You don’t need to thru-hike the Enchantments

I’ve completed the Enchantments hike from both directions during separate backpacking trips. It’s a stunning area encompassing the effort to reward that Washington’s Cascades are known for. Unfortunately, to thru hike the Enchantments, you must embark on a brutally long 20+ mile hike with an elevation gain and loss of somewhere around 10,000 feet.

People do it because it’s an experience – like Rim to River of the Grand Canyon – but also because overnight permits are in such high demand that many are left on the outside looking in. And understandably, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts want to see the beauty of the Enchantments. I can’t fault them at all. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

enchantments hike colchuck lake sunset dragontail peak

Should you thru-hike the Enchantments?

There is a better way to enjoy your Enchantments hike.

For many who tackle the Enchantments thru hike, they hike to Colchuck Lake, up Aasgard Pass, through the beautiful Core Zone, and then down past Snow Lakes and a series of other lakes and a final canyon. This last stretch, in my opinion, makes the hiker suffer nine miles of abject boredom on the way out. The Snow Lakes are decent enough, but it’s not striking like you witnessed throughout the Core Zone.

This is how I’d do it differently.

Related: Preparing for a trip into the Enchantments

A better way to do the Enchantments Hike

Instead of completing a thru hike of the Enchantments, turn around somewhere in the Core Zone before or at Lake Viviane. You have only gone 8.5 miles so far, and the next 10 miles are far less beautiful than what you just encountered. So, why not enjoy the best part again?

People might say they are there for the journey, but you’re there to see the Core Zone because it’s genuinely that spectacular. We all know it. It’s why everyone aims to get a backpacking permit there. The rest of it – especially Snow Lakes – are leftovers, in my opinion.

thru hike the enchantments washington dragontail peak

As you hike through the Core Zone from Aasgard Pass to Lake Viviane, you’ll lose 1,000 feet of elevation spread over three miles. A modest amount and one that will feel even more gradual as you stop with mouths agape at the views. So by turning around, you might add some uphill, but you’ll be blessed with views to make up for it.

Furthermore, you will experience the entire area differently now that you’re looking in a new direction. For example, instead of hiking with Stuart Peak in view, you’ll have the otherworldly Dragontail Peak.

Related: Photos from a 2022 trip into the Core Zone

Pros of this Enchantments hike idea

  • From a photographer’s view, the more time you spend in a photogenic area, the better. Why not maximize your time in the Core?
  • You don’t have to figure out the car shuttle of putting cars at two different trailheads.
  • Once you leave the Core Zone, the last ten miles are seriously monotonous. It’s terribly boring, and I’d rather go down Aasgard. And that’s saying something.
  • You will save yourself 3-4 miles overall. So it’ll end up being about 17 miles vs. 20+.
  • Aim to watch the sunset from Colchuck Lake. It’s gorgeous, and you won’t be disappointed one bit. (Also, no sunset photo opportunities on the other side.)

Cons of this enchantments thru hike idea

As always, there are some downsides to this style of Enchantments hike. I think the biggest is having to come down Aasgard Pass. Having done it both ways with heavy packs, coming down is worse, but it’s better than the 10 miles of mind-numbing boredom.

  • You don’t get to say you go to thru-hike the Enchantments. This more or less comes down to pride.
  • You have to hike up and down Aasgard Pass in a single day.
  • The hike through the boulder field at the back of Colchuck Lake with diminishing light could be challenging. However, the rest of the Enchantments hike down from Colchuck Lake is easy to do in the dark.

Related: What’s it like to hike Aasgard Pass

FAQs about the Enchantments thru-hike

Can I filter water up there?

Most definitely. There’s a lot of available water in the Core Zone, and you shouldn’t have any issue finding a spot to fill up. I’d only carry a liter up Aagard to minimize weight and then refill once you get to the top.

Inspiration Lake - Enchantments thru hike aasgard pass

What time does the sunrise and set in Washington during the summer?

Remember that the sunrise and sunset times begin to move rapidly in late August and September. These are also my best estimates/averages.

  • June: Sunrise – 5:15 am, Sunset – 9:05 pm
  • July: Sunrise – 5:30 am, Sunset – 8:55 pm
  • August: Sunrise – 6:15 am, Sunset – 8:20 pm
  • September: Sunrise – 6:45 am, Sunset – 7:15 pm

What gear do I need to hike the Enchantments?

Whether or not you embark on an Enchantments thru-hike, you’ll need some good hiking gear – but nothing out of the ordinary.

Links included in this article are affiliate links. They cost you nothing when you make a purchase but help support my writing.

Will I see mountain goats?

Heck yeah, you will! They’re everywhere on the Enchantments hike and are attracted to your salt. This means when you pee, they will flock to you. Try to pee on rocks, not the soil, to discourage them from digging into the ground. They’re not usually a threat to you and will approach you. Speak calmly to them and back away, and everything should be good.

mountain goats thru hike the enchantments

I’m in average shape. Should I do this?

No. This is not only an endurance hike requiring you to be on your feet for 15 hours but also rigorous. If you’re only in average shape, hike to Colchuck and enjoy the views. If you’re feeling good, keep going to Aasgard Pass, but I’d make that area the turnaround point. You don’t want to go further than you’re capable of and get hurt or need a rescue.

What is the best time of year to thru hike the enchantments?

The best time to thru-hike the Enchantments is June through October, weather dependent. However, just because it’s doable doesn’t mean you’ll get the best views. To see what makes the Enchantments the Enchantments, you’ll want the lakes to be melted out. For this, August to whenever it gets too cold, is the perfect time to go. However, if you can make it happen in late June (less likely) or July, do it, as you’ll have the longest days and more light to complete the hike.

Remember, as you attempt your Enchantments thru-hike, stay to the left when hiking up Aasgard Pass with snow, and do not hike over the stream on the right side. This is likely a snow bridge in June/July and could cause injuries or worse.

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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