Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. This is a series that highlights an outstanding backpacking trip from around the world. The goal is to inspire you to want to get out and see these places for yourself. I know for us, just seeing amazing photos and reading about a great hike is enough to get us motivated.
This week's hike is The Enchantments Traverse in central Washington State.
Featured Photo: Leprechaun Lake in The Enchantments (photo by Bill Devlin)
Why this Hike?Looking at the photo above, it is not hard to see why this is an amazing hike. Located in the heart of the Central Cascades, the area is peppered with granite peaks, several glacial lakes, and wide swaths of mountain larch which go through an amazing transformation in early October.
- Length: 18 miles
- Type: Point-to-point
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Elevation gain: 4,600 feet
- Best time to visit: July-October, though you may still encounter snow during that time.
- There are quite a few campsites along the lakes on the trail. This gives you some options when it comes to securing permits.
- Not crazy about doing your business in the wilderness? There are lots of pit toilets along the way.
- You'll find many side trails around the lakes. These are perfect opportunities to explore more.
- Wildlife you may encounter includes mountain goats, marmots, pika, (make sure to secure your food at night!), black-tailed deer, pine martens, and ptarmigans.
Before you pack your bags, keep the following in mind:
- You will need to arrange a shuttle since this is a point-to-point trail.
- Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
- Be prepared for afternoon storms.
How do I get there?
The hike is a few miles southwest of the City of Leavenworth. The area is very accessible from Seattle via a 2.5 hour drive along I-90 and Highway 97.
From Leavenworth, take US 2 west and turn onto Icicle Creek Road. Drive a little over 8 miles and turn left onto Forest Service Road 7601. Follow the dirt road 4 miles to the Stuart Lake trailhead parking lot.
Map of Recommended Route
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended campsites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
We're outlining an overnight trip. But, if you're able, 3-4 days is recommended so that you can really enjoy the area.
- Stuart Lake Trailhead to Leprechaun Lake Campsite (8 miles)
- Leprechaun Lake Campsite to Snow Lakes Trailhead (10 miles)
Day 1 - Stuart Lake Trailhead to Leprechaun Lake
You can begin at either end. Most hikers like to start at the Stuart Lake Trailhead to get difficult Aasgard Pass out of the way while they're still fresh. The trail starts easily enough. You'll enjoy the cover of the trees too. It gets a bit steeper as you near Colchuk Lake. Take a break here and enjoy the views of Dragontail Peak and Colchuk Peak.
The climb up Aasgard Pass is hands down the hardest part of the trail. It's a short, but steep, ascent through a boulder field, but plenty of rock cairns should help guide your way. Be very careful in this area. There are lots of loose rocks and you'll have to do some scrambling too.
Fortunately, the descent isn't nearly as steep. Plus, you finally get to all of the beautiful glacial lakes! Each is unique, but all are stunning and have magnificent mountain backdrops. First up is Isolation Lake followed by several smaller unnamed lakes. Next, you'll meander along the eastern edges of Inspiration Lake and Perfection Lake. From there it's about a half-mile to your campsite at Leprechaun Lake.
Day 2 - Leprechaun Lake to Snow Lakes Trailhead
Enjoy some final views of McClellan Peak before heading east to nearby Lake Viviane. Hopefully you're prepared for another steep, rocky descent past here. Luckily, you're rewarded with Snow Creek Falls along the way. Hike close to the creek before reaching Upper Snow Lake. You'll need to cross a shallow, but frigid, dam to get on the trail heading north of the lakes.
There is a large switchback on the way to Nada Lake. From here, it's all downhill. While not as strenuous as climbing Aasgard Pass, it can be rough on the knees. Fortunately, there are great views all around, so take as much time as you can to enjoy them. This section gives you a reprieve in the trees, yet another boulder field, and finally ends with switchback city. Seriously, though. You'll know you're close to the Snow Lakes Trailhead when the switchbacks start feeling like they'll never end!
What will I need?
Because of the cooler mountain temps, you will need to bring clothes to layer. Average highs range between 43 and 63°F between July and October. Low averages are between 27 and 42°F. That said, you'll need toasty gear to keep you warm at night. Your sleeping bag goes a long way in keeping you comfortable at night. But, don't forget a good sleeping pad does too. (Consider a pump bag to save your lungs some extra exertion.) A lightweight, 3-season backpacking tent will also help keep you warm and dry.
Our Bryce 1P backpacking tent is lightweight and weatherproof, which makes it a great option for the Enchantments Traverse.
The climb up Asgaard Pass is notoriously tough. But, the descent to the Snow Lakes Trailhead can be hard too. Trekking poles are an excellent idea.
On cold mornings, it's nice to start the day with a hot beverage. Be sure to pack a long-lasting titanium mug for your coffee or tea.
The trail is mostly rocky. You might pack some gaiters to keep rocks (and snow) out of your shoes.
If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.
Shop Backpacking Tents
Shop Ultralight Tarps
Shop Backpacking Quilts
Shop Down Sleeping Bags
Shop Insulated Sleeping Pads
Shop Backpacking Pillow
Shop Folding Trekking Poles
Shop Titanium Cookware
Shop Tent and Tarp Accessories
Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I Need a Permit?
The biggest consideration for the hike is obtaining permits. Overnight camping in The Enchantments requires permits which are distributed in advance through a lottery and can be pretty difficult to obtain. You can also obtain a small number the day that you begin, but that is generally pretty risky, especially if you've traveled a long way. For more permit information and to apply, see the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest website.
Here are a few great resources to check out for more detail:
Have you hiked through The Enchantments? Do you have other outstanding hikes that you'd like us to write about? Please share your feedback in the comments.
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our “Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips in Washington State” round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great trails in the region.
For even more amazing backpacking trips, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.