Julie United States 21 Comments

If you are a hiker, the Enchantments is a destination that belongs at the top of your list. Turquoise, emerald, and aquamarine alpine lakes are scattered through the jagged, snow-capped mountain peaks. Wildflowers bloom along the edges of the trail, mountain goats graze on the grasses, and the larches turn brilliantly yellow in the fall months.

On this hike, the landmarks make it sound like you are in a fairytale. It definitely looks like something from another world. You’ll climb over Aasgard Pass, gaze up at Dragontail Peak, and hike past Leprechaun Lake and Sprite Lake.

It is an absolutely gorgeous hike, but it is also extremely difficult, when done as a day hike. Over the course of almost 20 miles, you will ascend one mile and then drop down another 7,000 feet to finish the hike. It is a long, hard day but one that you will never forget.

In this article, get a detailed look at the hike through the core Enchantments, starting at the Stuart/Colchuck Lakes trailhead and ending at the Snow Lakes trailhead.

We have so much information to share with you that it could not all fit into one article. In this article (part 1 of our two part series) learn about the hiking trail. Part 2 covers the planning, training, and logistics to have a successful hike.

Overview of the Enchantments 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/Colchuck 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. Those on the shorter end trail run a portion of the trail. Those on the longer end tend to linger longer at the lakes. The median time is 10 to 12 hours.

Permits: No permit necessary for the day hike. To camp overnight, you need to be one of the lucky 2% who get a permit awarded by lottery. You will need a National Forest Recreation Pass which can be purchased at the trailhead or at local sporting goods shops for $5. If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you can use this in place of a National Forest Recreation Pass. Learn how to display your America the Beautiful Pass here.

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.

Enchantments Elevation Profile

Elevation profile

 

How to Hike the Enchantments: A Step-By-Step Guide

Since this is a point-to-point hike, you can do this hike in either direction. Most people chose to start at the Stuart/Colchuck Lakes trailhead for two reasons. For one thing, it sits almost 2,000 feet higher than the Snow Lakes trailhead, so you will have 2,000 less feet to climb on the hike. Also, you will hike up and over the Aasgard Pass early in the hike, when your legs are still fresh.

Stuart/Colchuck Lakes Trailhead

The Stuart/Colchuck Lakes trailhead is located at the very end of NF-7601. This is a compacted dirt and gravel road that is suitable for standard cars. However, an SUV will make this drive easier, since it is rutted in some places.

The parking lot is located at the very end of the gravel road. It is a relatively large parking lot and we had no problems finding a spot the morning we did this hike (it’s significantly larger than the Snow Lakes parking lot). However, if no spaces are available, you can park on the right side of NF-7601. There are toilets located near the trailhead.

Colchuck Lake Parking Lot

Make sure you display your National Forest Recreation Pass or your America the Beautiful Pass in your car. If you do not have a National Forest Pass, you can purchase one at the trailhead. Look for the box of white envelopes. Fill one out and include your $5 fee.

Before setting foot on the trail, you must also fill out a wilderness permit. These are also located at the trailhead. Fill it out (bring a pen!), deposit the bottom section in the box, and take the top part of the permit with you. A ranger might check to see if you have this during your hike (ours was checked). You will deposit the top section in the box at the end of your hike.

Now that you got all of the paperwork out of the way, it’s time to start the hike.

Trailhead to Colchuck Lake

Distance: 4.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,200 feet
Average Time: 2 to 3 hours

Even though it is a steady uphill climb to Colchuck Lake, this felt like one of the easiest and fastest sections of the hike. For the most part, you are hiking through a forest. There’s not a whole lot to look at, other than a few cool bridges along the way and maybe some wildlife. We were lucky to see two deer cross the trail right in front of us.

Deer on the Trail

Bridge on Enchantments Hike

At about 2.4 miles into the hike (and roughly 1,000 feet of total ascent) you’ll reach a noticeable split in the trail. There is a sign on a tree directing you to turn left to go towards Colchuck Lake, which is what you want to do. Going straight at the split will take you to Stuart Lake which you don’t want to do today.

After turning left at the split you’ll reach a wooden bridge that ends at a boulder area. There is no need to climb the boulders here. Just turn right when you step off the bridge and keep following the dirt trail. Now you will alternate between easy and moderate ascents a few times until you reach Colchuck Lake.

Boulder Field

Turn right once you reach this boulder field. Once you get to this point, it’s not too much farther until you reach Colchuck Lake.

Around Colchuck Lake to the Start of the Aasgard Pass

Distance: 1.25 miles
Average Time: 45 minutes to one hour (this includes time for a quick break or snack)
Elevation Gain: Minimal. There are a few ups and downs here but for the most part, the trail is flat as you walk around the lake.

Colchuck Lake is a beautiful, aquamarine lake. It’s also the perfect place to take a short break and have a snack. If you look across the lake to the other side, you can see the Aasgard Pass and Dragontail Peak.

Colchuck Lake

Route up Aasgard Pass Enchantments

The red line indicates the hiking trail. You will hike counter-clockwise around Colchuck Lake. Once on the opposite side you start the hike up and over the Aasgard Pass.

It takes 45 minutes to one hour to walk around the lake to start of the climb up Aasgard Pass. When you get to the far end of the lake, you’ll come out of the trees and enter a boulder area. Follow the cairns across this boulder area. Keep in mind that you are not looking to make any significant elevation gains here, you are just crossing the boulder area while keeping Colchuck Lake to your left.

Aasgard Pass Enchantments

Another view of the hiking trail.

 

Boulders at Colchuck Lake

You will hike through this boulder field to reach the base of Aasgard Pass.

By the time you are standing at the base of the Aasgard Pass, you have hiked 5.5 miles with roughly 2,500 feet of ascent.

Aasgard Pass

Distance: 1.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Average Time: 1.5 to 2.5 hours

When you stare up at the Aasgard Pass, it looks hard. And let me tell you, it’s even harder than it looks. Not only is it steep, but loose dirt and scree make it slippery and even more exhausting.

Aasgard Pass

At first, it’s not so bad. The trail is easy to walk up and we made good time here. But as you approach the grove of trees, the loose dirt and rock will have you slipping and sliding in some spots. Plus, you will step up and over large rocks and boulders.

We would hike up 50 feet, pause to catch our breath, then continue on. It’s a good thing that you have a nice view of Colchuck Lake as you tackle this beast of a climb.

Colchuck Lake from Aasgard

There are multiple trails up this mountain. Keep following the rock cairns, of which there are many. Just make sure that you pass to the left side of the grove of evergreen trees. If you go right, you head into dangerous territory, with a waterfall and steep terrain.

There are a lot of false summits on this climb. Just when you think you made it to the top, there’s still a little more to go. But let me tell you, it’s worth it. The pain and the fatigue will fade once you get to the Upper Enchantments.

Aasgard Pass Trail

 

Once you see this small but gorgeous lake, it’s just a short uphill walk up and over the Aasgard Pass.

Alpine Lake Enchantments

 

Follow the trail past the lake. Congrats! You have now gone about 6.75 miles with roughly 4,500 feet of total ascent. The giant climb is behind you and it is mostly downhill from here. It is an overall descent to Snow Lakes, but with a few ups and downs, you still have about 1,000 feet of elevation gain sprinkled into the remaining hike.

Almost over Aasgard Pass

Just past the lake, it’s one last small climb to reach to the top of Aasgard Pass.

The Core Enchantments

Distance: 3 miles
Elevation Loss: 1,000 feet
Average Time: 1.5 to 3 hours

The Core Enchantments…this is the whole reason why you are here. This is an extraordinarily beautiful area. It might be hard to manage your time here, especially if you are a day hiker. It is so tempting to relax and linger at these lakes, but you still have very far to go before your day is over.

So enjoy it and take lots of photos, but be mindful of the time.

The Upper Enchantments almost look like something from another planet. This rocky, mountainous terrain is dotted with small, colorful lakes.

Upper Lakes Enchantments

PRO TRAVEL TIP: There are very few trail signs along the trail. Instead, look for the rock cairns. They are spaced close together and are easy to follow.

 

Isolation Lake is one of the larger lakes that you will come to first. This makes another great spot to relax and have a bite to eat.

Isolation Lake Enchantments

Isolation Lake

 Continue across the barren but beautiful terrain, passing smaller ponds and hiking across small streams and creeks.

Mountain Goats Enchantments

Alpine Hike

Best Hike in Washington

Enchantments in July

 

As you slowly descend through the Core Enchantments, more plant life makes an appearance. Wildflowers, small shrubs, and eventually larches and evergreen trees appear. Mosquitoes might also be a problem for the remainder of the hike.

Further along the trail, you will pass Inspiration Lake, Perfection Lake, and Sprite Lake.

Inspiration Lake

Inspiration Lake

 

Kara at Inspiration Lake

Inspiration Lake Enchantments Hike

Perfection Lake Enchantments

Perfection Lake

 

Enchantments River Crossing

Leprechaun Lake

Leprechaun Lake

Once you pass Viviane Lake and reach this rocky cliff (photo below) with a view out over the Snow Lakes, you will say goodbye to the Core Enchantments and begin the long descent to the Snow Lakes parking lot.

Overlooking Snow Lakes

Hiking to Snow Lakes

Descent to the Snow Lakes

Distance: 1.5 miles
Elevation Loss: 1,400 feet
Average Time: roughly 1 hour

Even though it is an overall downhill, hiking from the the Core Enchantments to Snow Lake, this part of the trail is still challenging. And it’s very difficult to move quickly.

For 1.5 miles, you will descend down steep dirt trails, stepping and scrambling over large rocks and tangled tree roots. You will also hike down bald, granite rock. It’s slow going, simply because there are so many obstacles along the trail. We got frustrated here because we wanted to pick up the pace a little bit, but we also didn’t want to move too fast and get injured.

Snow Lakes and Nada Lake

Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation Loss: 600 feet
Average Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

It’s a flat, easy walk around the southern side of Snow Lake.

Snow Lake

 

You will cross a dam. When we did this, the water was just a few inches deep, so we left our shoes on. If you are concerned about getting wet feet, or you don’t have waterproof hiking shoes or boots, you can cross this barefoot.

Crossing the Dam

 

To get to Nada Lake, it’s a steep descent through a boulder field and a forest. If you are doing this on a hot day, you will really start to feel the heat here.

Enchantments Trail Nada Lake

 

It’s a short, flat easy walk around Nada Lake.

Nada Lake Enchantments

Nada Lake

Nada Lake to the Snow Lakes Trailhead

Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Loss: 4,000 feet
Average Time: 2.5 to 3.5 hours

For us, it felt like a never-ending hike to get from Snow Lakes to the Snow Lakes parking lot. By now, we were exhausted, sore, and very hot (we did this on a day where the high temperature reached 101°F). And there is nothing fun or interesting about this last section of the hike. It feels like an endless walk through overgrown shrubbery with very little shade. And on a hot day, it feels like you are walking through a furnace.

There is very little shade, so make sure you reapply your sunscreen at Nada Lake.

Not to alarm you, but I’m going to say it again, this part of the hike feels like it takes forever.

At first the trail slowly descends through the forest, so it is easy to hike fast here. Then, the trees disappear, and you switch back many times through shrubs. The trail straightens out but keeps up with its rapid descent, briefly passing in and out of the trees, but most of this time you are exposed to the sun.

Last Section of Trail

Once you get to the last section of switchbacks, you can look out and see the Snow Lakes parking lot. You’re so close, but this last bit of trail (a little over a mile to go at this point) still seems to take a long time.

Once you get down the river, cross the bridge and follow the trail up to the parking lot. Turn in your wilderness permit and give yourself and your group members a big high five! Congrats!!

Snow Lakes Trailhead

Snow Lakes Trailhead

About Our Experience

Tim, Kara, and I did the Enchantments hike on July 31, 2020. It’s an awesome hike and we highly recommend it, but it is not to be underestimated. We are fast hikers, but the trail conditions (steep descents, obstacles on the trail, and hot conditions) slowed us down. Plus, the alpine lakes are so gorgeous that it is nearly impossible to not want to spend some time at each one of them. That’s the whole reason for doing this hike, right? 

We did this hike in 10 hours and 30 minutes, including time for rest, snacks, and photos. Our fastest sections were at the very beginning and the very end of the trail, where the terrain was smooth enough that we could keep up a fast pace.

The hardest section is the Aasgard Pass. The trail down from the Core Enchantments to the Snow Lakes is difficult, simply because of the number of obstacles along the trail. And that final five mile stretch to the car is a beast. Yes, you are going downhill but it can be painful. Hopefully I am talking it up so much that it won’t seem so bad once you get there. 😉

In case you missed it, here is the link to Part 2 of our guide to hiking the Enchantments. Part 2 covers transportation, permits, training advice, and the logistics to have a successful hike.


Did we miss anything? If you have any questions about hiking the Enchantments or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below. Happy hiking!

More Great Hikes from Around the World

 

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

 

More Information for Your Trip to Washington

 

How to Hike the Enchantments Washington

 

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 21

  1. Hello! Just want to suggest an edit. You absolutely need a permit to enter the Enchantments via any trailhead. Permits are free and at each trailhead. While they don’t require a lottery or money like overnight permits, they are important in order to organize resources and measure capacities. Fines are hefty for being cited for not having one if you run into a ranger.

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  2. The last 5.5 miles seem like torture. What do you think of turning around after The Core? 19.5 miles (rt) that misses Snow & Nada Lakes and avoids 2 cars, shuttle, etc. Is the way back “softer” on the feet than the rest of the thru hike?

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      It’s not a bad idea, doing this out and back. However, you will have the massive descent to get back down the Aasgard Pass. This would be harder than the final five miles (so not softer on the feet). If you turned around at the 10 mile point, you would have about the same amount of elevation loss and even a little more elevation gain than if you did the entire thing point-to-point. But avoiding the shuttle is a nice bonus of doing this out-and-back. And you get to repeat a lot of the best views of the hike. Once you start down to Snow Lake, it’s honestly kind of boring, especially after everything you already hiked through. So, it wouldn’t be easier if you do it out and back, but it is a good option if you want to avoid the shuttle. Cheers, Julie

  3. Hi,
    I am a fan of your website. Couple of us are planning to do Enchantment Thru hike. We have the following options: July 17, July 31, Aug 7, Aug 23. We are looking for a day to maximize the Daytime. Could you please suggest which one among these four days mentioned above would give us maximum day time and more suitable weather for thru hike?
    Best-
    Saad

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      June 21 is the longest day of the year, so July 17 would give you the most daylight. As far as weather goes, I don’t think that there is a whole lot of difference from July 17 through August 23. So, of your dates, I would pick July 17. Have a great hike! Cheers, Julie

    2. Hi Julie,
      Thanks for your reply.
      We have finalized to do the Enchantment trail on first week of August.
      I have a few more questions.
      We have Alltrail Pro App with trail map downloading option. Do you think Alltrail navigation map is enough or we should get a Gramin GPS? Also, do you suggest carrying any SOS device for any emergency?
      Best-
      Saad

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        I have not yet tried the offline version of All Trails, although it works great in places where we hike and still have cellular service (which is quite rare). We had a standard Garmin GPS when we did this hike last year. The trail is very easy to follow, so even a Garmin is not necessary. With that being said, we just started using the Garmin InReach Explorer Plus. This connects to a satellite so it has SOS. With a subscription plan, you can also send text messages and send out a tracking signal. Tim and Tyler recently hiked in Alaska in a remote area and I could watch their trail progress from my phone, which was really neat. And if they ran into any problems, they could have texted me. It’s not necessary to have this when hiking the Enchantments, but now that we have used us, it does give us some peace of mind when we are hiking remotely. If you have someone in your group who won’t be hiking, they will be able to track you. Plus, this GPS device has all of the standard Garmin features too. It’s something worth looking into, but not necessary to have a good hike. For this trail, I absolutely recommend bringing some sort of water filter. It’s a long day and carrying many liters up the Aasgard Pass would be torture.

        Have a great hike!

        Cheers, Julie

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  4. If I’m going to be solo, recommendation to do this and get back to my vehicle? How far is it from parking lot to parking lot?

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      Either by shuttle or by hitchhiking. I’m not sure of the distance between parking lots but it is at least 3 miles…too far to walk at the end of a hike like this. For shuttle recommendations and more planning info, take a look at our Enchantments Guide. Cheers, Julie

  5. Found your website and WOW.

    We are looking to go to Leavenworth WA and I wanted to do “part” of the Enchantments hike to Asgard Pass. Do many people go up and come back down or is it a one-way trip all the way through? If a person goes up to Asgard Pass and then back down, what would you estimate the time it would take to finish the hike.

    Thanks. Jason

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      You can absolutely turn around after the Aasgard Pass. However, I recommend going a bit farther, maybe 1 to 2 miles, to see the lakes and rocky terrain. If you turn around at the top of the Aasgard Pass, your hike will be roughly 12 miles round trip. It would take 4 to 5 hours to hike up to the Aasgard Pass from the trailhead. It will be faster coming back, maybe 3 to 4 hours back to your car. If you add on the extra walk around the first lakes, it would add 1 to 2 miles and about an hour to this estimate. Another alternative is to just hike to Colchuk Lake. A lot of people do this. This dramatically shortens the hike (about 8 miles round trip and 4 to 5 hours total). It really depends on how far you want to go. I hope you have a great hike! Cheers, Julie

  6. Great writeup! Curious to get your thoughts on exposure/sheerness. We’re avid hikers, but last summer I had my first moment of panic on a summit in MT. First time I’ve ever turned back and not finished out a hike. The exposure was pretty wicked, and I think it broke my confidence. I now have some issues with narrow paths along sheer drop-offs (sort of the stadium effect).

    We’re really hoping to hike this. It’s been frustrating trying to get my confidence back, since I now sometimes panic where I never used to… the mental struggle for me far exceeds the physical now. That said, I did manage to push through a couple CO 14ers (moderate exposure, some talus/scree fields) last fall. Thanks for any thoughts you can offer. I know I can’t just stop in the middle, so I want to make sure I’ve got myself together first.

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      Hello Jenn. I think that you should be fine on this trail. I don’t recall there being any spots with drops offs/very narrow trails/lots of exposure. The “worst part,” if I remember correctly, is the start of the descent to Snow Lakes. Take a look at the 2 photos in this post that come right before the title “Descent to the Snow Lakes.” This is the most exposed part of the trail, at least that I recall, and it isn’t too bad. Most of the trail is in the forest. For the Core Enchantments, you are hiking through the rocky terrain but there is very little exposure here. I hope this helps! Cheers, Julie

      1. Thanks for the reply, Julie! Aasgard Pass mostly looked like a slog, but not so much like one wrong step and you go tumbling. You’ve made me feel much better. Happy travels! 🙂

  7. Hello! Huge fan of your blog!

    My husband and I did the Paintbrush Divide/Cascade Canyon loop in the Tetons this summer. We’re both pretty fit, but we didn’t do any extra training (we weren’t even sure we were going to attempt it until we ran into someone coming back from Delta Lake who said we should go for it). We made it without any issues, but it was definitely the most strenuous hike we have done to date. What are your thoughts on that hike compared to the Enchantments?

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      Hello Sara. Looking at the hiking stats, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between the two hikes. But the Enchantments is tougher. Hiking up and over the Aasgard Pass is a beast and it tires your legs out for the rest of the hike, even though you will be going downhill. The trails on the Paintbrush Divide/Cascade Canyon are very easy to walk…not much on the trail as far as rocks, roots, etc, so you can move quickly. On the Enchantments hike, particularly between Aasgard Pass and Nada Lake, there are always obstacles along the trail, so you can’t move quickly and you really have to pay attention to where you place your feet. And when we did this, it reached 100 degrees, so the heat made it very tough, especially at the end of the hike. With all that being said, if you hiked the Teton loop, you’ll be fine hiking the Enchantments. Be mentally prepared for a longer, tougher day, bring a water filter so you don’t have to lug extra weight up the Aasgard Pass, and keep your fingers crossed that it won’t be hot (maybe avoid mid-summer and go at the end of August or early September instead). It is a gorgeous hike and well worth the effort. Cheers, Julie

  8. Hi there! This hike looks amazing! Maybe I missed it in the blog, but how did you get back to your car at the starting point? Is there a shuttle or did you need to take 2 vehicles? Thanks 🙂

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      That’s a great question!! I am publishing a guide tomorrow that has all of those logistical details, since there are quite a few for this hike. But there are several things you can do. We had 2 rental cars. Another option is to use one of the shuttle services…you drop your car off at the end point and have the shuttle take you to the starting point. We did not do this because of COVID and shuttle services are very limited this year. The third option is to hitch hike back to your car…also not a great option this year but it’s what the locals do. Cheers, Julie

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