Julie United States 24 Comments

The Enchantments is a slice of hiking paradise. Located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state, this is a wonderland of alpine lakes, jagged mountains, and waterfalls.

The only way to visit the Enchantments is by hiking and it is no easy task. There are two trailheads and from both of these starting points it is a long, difficult, and strenuous hike to get to the core region of the Enchantments.

There are two ways to visit the Enchantments. You can either thru-hike the Enchantments as one massive day hike or you can backpack the Enchantments, spending several nights here. However, to camp in the Enchantments, you must have a permit. Getting a permit takes extremely good luck, which is why most people will visit the Enchantments on a day hike.

Hiking the Enchantments in one day is a beast of a hike and it is not to be underestimated. For the best experience, you will have to do a little advance planning and maybe even a little training, depending on your level of fitness.

But it is absolutely worth it. This is one of the most challenging day hikes we have done (it’s right up there with Half Dome and the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim) but what an unforgettable experience.

In this article, we share with you everything you need to know to thru-hike the Enchantments in one day, from what to expect, how to arrange your transportation, what to pack, where to stay, and more.

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

This article is part 2 in our two-part series about hiking the Enchantments. For a full breakdown of the trail, with maps, photos, and hiking tips, read part 1: How to Hike the Enchantments in One Day.


Quick Overview of the Trail

The Enchantments are located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington.

There are two points of entry into the Enchantments: the Stuart/Colchuck Lake Trailhead and the Snow Lakes Trailhead.

As a thru-hike, most people start at the Stuart/Colchuck Lake Trailhead, for several reasons. The Stuart/Colchuck Trailhead sits at about 3,225 feet elevation and the Snow Lakes Trailhead sits at about 1,400 feet elevation (there is almost 2,000 feet less elevation gain during the hike if you start at Stuart Lake Trailhead). Also, the hike up and over the Aasgard Pass comes much earlier in the hike, when your legs are still fresh and temperatures are still cool.

The Aasgard Pass is the highest point of the hike. From Stuart Lake Trailhead, you start this climb at about mile 5 of the hike. It’s a 1.5 mile climb with roughly 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It is exhausting but what is waiting for you on the other side is the amazing core Enchantments region. From the Snow Lakes Trailhead, you will steadily hike up almost 7,000 feet to reach the Aasgard Pass and then it is a very steep trail down the other side, which can be very hard on your legs.

The core Enchantments is the region of lakes, mountain peaks, and meadows, from Colchuck Lake to the Snow Lake. This section of the hike is jaw-dropping and one of the prettiest areas that we have ever seen on a hike.


Alpine Lakes Map

Map of the Enchantment area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (source: fs.usda.gov). This is an overview of the permit zones but it shows the hiking trail,  the location of the Core Enchantments, as well as Colchuck Lake and the Snow Lakes.

Enchantments Elevation Profile

Elevation profile


Facts About the Hike

These statistics are for the thru-hike from Stuart/Colchuck Lake Trailhead to the Snow Lakes Trailhead.

Distance: 19.25 miles (31 km)
Difficulty: Extremely strenuous
Total Elevation Gain: 5,500 feet (1.675 meters)
Total Elevation Loss: 7,000 feet (2,133 meters)
Starting Elevation (Stuart Lake TH): 3,225 feet (980 meters)
Ending Elevation (Snow Lakes TH): 1,400 feet (425  meters)
Highest Elevation (Aasgard Pass): 7,841 feet (2,390 meters)
Length of time: 8 to 15 hours

About the length of time. 8 to 15 hours is a huge range, but we asked a number of people about their experience, and did a lot of research online, and that’s how we came up with these numbers. Those at the lower range are for those people who trail run at least a small portion of the trail (usually the last 6 miles to the Snow Lakes trailhead). Those at the longer end tend to linger at the lakes. The median length of time is 10 to 12 hours.

We did this in 10 hours and 30 minutes and we are fast hikers. We stopped several times at the lakes, for snacks and lunch and photos. Honestly, we thought that we would do this faster. However, this is a hard trail to hike at a fast pace. The lakes and the views are incredibly beautiful, and it is the main reason why you are on this trail, so take your time through the core Enchantments. But in general, the trail is rocky, steep, with lots of obstacles, so it can be difficult to keep up a fast pace on most of the trail.

Enchantment Hiking Map

Map of the hiking trail. The red line is the hiking trail. The yellow line is NF-7601, the gravel road to the Stuart and Colchuck Lakes Trailhead. The blue line is Icicle Creek Road.



Since the day hike is done point-to-point, you will need to arrange some sort of transportation to get you back to your starting point. There are several ways to do this.

A second car. If you are lucky enough to live in Washington, and you are hiking with at least one other person, you can drop a car at each trailhead. Once finished the hike, drive back to your starting point to pick up your second car.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: It takes approximately 30 minutes to drive from one trailhead to the other one.

Rent a second car. This is what we did (we did this hike in July 2020 during COVID-19 and the shuttles were not running on the day of our hike). The closest place to rent a car is in Wenatchee. We rented a car from Enterprise (located at 1153 S Wenatchee Avenue) and had a great experience. We picked up the rental car the day before our hike and returned it after the hike. So, in order to do this, you will need to have spare time before and after your hike to pick up and drop off the rental car. Note: you will need two National Forest Recreation Passes (for a total of $10…more on this below).

PRO TRAVEL TIP: The road to the Stuart/Colchuck Lake Trailhead is compacted dirt and loose gravel road. Cars were driving on this road without any issues. We recommend a vehicle with tires suitable for an unpaved road, such as you would find with a typical SUV. And make sure you know how to change a flat tire, just in case.

Use the Leavenworth shuttle. If you don’t want the hassle or expense of picking up a rental car, this is a great option. However, the shuttle was not running the day of our hike, leaving us to rent a car. Drop your car at the end of the hike and take the shuttle to your starting point. For full details, click here. 

Loop Connector Shuttle. This is another shuttle service that will drop you off at the start of your hike, so you only need to leave a car at your exit point. Click here for more information. 

Hitch a Ride. After finishing your hike, hitch a ride back to your car at your starting trailhead. It’s a bit risky, but it works, according to the locals we talked to.

Inspiration Lake Enchantments

Inspiration Lake

What Permits Do You Need?

You can thru-hike the Enchantments (as a day hike) without a wilderness permit.

For any day hikes into the Enchantments, you will need a National Forest Recreation Pass. The day pass, which is essentially a parking pass, costs $5 per vehicle. If you drop a car at each trailhead you will need two of these passes. You can purchase the pass at the trailhead or in sporting goods stores in the Alpine Lakes region. We purchased our passes from Der Sportsman in Leavenworth the day before our hike. Display your pass in your vehicle (do not take it with you on the hike). Der Sportsman is also a great place to visit the day before your hike if you need any gear, such as a water filter. 

If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you can use this instead of purchasing a National Forest Recreation Pass. On the National Forest Recreation website, the America the Beautiful Pass is called the Interagency Annual Pass. Learn how to display your America the Beautiful Pass here.

Before hiking the trail, you will also have to fill out a Day Use Permit at the trailhead (bring a pen!). One half of the permit gets deposited in the box at your starting point. When you finish your hike, deposit the other half of your permit at the other trailhead. The day use permit is free.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Pass

We saw rangers checking hikers for day use permits and overnight permits while we were on the trail.

If you plan to camp overnight in the Enchantments, you must have an Enchantment Area Wilderness Permit. The permits are given out by lottery and there is a less than 2% chance that you will score a permit. This is why so many people thru-hike the Enchantments. To learn more about the permit process, click here. 

Isolation Lake Core Enchantments

Isolation Lake

When to Hike the Enchantments

The best time to hike the Enchantments is from July through October.

In the mid to late summer, the snow has melted. This makes hiking easier and you will be able to see the alpine lakes. However, expect hot temperatures, and on some days temperatures at the lower elevations can climb above 100°F (we know because we hiked the trail on one of these 100° days). For thru-hikers, the longer summer days give you more daylight to complete the hike.

In September, the temperatures begin to cool, although you also have shorter days. In October, the larches turn yellow, adding to beauty of this area, making this a great time to hike the Enchantments.

Before July (depending on weather conditions), the core Enchantments can still be snow covered, making hiking difficult and dangerous in spots. Plus, the lakes will also be snow covered, so this area will look much different from the photos in our post.

We hiked the Enchantments on July 31. The high temperature reached 101 degrees in Leavenworth so it was a very hot day. Temperatures were very pleasant in the Enchantments, but the final hike down from the Snow Lakes to the Snow Lakes parking lot was extremely hot.

How Hard Is This Hike?

We have hiked a lot of trails around the world and this is one of the hardest day hikes we have done.

The distance you travel, the massive amount of elevation gain and loss, combined with the rocky, uneven terrain of the trails, makes this a very challenging day hike.

We spent five straight weeks hiking the national parks in Colorado and Washington before tackling this trail, and it still took a lot out of us.

The most challenging day hike we have done (so far) is the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim. The Enchantments thru-hike is only slightly easier than hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim as a day hike. For the Enchantments hike, there is more elevation gain and loss, but it is a bit shorter in distance. The thing that makes the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike more difficult is that all of the elevation gain comes at the end of the hike. And temperatures can soar during the summer months.

Aasgard Trail Enchantments

At the start of the climb up and over the Aasgard Pass.

How Fit Do You Need to Be?

If you plan to thru-hike the Enchantments in one day, you need to be extremely fit, fast, and well-prepared.

If you are doing this as a backpacking trip, you also need to be fit, since you will be hiking with more weight on your back, if you plan to camp along the way.

Before doing this hike, we spent five straight weeks hiking in Colorado and Washington. If you can’t rack up a lot of miles on hiking trail, I recommend going on long distance runs or walks, with distances at least 10 miles, preferably in hilly terrain.

This hike is HARD and you need to make sure you can hike 20 miles through tough terrain.

You also need to have hiking experience. There are no technical sections but it helps to have experience doing big climbs and big descents. This is not a good hike for beginners since it covers such a long distance with so much elevation change.

If you plan to do this hike, you need to be in great physical shape. You should be able to walk at least 10 miles while wearing a backpack with little difficulty. You need to be prepared for lots of elevation change and you also need to be prepared to hike in many different weather conditions, even during the summer months.

Tim Rivenbark Enchantments

How to Stay Hydrated

During the summer months, you will most likely drink a minimum of 3 liters of water during the hike. That’s a lot of weight to carry up the Aasgard Pass.

To minimize how much weight you carry, consider bringing a water filter and filtering water directly from the creeks along the trail, of which there are many.

We each have a camelback that we filled with 1.5 liters of water. Once over the Aasgard Pass, we topped off our water, using a water filter, from one of the creeks that we passed.

We used the MSR Trailshot filter, which worked fine for us. It takes some time to hand pump the water from the creek into your water container. The Sawyer One Gallon Gravity Filter and the Katadyn Be Free filters also get good reviews.

Nutrition on the Trail

In addition to drinking lots of water, you will also need to take in a lot of calories over the course of the day. It’s better to eat small, frequent snacks than a big meal every few hours. While exercising, it is hard for your body to process a full stomach of food.

Since we hiked during hot conditions, we packed a lot of foods that are high in salt, to prevent us from getting hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is just a fancy word for being low on sodium (salt).

If you take in large amounts of water without replacing your electrolytes, you can suffer from hyponatremia. Plus, in the heat of the day, you will also be losing a lot of your salt in your sweat.

You can replace your electrolytes by frequently eating salty foods as you hike. Once an hour we would take a quick break to eat some salty food…pretzels, beef jerky, and salty potato chips. For lunch we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We also ate several energy bars along the hike (Rx Bars, Kind bars, and Larabars are our favorites).

Core Enchantments

Packing List

  • Food: energy bars, beef jerky, pretzels, chips, trail mix, raisins
  • Water in a 3 liter Camelback reservoir
  • Water Filter
  • First Aid Kit
  • Petzl Headlamp
  • Cell phones (we only had service on the last mile of the hike, just before arriving at the Snow Lakes trailhead)
  • Garmin GPS
  • Hiking Poles
  • Bug repellent (Very important!! The mosquitos are vicious around the alpine lakes and on the climb up to the Aasgard Pass)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat/Visor
  • Lightweight Jacket in the summer; extra layers in spring and fall
  • Camera
  • Pen (to fill out the permit)
  • America the Beautiful Pass, National Forest Recreation Pass or $5 cash to purchase one at the trailhead

Upper Snow Lake

Upper Snow Lake

Where to Stay

We stayed in the lovely Bavarian town of Leavenworth. This town sits just outside of the Enchantments and from here it is less than a 10-minute drive to the Snow Lakes Trailhead.

It has a wide range of hotels and restaurants as well as small shops. This is a great place to relax, before and after your hike. Plus, you can visit Der Sportsman, the sporting goods store, for any gear that you might need before your hike.

As for where to eat, Visconti’s serves good Italian food, perfect for carb loading the night before a big hike. Andreas Keller is a Bavarian restaurant that serves sausages, schnitzel and has a wide selection of German beer. Mozart’s Steakhouse also serves very good food and we are a big fan of their cocktails.

In Leavenworth, we stayed at the Bavarian Lodge and it was amazing. It is centrally located so you can walk to the shops and restaurants. Rooms are large, quiet, and comfortable and some offer views over the town. We will stay here again on a future visit to Leavenworth.

Colchuck Lake

Colchuck Lake

Tips to Have the Best Experience

Hydrate the day before. It’s very important that you start this hike fully hydrated.

Start at sunrise or earlier. This will give you the maximum amount of daylight and let you hike a nice chunk of the trail before it heats up (very important in the summer). Also, parking at both trailheads is extremely limited. We got the last parking space at the Snow Lakes Trailhead at 5 am.

Eat frequently. We ate a snack roughly every hour while hiking. This steady supply of calories kept us fueled up for the duration of the hike.

Don’t forget insect repellent. For us, the mosquitoes were the worst on the climb up the Aasgard Pass and around the alpine lakes. Even with repellent, I ended the hike with lots of bites (mostly on my arms and shoulders…they will bite you through your clothing).

If you dropped a car at your exit point, stock it with snacks and water (either in a cooler or in an insulated water bottle). This is great to have just in case you run out of water towards the end of the hike.

Just in case you missed it, get a detailed overview of the Enchantments trail and see lots of photos in our article Hiking the Enchantments in One Day: A Step-By-Step Guide.

If you have any questions about hiking the Enchantments, or if you would like to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Washington

United States Travel Guide

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Enchantments Hike Alpine Lakes Wilderness


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Comments 24

  1. Avatar for Darrah Blanton
    Darrah Blanton

    We won the lottery to backpack the Enchantments in mid-July (never thought we would!) However, I am wondering if it’s really feasible for our family. It would be myself and my husband (both mid 40s) and our two kids, ages 10 and 12. We are all able-bodied (with some typical middle-age aches and pains) and have some experience hiking and backpacking but not a ton. We’d take four days to do the entire thing. Thoughts? Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      That’s great that you won the lottery! If you want to do it over 4 days, you have to check where you are allowed to camp. The Core Enchantment Permit allows you to camp in any zone. But there are also permits that restrict you to one zone. If you have the Core Enchantment Permit, then that makes the experience much more doable with kids, since they only have to go about 5 to 6 miles per day, as you hike from zone to zone. The climb up Aasgard Pass is tough, and it will be even tougher with camping gear. You’re 10 year old might have a hard time with this so an adult might want to lessen the load of the 10 year old. You can filter your water along the hike, but you will have to carry all of your food, so keep that in mind when packing your backpacks and the weight of what you will have to carry. If it were me, I’d take our kids backpacking over a weekend, giving them the weight they are expected to carry, on hilly trails, to make sure they (and you) are up for it. It’s a challenging hike so some training beforehand (like more hiking or running) would be a good idea, too. But it should be a wonderful experience for your family. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for TD

        One can also approach the lakes via Ingalls creek trail to the south.
        8 miles up easy Ingalls Creek trail then a brutal 10 mile trailless round trip
        up beautiful Crystal creek Valley very dramatic setting.
        It sure hurts but so does the traditional way.
        This way at least you don’t have to do a gnarly 1 day hike.
        You can camp at Crystal Creek basin w no permit.

    2. Avatar for tyler james
      tyler james

      4 days!? No wonder permits are so hard to get, kinda blows my mind they hand these out while I’ve been entering the lottery since its started for a party of 1 overnight with no success.. This should be at MAX a 2 night ordeal, ideally just an overnight. If you’re not fit enough to do this as an overnight I’d thoroughly reconsider. It’ll beat your body more than you think and I’ve seen multiple cases of underprepared people (physically) on asgard and it doesn’t look like fun.

  2. Avatar for Karen

    Hi my daughter got a permit to hike the area camping at snow lake the end of May. There are 7 of us planning to go. It has been snowing in the mountains and now some are worried it will be too cold/icy. We had planned to hike to snow lake, set up camp and day hike the area the next 2 days and out on the last day. Do you know what the weather and temperatures are around that time or where to find out?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      I use the Holiday Weather website a lot to research weather conditions in advance. For the Enchantments, you probably would enter in Leavenworth. Just be aware that temperatures will be a little cooler around Snow Lake and higher up in the mountains. But this could give you an idea of what to expect for a typical year. The spring weather is crazy this year…we had snow in Maryland yesterday from the Nor’Easter that hit the east coast. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Mike

    Thanks for all the great info! I’m crossing my fingers and toes in hopes of getting drawn in the open lottery. The application allows you to select different zones for where you’ll set up camp. Any suggestions or advise? Looks like the Core Enchantment Zone would be the most logical for a 1-night trip as we’d definitely want to put Aasgard Pass behind us. Thanks again!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      The Core Enchantment Zone would be my first pick, since it is in the middle of the hike and the most beautiful section of the hike. The Snow Zone and Colchuck Zone would come next. The advantage of Snow Zone is that all of the climbing is over and you can take your time in the Core Enchantment Zone, before heading into the Snow Zone to set up camp. The Colchuk region is beautiful but you will still have the majority of the hike to do after camping here. So, if you want to put the Aasgard Pass behind you, the Core Enchantments are #1 and the Snow Zone is #2. Good luck! Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Francis

    I am looking to try and get a walk-in permit and do an overnight but if that fails, I will be day-hiking it. How do you get from Snow Lake trailhead back to Stuart Lake parking lot? Was that additional miles to hike or did you have a carpool situation set up? If you have to hike back, how many more miles is it?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      There is a shuttle service that you can use. We had 2 cars. I’m not sure of the distance, but it would be a long way to go to hike between the 2 parking lots. Check out the Transportation section of this article for more info. Good luck getting a permit! Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Jake

    I will be in the area in October. Are there opportunities to see the Alpine Larch trees without doing the 19 mile thru hike? If so, what is the best way to do so?

    Thanks, btw. What a great article/review.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      I think that you can see some if you just hike out and back to Colchuk Lake. It would be about an 8 mile round trip hike. This article mentions fall colors around Colchuk Lake in October. Have a great hike! Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Jake
  6. Avatar for Lorraine

    Regarding the National Forest Recreation Day Pass for $5/car to display on your dashboard, is this still required even if you have the America the Beautiful Pass? Can you display the America the Beautiful Pass on your dash? I’ve read conflicting information.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Yes, you can use the America the Beautiful Pass. This is called the Interagency Annual Pass on the National Forset Service website. I will update the info in this post…we didn’t know when we did this that we could use the America the Beautiful Pass, and it was only $5, seems like a great deal for a full day hike. Have a great hike! Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Lorraine

        Thanks for confirming. Yeah, I was researching since we want to do Colchuck Lake as a day hike and found that it is in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest which is covered with the America the Beautiful Pass. Been reading all your posts for all the Washington State parks since we are planning a trip there.

        1. Avatar for Julie Post
  7. Avatar for Zach Zander
    Zach Zander

    We are heading out to Washington in mid-June. Our kids aren’t quite up for this thru hike (heck, we probably aren’t either!). Are there worthwhile hikes in the 4-8 mile range or is it kinda Aasgard Pass or nothing? If The Enchantments aren’t great for hikes in that range do you have another suggestion in western Washington?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      You could hike only to Colchuk Lake. It’s the cover photo for this lake and it is a gorgeous spot. To hike here, it would be about 10 miles round trip, so it’s beyond the 4 to 8 mile range. On the elevation map, Colchuk Lake is the flat section right before the steep climb up the Aasgard Pass. Don’t bother day hiking the Snow zone of the Enchantments… this is the most boring section of the entire thru-hike and not worth it as a day hike. If you don’t think your kids could handle the 10 mile hike, then save the Enchantments for a future visit to Washington. There are tons of awesome hikes in the 4 to 8 mile range in Mount Rainier to keep you busy for awhile. Just check the NPS website about road openings in mid-June…this is around the time when some roads open. We have some MRNP hikes posted on this site and soon I plan to write a “best hikes in MRNP” which might help you out. Cheers, Julie

    2. Avatar for Jeff McCown
      Jeff McCown

      I recommend the Long’s Pass hike (7 miles RT), which takes you to a ridge with spectacular views of Mount Stuart’s southern side. Most snow should be gone by mid-June, as the trail is on a south face.

      Navaho Peak trail is also good, but a little longer (12.8 miles RT). There are many camping sites about a mile short of the ridge along with a spring to refill your water (filtered, of course).

  8. Avatar for Donna Ruckart
    Donna Ruckart

    I love to hike. I have done the Rim to Rim and all the strenuous hikes in the Great Smokey Mountains ( my backyard), but I don’t rock climb. How hard it the scrambling?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      The rock scrambling is very easy…it’s really just a steep, rocky climb up and over the Aasgard Pass, steep enough that you will use your hands a little bit. But no rock climbing or scrambling skills are necessary for this hike…just very good fitness. Hiking Rim-to-Rim (in one day) is tougher than this hike, but not by much. Cheers, Julie

  9. Avatar for Chris W
    Chris W

    Thanks so much for posting all this helpful information. We are planning to go on 10/10/20. Hopefully the weather will be good enough

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      You’re welcome! Hopefully you will be able to see the larches and their yellow leaves…that will be magical! Have a great hike. Cheers, Julie

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