The Enchantments eighteen-mile route between Stuart Lake and Snow Lakes trailheads that lies within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Cascade Mountains is one of the most popular hiking routes in the Pacific Northwest. Most start at Stuart Lake and climb up the Aasgard Pass instead of down it. For those that don’t have someone waiting at the finishing trailhead, the connection between the two trailheads is 8 miles of a hilly, rutty climb on gravel and dirt roads that can be done by foot, gravel bike, or MTB bike. Loop Connector Shuttle offers shuttle rides between trailheads.
The Enchantments requires a permit for overnight use between May 15 and October 31, a permit is required for overnight use in the Enchantments. Permits allow the permit holder and their group to camp overnight in one of the five permit zones:
- Core Enchantment Zone
- Snow Lake Zone
- Colchuck Lake Zone
- Stuart Lake Zone
- Eightmile/Caroline Zone
75 percent of the permits for each hiking season are awarded by lottery. The first round of the lottery is for the applications received in the February time frame. All applications received during this period will be randomly drawn shortly after the deadline. Walk-up permits are issued each morning (except Sunday) at the Wenatchee River Ranger Station in Leavenworth. See the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest Wilderness Permit site for more details.
Be aware that the trail is mostly marked by cairns in the Core Enchantment Zone. It’s very easy to take a wrong turn. It’s best to download the GPX route on a watch or phone app to help navigate this section. It’s also best to start as early as possible, as the trailhead parking lot may be full by sunrise, especially on a weekend. Be prepared to do more hiking than running as the hard rocky surfaces can be technically challenging.
When starting at Stuart Lake, the trail follows Mountaineer Creek for two miles and 1000′ of ascent to the Colchuck Lake Trail. Follow the Colchuck Lake trail for 1.75 more miles of climbing until Colchuck Lake comes into a spectacular view. The crystal clear lake reflects Dragontail Peak, the Enchantment Peaks, and the Larches surrounding it. Pack some bug spray as the mosquitoes and flies can be vicious from the lake on up to the Core Enchantments.
The trail follows the western edge of Colchuck Lake to Aasgard Pass (officially named Colchuck Pass.) Aasgard Pass is 2000 feet of ascent in just under a mile. The route is marked by cairns that can be hard to follow while crawling up granite boulders. It’s best to stay on the Enchantments Peaks (left) side and not on the Dragontail Peak side. Colchuck Lake will appear smaller and smaller as the climb gets higher and higher. Eventually, the North Cascades peaks will come into view. Soon after the crest of the pass is achieved and the clear lakes of the Core Enchantments can be seen.
Once in the Enchantments Basin, avoid the trail around a small lake meant to summit Dragontail Peak and head left toward Tranquil Lake. Look out for mountain goats as they are not shy to the frequent humans in the area. Several tents will dot the area of hikers resting from carrying their packs up Aasgard Pass the day before.
When in doubt, follow Snow Creek as it feeds several clear blue lakes in the basin. Isolation Lake is off the trail on the right. Little Annapurna sits SE of Dragontail Peak right on the Snow Creek Glacier near Rune Lake. There is an unmarked trail on the right to summit Little Annapurna.
The trail continues above Crystal Lake and between Inspiration and Perfection Lake to Prusik Pass and out of the Core Enchantments Zone.
Prada Pass leads into the Snow Zone and onto the first and largest of the Snow Lakes. The trail flattens out around the right side of the lake for just over a mile. Snags and a man-made spillway separate the two Snow Lakes. Water is usually flowing over the wall, which is also the trail between the lakes.
Then trail then heads down a rocky path toward Nada Lake, which is surrounded by several granite peaks. This section is the least impressive of the route, but at least it’s the most runnable. Continue on the trail to the left of Nada Lake to cross Snow Creek over a wooden bridge.
After crossing the creek, the trail continues to sharply descend on switchbacks through groves of trees. Some burn spots from past fires expose Snow Creek Wall on the other side of Snow Creek. In four miles, the trail crosses Icicle Creek and finishes at the Snow Lakes Trailhead.