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by Ivan Papp
LEAVENWORTH – I just visited one of the top four places in the state of Washington for beauty and splendor. What is that place you ask? The answer is simple - The Enchantments!
I’ve been on a lot of hikes here in Washington state but the Enchantment Lakes are by far right up there on the top of the list.
Mind you, it took me four years of entering the lottery to get a permit, but aside from the years of trying, the effort was well worth it.
First of all let me warn you, the trail to the Enchantment basin is not easy. If you go the Snow Lake route, it turns out to be roughly 11 miles distance and roughly a mile in elevation gain to get all the way up in the middle of the Enchantment Lakes basin.
If you go the Colchuck Lake route you’ll have to traverse Aasgard Pass (where a few people have died in the past).
But disregarding the death, dismemberment and the sheer pain and torture you’ll have to put yourself through to get there, the Enchantments are an experience worthy of the challenge.
I actually made two trips this summer and the one I’d like to share with you here is the Snow Lake route (the other was a day hike up to Colchuck Lake).
The trek up the Snow Lake trail can be accomplished by almost anyone with a desire and some physical fortitude. The trail starts just outside of Leavenworth off of Icicle Creek Road. At the trailhead you’ll find a nice parking lot and restroom.
From there the trail starts to climb over several miles past Nada Lake until finally reaching upper and lower Snow Lakes. My wife and I made the hike in about three hours, so having left the trailhead at 8 a.m. we arrived at Snow Lake about 11 a.m.
We found a nice campground at the junction of the Upper and Lower Snow Lakes, which came equipped with a very rustic outdoor toilet (commonly referred to as a “wilderness toilet”).
We took our hike in the first part of September and the weather was perfect – not too hot and not too cold. The best part of all - NO BUGS!
We saw lots of wildlife along this route. Several deer walked through our camp in the evening (and I mean right through our camp) and we spied quite a few mountain goats on the slopes as we hiked up the mountain.
I was pleasantly surprised to see what appeared to be a river otter in Nada Lake. I had never before seen an otter on any of my other treks over the last 25 years, so this was a real treat.
Snow Lake is a great spot to make camp and we were happy to spend the night there. In the morning we packed our essentials and made our way up to the Enchantment Core area leaving our backpacks and camp gear at the lower elevation.
Be warned that much of the way to the Enchantment Lakes from Snow Lake is by traversing over granite outcroppings. The trail is sometimes a little tricky to find but usually marked clearly by cairns. Once we reached the final crest and walked into the Enchantment basin we were left breathless.
The first thing we saw was Lake Viviane. I walked up to the lake and could peer to the bottom through the glassy blue water without effort. Reflections off the adjacent mountain slopes made the lake seem even more spectacular.
To top it off I was met there by a rather large mountain goat that didn’t seem the least bothered by my arrival.
I recommend leaving as early in the morning from Snow Lake as possible to allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy and explore the Enchantment Lakes before heading back down to Snow Lake in the later afternoon.
While up at the Enchantment Lakes, the hiking was relatively easy as we visited from lake to lake. One of my favorite activities is to find a nice comfortable spot, sit down, and have a nice relaxing lunch while I look around and enjoy the scenery. One doesn’t find scenery like the Enchantments by sitting in the car.
In the month of September one is not likely to find snow and there are few glaciers at that elevation. We didn’t experience any wind either but I was very careful to check the weather forecast prior to our trip.
The majority of our hike, which extended over three days total, was conducted in T-shirt and ball cap.
A great feature of the Enchantments is the fact that there is a strict limit on the number of people that are allowed to camp overnight. This fact makes it difficult to get a permit but after having spent my first night at Snow Lake I appreciated the solitude.
I was far enough away from any neighboring campers that I was able to get the distinct feeling of being alone in the wilderness (which was my goal in heading up there to begin with).
This is truly a hike I recommend and I hope you can get as much enjoyment from the trip as I did. Happy camping!
Photo courtesy Ivan Papp
Ivan Papp standing in the Core Enchantment zone. It took four years of entering the forest service lottery before Papp was able to get a permit to enter the Enchantments.
Photo courtesy Ivan Papp
Lake Viviane in the Enchantment Lakes Basin rests below Prusik Peak, making for a picturesque view. The lake is part of the Core Enchantment zone. The Enchantments is made up of five zones, each requiring a different permit to enter.
Photo courtesy Ivan Papp
Mountain goats have been able to recover in the Enchantments, a wilderness area of Washington state that requires special permits to enter and does not allow any dogs.