important things to know before I hike the Enchantments?

  • Dogs are not allowed – even service dogs are not allowed in the wilderness area.
  • No campfires
  • Carpooling, shuttle, or biking is a great way to decrease congestion
  • Average summer temperatures in Leavenworth: June – 79/47, July – 88/52, August – 88/51
  • Download your map/region offline, just in case.

20 more hikes in Washington that will impress you


Hiking the Enchantments in One Day

When should I start my thru-hike?

You should start it as early as possible. Leavenworth gets much warmer during the summer than Seattle, and you want to have most of the uphill behind you once the day gets warm. I’d suggest starting around 5 am, if not earlier.

There will be light in the sky in June and July by 4:45 am or 5 am.

Above Leprechaun Lake. Near the end of the Core Zone while doing the Enchantments thru-hike.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

What food do I need to keep from bonking while hiking the Enchantments?

You’ll need a lot of food to cover 15+ hours of walking. I suggest packing some sandwiches or bringing your JetBoil and a dehydrated meal to heat around lunchtime. Try eating as many salty foods as possible to replenish what you’re sweating.

Additionally, I’d consider bringing:

  • Dried Fruit
  • Nuts
  • Crackers and Salami
  • Candy that won’t melt
  • Electrolytes
  • Protein/Energy Bars
  • Beef Jerky
Double Rainbow from above Isolation Lake in the Enchantments. Above the enchantments trail.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside
Views of the Core Zone while hiking the enchantments in one day.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

Don’t forget to hydrate often on your Enchantments thru-hike

You’re going to be surrounded by water on the hike. This means you have no excuse not to be well hydrated. Drinks and filter lots of water. It’s quick and easy.

What’s the hardest part of the Enchantments thru-hike?

The hardest part of the hike is getting up Aasgard Pass. This is a 2,000-foot, one-mile stretch of loose dirt and lightly marked trail behind Colchuck Lake. It is not a fun climb whatsoever.

However, it’s not dangerous – just slow and soul-crushing. Take it slow, and you’ll do great. If you happen to go up in the snow (which might be easier), stay to the left-hand side. The right side has a stream that runs down it, making it dangerous to hike on.

As someone who has gone up and down Aasgard Pass with a heavy pack, I think going down is the worst. You have less control, and the slippery terrain makes it tedious. But, at least with the uphill, you’re leaning into the mountain, and if you fall, you won’t tumble.

What’s the highest elevation on the trail?

The highest elevation is at Aasgard Pass, which is 7,800 feet. While it doesn’t seem like it, this is one of the highest points in Washington that sees considerable traffic.

Other Top Hikes in Washington:
Lake Ingalls
Wing Lake
Yellow Aster Butte
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Park Butte Lookout
Chain Lakes Loop
Maple Pass

What’s the best part of the Enchantments?

There are two significant parts of the Enchantments thru-hike. The first is getting to see Colchuck Lake. Plan to be there around sunrise to see something truly beautiful if you can. The second best part is the entire Core Zone.

When people say it’s one of the most beautiful places in Washington, they aren’t lying. The half-dozen lakes, jagged peaks, and vast views will be something you will never forget. I know you’ll be rushing, but when you’re hiking the enchantments in one day, try to enjoy it while you can!

Aasgard Pass in the Enchantments thru hike. 

One of the hardest parts of hiking the enchantments in one day.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

What’s the worst part of the Enchantments thru-hike?

While the most challenging part of the hike is Aasgard, the worst part is the Snow Lakes death march, as I like to call it. Once you leave the Core Zone, it is far less pretty and scenic. Then, add that you still have about 10 miles to hike, which is painful.

I’ve done this part both ways, and neither way is enjoyable.

Are there toilets in the Enchantments?

Yes, there are toilets throughout the Enchantments trail. You’ll see signs.

One is by Colchuck Lake, Lake Viviane, and Upper Snow Lakes. Apparently, there are 40 in the area, but I personally don’t remember this many.

Can I go swimming while on my Enchantments thru-hike?

Heck yeah! Go swimming. It might be cold (okay, it will be), but it’ll feel amazing. I’ve swum in Colchuck and Lake Viviane.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Lake Viviane n the enchantments trail.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

Do I need a bear canister for the Enchantments?

You do not need a bear canister unless you are backpacking the Enchantments. This will take up space and add weight you do not need when hiking the enchantments in one day.

Should I be worried about any animals while in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness?

There are no predators that you should be worried about. Bears exist but are spotted infrequently. The most common animals you’ll see are mountain goats. They are especially attracted to the salt in urine. You might see them approach you as you pee or flock to the spot you just peed on.

When you pee, try to do it on rocks, which prohibit mountain goats from digging up the dirt.

Can I bring a drone into the Enchantments?

No drones are allowed anywhere in the Enchantments. This area is within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, which prohibits all drone and motorized vehicle uses. Leave the extra weight at home and enjoy the hike!

Perfection Lake in the Enchantments thru-hike.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside
Looking down at Crystal Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Enchantments thru-hike.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

Honest Review of the Enchantments Trail Difficulty

The Enchantments trail is a strenuous hike, don’t get me wrong. In saying that, though, it’s really only bad for the mile going up Aasgard Pass. Outside of that, the second half of the trail to Colchuck Lake will get your heart pumping, but if you’re in shape, you’ll be good. Hiking the enchantments in one day will leave you exhausted, but you’ll survive!

After Aasgard Pass, it’s all downhill through brilliant terrain, so your mind will be elsewhere.

I’ve summited Mount Whitney in one day and hiked across the Grand Canyon in a day. Both of those are harder than this. If you’re in shape and keep your pack light, you’ll be tired, but it’s very doable!

Now, is hiking the enchantments in one day worth it?

If there’s no way to get a backpacking permit, then yes. However, if you can find a permit, it’s much more enjoyable as you won’t be rushed.

Yes, going up into the Core Zone multiple times can be annoying, but at least you don’t have a heavy pack on. Whichever way you can make it happen, you need to hike in the Enchantments and experience this beautiful and majestic place with your own two eyes.

Annapurna sising above Perfection Lake on the enchantments trail.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside
Inspiration Lake inside the Enchantments Core Zone. Enchantments thru-hike
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@Alecoutside

Wrapping up – Enchantments Thru-Hike

What do you do the day after hiking the Enchantments in one day?

After conquering the Enchantments trail, take a quiet day at Lake Wenatchee. There’s a state park 15 minutes from the town, and it’s beautiful. Obviously, don’t do too much after your Echantments thru-hike, but it would be smart to move around a little bit and get your muscles loosened up.

Places to see in Leavenworth

While I don’t have any particular place to see in the town, I recommend spending time walking around and enjoying the German vibes that set the town apart. I think you’re going to love the town!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have an incredible Enchantments thru-hike!

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.


Find all of my Enchantments articles here.

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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