“It’ll blow your mind.”
“Just a different world up there.”
Since moving back to Washington eight years ago, The Enchantments had remained in the Top 5 on my WA hiking hit list. One too many conversations with local seasoned hikers about this glorious area had been conversed. One too many reviews detailing the epic larches in the fall had been read. One too many cross-country flights had been taken witnessing from above what looked to be an area of our state worthy of its own regional categorization of epic proportions.
As wildfire-ridden skies cleared and our unseasonably warm PNW summer stretched into the start of a stunning fall, opportunity struck to tackle the increasingly popular Enchantments Thru Hike.
Arriving to Leavenworth on a Friday evening, we parked one of our cars at the Snow Lakes trailhead for pickup the next day. Giddiness arose watching hikers from that day finishing up the famous 21-mile trek.
Following a good night of rest, we jetted up to the Colchuck Lake trailhead to begin our full day adventure, hitting the trail at 5 a.m. I’ll pause for a moment to note that in my lifetime of hiking, I’ve never witnessed so many cars and people at a trailhead…welcome to the new era of Instagram-inspired hiking.
Luckily we had a good jump on the crowd and buzzed up to Colchuck Lake at a quick clip, arriving just as the sun started to rise. If you’ve never hiked in the dark by headlamp, it’s oddly one of the most peaceful, relaxing outdoor experiences. There is simply something unique and special about the silence and connection you have with nature as the sun unleashes its rays.
After a quick breakfast power-up, we moved quick to tackle Aasgard Pass, effectively the shortcut route to enter into The Enchantments basin. Three quarters of a mile. 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Whew.
The rumors are true. The Aasgard ascent is steep, it burns, it requires balance and agility. It’s also one of the most beautiful and rewarding climbs, spitting you out at 7,800 feet with a panoramic view looking back down across Colchuck Lake and the extended valley.
Welcome to The Enchantments.
Part rugged moonscape, part crystal clear lakes, part jagged peaks, part stunning colored rock formations, part popping golden larches, part…something indescribable that I’ve never experienced before.
What I found to be most impressive was the utter scale of The Enchantments basin. Despite the hundreds of hikers tackling the same hike that day, there was quick dispersion and sounds muffled away within the rocky terrain. Moving deeper into the basin, golden larches suddenly popped in every direction in one of the most impressive displays of color I’ve ever witnessed on a hike.
As we continued our descent out of the basin headed towards Snow Lakes trailhead, golden larches transitioned into beautiful lush green forest accompanied by a raging river.
21.6 miles later, legs sore, body drained, mind cleared, heart full. Can’t wait to get back to do this hike again.
Tips If You Go:
- Start early and be prepared for a crowd. Word is out on this one and the trail can get flooded during peak larch season.
- Pack light but be prepared – you need balance and agility getting up Aasgard Pass, don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Pack some light emergency items just in case of injury, etc. You should only need about 1.5L of water (fall temps, not summer) on the safe side to get to the middle of the basin. I’d highly recommend purchasing a Steripen for a lightweight, highly effective water filtration tool. Plenty of rushing water in the basin during early fall season. And don’t forget a headlamp.
- Be in shape, for real – for your safety and the safety of hikers around you. No one wants to see or have to deal with you taking a tumble down Aasgard. Run, elliptical, Stairmaster, hike, hike, hike! Get those legs and lungs ready for the long haul day.
- Enjoy the basin but keep moving! – About 70% of the Enchantments Thru Hike is spent getting to and descending out of the core. So while you’ll want to stop and take it all in for hours on end, you need to keep moving at a decent pace to avoid hiking in the dark (remember earlier sunset in fall). We spent about two hours of loose time exploring, eating lunch, taking photos in the core and it was still about a 12 hour day.
- Power snack and keep hydrating – Bring a good protein-packed breakfast for before Aasgard as well as a good lunch (you rarely get to each lunch with that kind of view) but make sure you have easy access to Clif Bloks, power bars or other high energy snacks to keep your energy up. I also used LyteShow mixed into my camelback of water to keep hydrated and prevent cramping. Take it or leave it, the formula seemed to work.
- Leave the mountain goats alone – for real. They’re everywhere. Observe, don’t touch, be smart.
- Make trail friends – Fun times meeting different people from everywhere and you’ll inevitably cross paths with various hikers and groups throughout the day as you leapfrog one another.
- Step aside – There are some steep patches on the descent that you do not want to rush. Take your time, be safe, step aside for faster hikers or trail runners.
- Leave no trace, use the toilets – I was incredibly impressed with the smart structured pacing and hidden approach to toilet locations along the hike.
- Give a ride back to Colchuck Lake – The Snow Lakes trailhead parking lot is tiny and many fellow hikers will be looking for a hitch back up to the start to snag their car. If you have room, give a seat, meet someone new.
- Stay in town or camp out! – The last thing you want to do is race back home after an epic day of hiking. Enjoy a night in Leavenworth, you earned it!