4 Day Backpacking Trip in the Enchantments

Snow Lakes Trailhead, Leavenworth, Washington, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Fishing, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    18 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    6000 Feet


Camp along the shores of a turquoise lake or at the top of a ridge with panoramic views. Explore on day trips to nearby peaks and lakes and/ or backpack through mossy forests and across granite fields. Core Permit required for overnight access to all areas during permit season. Permit season extended to May 15, 2016 - Oct 31, 2016.

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness named “The Enchantments” draws explorers from all over the world. On a four day backpacking trip you can take day trips from camp to explore over a dozen crystal clear lakes, summit surrounding peaks, and camp at an alpine lake of your choice!

Before you set out to camp overnight in the Enchantments, you need to acquire a permit online or through the Leavenworth Ranger Station if you want to backpack between June 15-October 15. The five Enchantment permit area zones are the Eightmile/Caroline Zone, Stuart Zone, Colchuck Zone, Core Enchantment Zone, and Snow Zone. You must camp at your permit location, but you can take day trips to any of the zones. Permits are won through a lottery every spring. If you don’t win a permit by lottery you can win a permit the morning of your trip at the Leavenworth Ranger Station. Call ahead to the ranger station find out specifics about morning permit lotteries!

There are two routes to backpack to the Core Enchantments basin. The first route begins at the Stuart/Colchuck Lake trailhead and goes up Aasgard Pass (6 miles, 4400 feet of elevation gain). This route is more direct, however, be aware Aasgard Pass gains 2300’ in one mile! The second route to the basin via the Snow Lake trailhead gains 6000’ in a 10 mile trek. This adventure will focus on the Snow Lake trailhead route.

The night before you hit the trail there are many places to stay in Leavenworth (5 miles from the trailhead) so you can get an early start on the trail! Day one of the trip is 8.8 miles and 4,000’ elevation gain. At the Snow Lake trailhead follow the soft wooded trail along Snow Creek, past several small waterfalls, and through a lush alpine forest. Stop at the log bridge to pump water and continue onward and upward! Cross another bridge and continue up switchbacks to Nada Lake. Follow the trail along the shore and then traverse up the last switchbacks until you reach Lower Snow Lake. Camp here at Lower Snow Lake or continue on the trail to Upper Snow Lake. Set up camp and get a good rest before you embark on day two - the gate to the Enchantments.

On day two, pack up camp and begin your 2 mile hike that gains 2000’ elevation gain to Leprechaun Lake. Cross the log bridge at the end of Upper Snow Lake then traverse along the creek through the woods for one mile. From this point, follow the cairns up and across granite fields. On your ascent, stop and take in the first views of McClellon Peak and the Temple. Continue to follow the cairns until you reach Lake Vivian at the base of Prusik Peak! Note: If you need to make a call or send a text, stand on the big rock at the shore of Lake Vivian for decent service. Past Lake Vivian, carefully follow the cairns up across granite walls and through little forests of larches. When you reach Leprechaun Lake, follow the shoreline to a campsite at the base of McClellon Peak or find another campsite on the peninsula. Set up camp and take in the views!!

From Leprechaun Lake on the morning of day three enjoy the views of the surrounding peaks - McClellon Peak, Prusik Peak, and Enchantment Peak. Follow the cairns to trek beyond Leprechaun Lake to Sprite Lake, Perfection Lake, Prusik Pass (just beyond Perfection Lake), Inspiration Lake, Isolation Lake, and countless other unnamed lakes. If you want to plan a climb, Prusik Peak, McClellon Peak, Dragontail Peak, and Colchuck Peak are nearby. For a full day hiking adventure explore Prusik Pass and across the Core Enchantment Basin to the top of Aasgard Pass. Include a scramble up to Enchantment Peak (via Prusik Pass) or up to Little Annapurna (above Inspiration lake) for an added adventure! To see a map of these lakes and peaks, check out REI for a green trails map of the Enchantments.

On the last day of your backpacking trip hike from Leprechaun Lake back to the Snow Lake trailhead. This journey is the longest day - close to 11 miles and 6000’ elevation drop. When I completed this trip in September it took us 7 hours to hike out to the trailhead. One of my favorite places to eat after eating backpacking food is the Leavenworth Pizza Company!!

Pack List

  • 10 Essentials
  • Overnight backpacking permit
  • Trekking Poles
  • Worn in boots
  • Backpacking pack & day pack
  • Water filter and tablets
  • Whistle
  • Backpacking tent, tarp, & stakes
  • Backpacking sleeping bag
  • Headlamps
  • Black garbage bags (to hang food)
  • Strong rope
  • Backpacking stoves & fuels
  • Mugs
  • Sporks
  • Lightweight cribbage board & cards!
  • Personal items
  • Moisture wicking clothing layers
  • Insolation coat
  • Waterproof shell jacket
  • Wool hat & gloves
  • First aid kit
  • Rehydration salts
  • Food & snacks for 4 days

To see the food we packed for this 4 day trip or a check list of supplies, see my blog post.

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Its hard to get permits to stay in the enchantments.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Great description but your drop point on the map is wrong. You have the hike starting at snow lake trailhead, but it's supposed to be snow lakes TH or Lake Stuart/colchuck TH

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

My buddy won permit lottery for snow zone and a group of us are going in July!!! Your elaboration and map through of your trip in the enchantments seems very helpful! What trail head would you recommend starting at? is entering through snow a little less crazier then Stuart?

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

The cream of the crop. If you can get this permit, you're in heaven. Sure, it's possible to thru hike this in a day, but I'm all in favor of taking your time and really savoring this other-wordly landscape.

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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