Spend two days in the high country of Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
It’s no wonder permits here are so coveted, I think as I wind my way through the moonscape of rock below Asgard Pass, surrounded by jagged peaks with nearly as much blue water below them as blue sky above. This string of lakes, tucked into a cascade of notches in Washington’s Stuart Range, is the crown jewel of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and winning the Enchantments permit lottery is as exciting for a backpacker as winning the actual lottery. It was almost as hard to climb up here as it was to get permission to spend the night, but the big climbs have yielded big rewards: An alpine wonderland fully deserving the name “Enchantments”. I don’t think I’ll ever be out from under the spell. By Ryan Wichelns
TURN-BY-TURN FROM THE STUART LAKE TRAILHEAD
1) Follow Stuart Lake Trail south from the trailhead.
2) Look for a turn-off left near mile 2.2, onto Colchuck Lake Trail.
2) Climb roughly 1,100 feet up to Colchuck Lake, winding along the lake’s west and south shores before beginning the steep climb up to Asgard Pass (or Colchuck Pass, depending on your map)—gaining 2,200 feet over steep talus in less than 2 miles.
3) From the pass, descend into the Upper Enchantments, winding through the stark, rocky landscape around Tranquil and Isolation Lakes before dropping into greener alpine meadows to camp at Inspiration Lake (mile 7.3).
4) Descend through the more lush Middle Enchantments below the granite spike of Little Annapurna, passing Inspiration and Sprite Lakes (mile 8).
5) Meet a fast-moving stream as you move into the Lower Enchantments: Leprechaun Lake and Lake Viviane, bordered by Prusik Peak to the north and McClellan Peak to the south.
6) After passing Lake Viviane at mile 8.8, the trail starts a long descent to the forested Snow Lakes at mile 10. The Snow Lakes Trail leads down from here to the Snow Lakes Trailhead at mile 17.7.
CAMPSITE: INSPIRATION LAKE (MILE 7.3)
Just as the trail comes to Inspiration Lake, look for an offshoot right toward Perfection Lake and set up camp about 100 feet down this offshoot (snag a permit for the Core Enchantment Zone before heading out). The rocky outcropping is a stone’s throw from Inspiration Lake (probably the easier place to grab water), but sits looking down on Perfection Lake with views of the granite arrowhead of Prusik Peak beyond.
Good food storage is critical in the Washington alpine, thanks to the curious and occasionally aggressive mountain goats. You’re most likely to spot them in higher elevations along the route and above you in the mountains. Pee on rocks—They’ll trample any greens trying to lap up the extra salt.
DO IT TRAILHEAD 47.5274, -120.8209; At the end of Eightmile Road, 8.3 miles down Icicle Creek Road from Leavenworth. SHUTTLE Park the shuttle car at 47.5443, -120.7099; 4.3 miles down Icicle Creek Road SEASON May through October PERMIT Camping reservation required May 15 through October 31, available through Recreation.gov; Free self-serve permit required for day hikers; Northwest Forest Pass required for parking. CONTACT Enchantments Wilderness Area
Distance 17.7 miles (loop)
Time 2 days