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The Gearhouse Guide to Hiking the Enchantments

Hiking the Enchantments
Image Credit: Earth Trekkers

The Enchantments Trail is perhaps the most iconic backpacking route in all of Washington. Hiking the Enchantments is on every PNW adventurer's bucket list. The route is a grueling nearly 20-mile point-to-point hike that takes hikers through wildflower-filled meadows, around glistening alpine lakes, to several rushing waterfalls, and ultimately through Aasgard Pass— a brutal 2,000-foot climb. Beyond the necessary planning that hiking the Enchantments requires, hikers must also enter a lottery system to receive backcountry camping permits for the route. If you’re considering taking on the Enchantments this season, continue reading below for The Gearhouse Guide to Hiking the Enchantments: Everything You Need to Know About Washington’s Most Iconic Backpacking Route.

What are the Enchantments?

Asgard's Pass
Image Credit: Explore with Alec

The Enchantments refers to a region in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area of the Cascade Mountain Range. With an elevation of 4,500 feet and over 700 alpine lakes surrounded by towering mountain peaks, the area enthralls all who visit. The Enchantment Trail is an 18-mile point-to-point trail that climbs a whopping 4,809 feet of elevation gain. While advanced hikers and masochists alike will push through in a single day, it’s recommended to take two days for this route. A permit is required to camp at one of the designated dispersed sites along the Enchantment route. Total trail time varies from 8 hours for extremely fit trail runners to 15 hours for advanced pace single day hikers to several days for the typical backpacker. Taking your time while hiking the Enchantments allows you to visit all the nooks and crannies that make the route so special, including the many glacial-fed lakes and waterfalls.

How to Hike the Enchantments.

Stuart Lake Trail
Image Credit: All Trails

There’s no beating around the bush with this hike, it’s a tough one. Not all hikers choose to do the entire point-to-point hike. Many choose to sample the magic of the Enchantments with a round-trip hike to the first alpine lake, Colchuck Lake. There are three ways to experience the Enchantments: the previously mentioned 9-mile roundtrip hike to Colchuck Lake, Backpacking overnight from the Stuart Lake or Snow Lakes Trailhead, or pushing through from either trailhead in a single day. Most hikers, regardless of whether they stay overnight or complete the trail in a single push, choose to start their journey at the Stuart Lake Trailhead to reduce the total elevation gain. Starting at the Stuart Lake trailhead still leads hikers through Aasgard Pass, which climbs 1,900 feet in just under a mile.

Permits Required for Hiking the Enchantments

Backpacking the Enchantments
Image Credit:

As we mentioned above, backcountry camping permits are required for those wishing to stay overnight on the trial. Due to the increasing popularity of the route, hiking the Enchantments overnight now requires a wilderness permit from May 15 to October 31. The permit system is in place to reduce the amount of foot traffic on the trial and preserve the delicate environment of the Upper Enchantments. You can apply for permits beginning in February through, and winners are selected through a lottery in early March.

Preparing for the Enchantments

Mount Si Trailhead

As we’ve stressed repeatedly, hiking the Enchantments is no easy feat. If you’re planning to set out on the Enchantment trail, you’ll have to do more than just lace up your hiking boots and pack extra water. This arduous route requires a blend of endurance and back-country know-how, whether you’re planning to hike it in one fell swoop or over several days. Train for the Enchantments on similarly rated routes. We recommend having at least an intermediate level of fitness to tackle the Enchantments. Our Intro to Backpacking course defines the necessary fitness level as being capable of walking over 5 miles in a day and comfortable staying out in the wilderness for a night. You have familiarity with topographical maps and navigation. You can make good decisions about accessing water sources in the wilderness, and make changes to your plans based on weather or conditions. To train for the Enchantments, knock out several training hikes on similarly rated routes. Mount Si is a challenging hike near Seattle that will help you cut your teeth before tackling the Enchantments.

If you’re new to backpacking, the Gearhouse Intro to Backpacking course covers everything you’ll need to know to hike the Enchantments, including route planning, required gear, accessing water, backcountry cooking, and much more. Visit Gearhouse to stock up on backpacking gear before your trip and learn more about the route with our Trip Planning Department.

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