This past weekend, I thru-hiked the Enchantments near Leavenworth, Washington. It was quite the experience to say the least, so I thought I’d share some of the things I wish I knew before I started. If you’re planning on doing the Enchantments thru-hike yourself, you need this complete guide to make sure you’re prepared.
There are a lot of different ways to see the Enchantments in Washington state. You can camp overnight if you’re lucky enough to win a lottery spot, you can hike specific spots, or you can backpack through the popular trails. Alternatively, if you want to “do it all” in a single day, you have the option to do an Enchantments thru-hike. This is when you hike the entire 20+ trail in a single day.
Does it sound crazy? It should, because it’s certainly not for the novice hiker! Let’s talk about the Enchantments thru-hike start to finish. 🥾
- Hike at a glance
- How difficult is the Enchantments hike?
- What’s the route you should take for the Enchantments?
- How do you get to the Enchantments thru-hike?
- Do you need a permit for the Enchantments?
- What should you bring?
Hike at a Glance
To start, let’s break down the key parts of the Enchantments through hike so you can get an idea for what it is. You can look through the Washington Trail Association’s page for more information, or recent reviews on All Trails. Keep in mind the trail is always changing, and this is a very remote area. Different parts of the year bring different challenges, and nature is always subject to change.
- Distance: 20.5 miles from the starting point to the end point
- Elevation gain: Around 4,954 feet
- Difficulty: Very challenging
- Timing: Anywhere from 10 – 20 hours
- Permits: You need an overnight camping permit between May and October
- Pets: No dogs allowed
- Parking: You can park at the Colchuck Lake or Snow Lake trailhead or use one of the shuttle services
Passing through forests, wildflowers, mountain passes, and otherworldly environments, the Enchantments is like no other place on earth. Known as a bucket list hike for a reason, thousands of hikers from across the nation find their way to Leavenworth, WA to make this trek for themselves.
However, this isn’t your average day hike. While it’s entirely possible to do the Enchantments in a single day, it takes a lot of planning. Luckily, you have this guide from someone whose already done it!
Want to see us in action? Check out the trek on TikTok!
@seattlecouple If you need me ill be icing my knees for the rest of my life 🥲 #washington #washingtonhike #theenchantments #seattlehiking #leavenworth #wacheck #hiketok #hikingadventures ♬ Send Me on My Way – Vibe Street
How Difficult Is the Enchantments Thru-Hike?
If there’s one thing I would drill into anyone’s head before they set out planning to do the Enchantments in one day, it’s that this is a difficult hike. It’s over 4,900 elevation gain and 7,000 elevation decline. That means it’s constantly an up-and-down battle.
This is a very strenuous hike.
While most of the trail isn’t very technically challenging, it’s brutal in that it’s very long and steep.
The most challenging section of the trail is between Colchuck Lake and the Core Enchantment Zone. This area is called Aasgard Pass, and it’s a lung-straining 2,000-ft climb in just under a mile. Instead of a hike, I consider this area more of a climb/scramble. You’ll be on your hands and knees getting through sections, and you have to frequently stop and make sure you’re on the right trail.
Even after the pass, there were several challenging portions in the core Enchantments themselves. Each lake brought its own challenges, including water crossings, climbing sections, and deep snow. When you add in the added weight of a day bag, you have quite the challenge.
You should definitely train seriously before choosing to hike the Enchantments. I personally did strength/core workouts 3-5x a week, along with daily walks and runs. It’s also helpful to have other hikes under your belt to prepare you for scrambling and elevation gain. Some other great hikes in the area that have a similar terrain are Mailbox Peak, Lake 22, and Mount Si.
While challenging, the Enchantments might be worth it for you. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, stunning hike that’s worth the effort if you’re adequately prepared.
What’s the Route You Should Take for the Enchantments?
If you’re doing the Enchantments thru-hike, there’s pretty much only one option when it comes to the route. This is a point-to-point trail. It’s now recommended that you start at the Suart/Colchuck Lake Trailhead and finish at the Snow Lakes Trailhead. While you can technically begin the other way, it’s not recommended to go down Aasgard Pass since it’s resulting in more rock slides.
By starting at Colchuck Lake, you handle most of the elevation gain early in the hike. While it’s still challenging even after Aasgard Pass, you’ll feel more confident knowing the hardest part is behind you and you’re constantly declining in elevation. I recommend starting from Colchuck/Stuart Lake since this makes the most practical sense.
How Do You Get to the Enchantments Hike?
Depending on which option you choose, you can park a car in each lot (this is when it pays to have friends who drive!) or use a shuttle service. You can use the Loop Connector or Leavenworth Shuttles to get a ride from either lot.
If you’re parking in either of these lots, you will need a parking permit. If you have an American Forest Annual Pass, you can use this. Otherwise, you can purchase a day pass for $5 online in advance. If you forget to purchase a pass in advance, there’s a cash box at the start of the trail.
Tip: Shuttle space is limited. To make sure you have a spot saved, book well in advance. Many of these companies charge fees or don’t operate on weekdays.
Lastly, it might sound weird, but we did see a lot of hikers hitching rides with fellow hikers to either parking lot. While you can’t always rely on hitchhiking, this is definitely something that does happen.
Do You Need a Permit to Thru-Hike the Enchantments?
Next, do you need a permit if you only want to thru-hike the Enchantments? The short answer is no.
If you wish to stay overnight to camp from May 15 to October 31, you will need an overnight permit. You can apply for these online at Recreation.gov, but winners are drawn from a random lottery. It doesn’t matter when you apply, but space is very limited.
We have heard of some campers having luck applying last minute. These last-minute spaces can be available if other campers surrender their spot or can’t make it for some reason.
If you’re only hiking the Enchantments in one day, you can get a day permit at the start of the trail. You’ll see a box with green envelopes and pens. Here, you’ll write down the names of everyone in your party, the date, and your final location (either trailhead). This is a free permit.
What to Expect When Thru-Hiking the Enchantments
When you’re thru-hiking the Enchantments, you can expect to have a really unique experience. Aside from the diverse terrain, you’ll also see wildlife (rabbits, mountain goats, snakes, etc. are all common) and unique plants. Here’s each section of the hike broken down so you know what to expect!
Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake
To begin, you’ll start with the climb to stunning Lake Colchuck. This is a crystal-clear glacial lake that’s the perfect place to relax. If you start early in the morning (and you should!), you’ll likely get here around sunrise with a lot of other hikers.
This first section of the trail does have its share of ups and downs (literally), but it’s comparable to many of the other day hikes near Seattle and Leavenworth. I recommend stopping here for a quick snack and getting some rest before you push forward to Aasgard Pass.
Looking up at Aasgard Pass from the bottom can be shocking. It looks so much bigger in person, and it’s hard to fathom ever reaching the top. Located behind Colchuck Lake, this is the pass that takes you into the core Enchantment zone.
As soon as you cross behind Lake Colchuck, you’ll notice the trail becomes full of boulders. These large boulders can be tricky to navigate, so take your time stepping carefully and looking for the route. To make sure you’re going the right way, locate the cairns (stacks of rocks) which mark the path.
This upward climb is easily the hardest part of the entire trail. You’ll be covering over 2,000 ft. of elevation in just under a mile. Expect this to take well over an hour, sometimes 2-3 depending on your stamina. Once you get closer to the top, take a while to check out the jaw-dropping views.
Once you’ve defeated Aasgard Pass, welcome to the Core Enchantments Zone. Suddenly, it’s like you’re on a new planet. This world is much different from the forest below. There’s much less vegetation, and you can tell the land has been worn by ancient glaciers.
You’ll notice sparkling lakes just around every corner, and this is the section where you’ll want to spend the most time. Each lake has it aptly named, like Lake Perfection and Lake Isolation. If you can enjoy several hours in this area, do so!
Snow Lake Trail
Finally, you’ll leave the Core Enchantment Zone and make your way towards Snow Lake. Once you reach Snow Lake, you’ll have a 6ish mile trek back to the final parking lot. This last half of the hike is undoubtably the most mentally challenging.
Not only is your body exhausted, but you’ve also been walking for hours now.
After seeing so many pretty lakes, this forest section is less impressive. Though there are some waterfall sightings, and Snow Lake is beautiful, you’ll probably be ready to get home ASAP. The last trek of this trail has been appropriately named the Death March, and I would agree that’s the perfect way to think of it!
If possible, fill up your water at Snow Lake since there are no more opportunities after you leave the lake. You probably won’t want to stop again either way. This is where you want to pull on your mental strength (and maybe a good podcast) to help the time pass quickly.
What to Pack to Thru-Hike the Enchantments
Last but not least, let’s talk about what to pack to thru-hike the Enchantments. This is something I worried about the most when I started my own planning, and it’s important to be prepared. Here’s everything I brought (or wish I brought):
- Parking permit: Make sure you have a parking permit or shuttle ticket in advance.
- Navigation: A paper map and GPS map is preferred (I use All Trails to download maps offline).
- Power bank: Bring a power bank and cord to charge phones/devices.
- Light: A headlamp or running light is needed for an early morning or late night start.
- Trekking poles: I highly recommend a set of trekking poles to save your knees, especially at the end.
- Hiking boots: These should be comfortable, water-resistant shoes.
- Socks: Bring multiple pairs of quick-dry socks.
- Bug spray: In the summer, there are TONS of bugs.
- Layers: Always bring layers just in case there’s wind/rain.
- Sunscreen: At higher elevations, the sun is strong.
- Water bladder: A bladder was the easiest way to stay hydrated on the trail.
- Water filter: Use a water filter to refill your water at the lakes along the way.
- Emergency kit: Always hike with emergency essentials.
- First-aid kit: Make sure you have basic supplies in case of a medical emergency.
- Toilet kit: Yep, you’ll need to deal with TP, packing it out, etc. on the trail.
- Small bag: Speaking of carrying it out, bring a small bag for trash.
- Snacks: Hiking snacks like sandwiches, pretzels, trail mix, crackers, candy, and more are great.
- Electrolytes: I also recommend electrolyte powder or tablets to keep you feeling your best.
- Backpack: We used a 24-liter backpack which worked great, but you can use whatever pack you’re comfortable carrying.
The Enchantments Thru-Hike: Hit the Trail!
That’s all there is to it! I know that’s a lot to digest, but it’s a crazy hike. There’s no such thing as being over prepared!
If you’re thinking of doing a thru-hike for the Enchantments in Washington, there’s no better time to start preparing. Hopefully this guide helped you decide whether this is the right hike for you. Have any specific questions? Send us a message!