While reservations for Berg Lake and the West Coast Trail are hot tickets for hikers in British Columbia, a backpacking permit for the Enchantment Lakes is one of the most-coveted prizes in Washington.
Found in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, near the Bavarian-themed tourist trap known as Leavenworth, the Enchantments are a constellation of stunning alpine tarns situated in the Central Cascades. Every year, the U.S. Forest Service holds a preseason lottery (February 15 to March 1) to allocate the majority of overnight permits for the peak and (snowy) shoulder seasons (May 15 to October 31).
Day hikers require a permit too, but it’s free and available at the trailheads — no reservation necessary. Both out-and-back and crossover hikes are possible; a privately operated shuttle service helps with the latter.
Of course, with the pandemic closing the Canada-U.S. border to tourists, Washingtonians essentially had this paradise to themselves in 2020 (and may do so for the better part of 2021). However, during the Before Times, I day hiked into the Enchantment Lakes from the Stuart Lake trailhead in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Setting off on the Stuart Lake Trail in early autumn, we turned onto the Colchuck Lake Trail and ascended steeply amid loose boulders and golden subalpine larches to Aasgard Pass (2,390 m/7,841 ft). We descended far enough into the Enchantment Basin on the Snow Lakes Trail to score spectacular views of Crystal Lake and Perfection Lake, before turning around. The round trip took more than a dozen hours.
Here are nine magical sights from hiking to the Enchantment Lakes — in the traditional territory of the Wenatchi (P’Squosa) people.
1. Colchuck Lake
2. Aasgard Pass
3. Isolation Lake
4. Little Annapurna
5. McClellan Peak
6. Prusik Peak
7. Crystal Lake
8. Perfection Lake
9. Dragontail Peak
Anyways, it’s a dreamy place — lacking only in summer solitude on the main trail and comfortable outhouses. The drum privies do offer remarkable views though.
Dogs and drones are prohibited in the Enchantment Permit Area. Group size is limited to eight people. Special care must be taken with urination due to mountain goats and environmental concerns. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking.