In the heart of North Cascades Ranges, there is a trail that takes you through enchanted mossy forests, over jagged granite boulders, past glacial melt tarns and stunted larches, and curious mountain goats. In one day you pass through the of gnomes, satyrs, and witches. This place is aptly named the Enchantments.
As our team of five pulled into the Colchuck Lake trailhead parking lot, we were already surrounded by a forest of giant moss-covered pine trees. As we ventured down the trail, headed deeper into the forest towards Colchuck Lake, the woods become even more lush. After two hours in the charming forest, our view opened up suddenly to a turquoise lake (Colchuck) and the jagged black peaks behind it. That’s Dragontail Peak, 8809 feet above sea level.
Following the trail around the lake, we crossed a boulder field. At times, we found ourself on all fours to get over and around these large rocks. At the end of the boulder field, we found ourself in front of a small but rapid stream splashing down from a gully between the jagged black peaks.
Those peaks loom over you like an evil witch’s castle. Welcome to Aasgard Pass! (We’ve also heard it called Ass-kicking Pass.) It rises 1900 feet in less than a mile. Don’t be ashamed to take a break or two (or many) on the way up. It is steep and rocky.
Halfway up Aasgard Pass, we were greeted by a patch of larches, which turns golden in the fall. Larches live throughout this region and in other parts of the world with rugged terrain. Meager nutrition stunts their growth and leaves them with tortuous trunks and branches. They are resilient and beautiful.
We knew we’d encounter a mountain goat or two as we ascend Aasgard Pass. Amidst the breathtaking landscape (especially look back at Colchuck Lake; it’s stunningly blue on a sunny day) it’s easy to imagine that the goats are, in fact, bad-tempered satyrs who may shout out a warning or demand to know our purpose. Goats or satyrs, the creatures patrol the pass, seemingly guarding the magic that awaits at the top.
Once we got to the top of Aasgard Pass, our view opens up to a world of wondrous beauty: glistening glaciers loom on our right side, turquoise tarns dot the high plateau, and white granite boulders protrude abruptly from the ground. Goats, in their element, calmly roam the landscape. It is a bewitching place.
The top of Aasgard is the highest point of this trek but our trek was far from complete. From that point, we trekked on across the high plateau, passing gorgeous tarns of various sizes, shapes, and shades of blue and green. Following glacial melt streaming down the upper plateau, we trekked by Tranquil Lake, Isolation Lake, Inspiration Lake and finally Perfection lake.
The trail wraps around the north end of Perfection Lake to come down to the side of Spirit Lake which connects to Leprechaun Lake and Lake Viviane. There were also countless smaller nameless tarns along the way. If you are hiking the Enchantments from early winter to early summer (like we did on this trip), you may find yourself in a snow wonderland. Snow enhances the landscape’s beauty but also makes the trail more difficult. It is not a bad idea to pack microspikes if you visit any season but late summer/ early fall.
If you hike in the right season, you will also find icebergs floating in the Enchantments’ tranquil tarns. It’s simply gorgeous.
Once we passed Lake Viviane, we know were near the end of Core Enchantment Zone. The trail became less obvious here as we navigated a few large boulders. Some of the boulders had metal bars nailed to the top surface to prevent people from slipping and falling.
Standing on these rocks, we had an open view of the enormous valley and the trail all the way out to Leavenworth in the distance. Snow Lake and Nada Lake are a few miles ahead of us and over a thousand feet below. Snow Lake is a popular camping spot for people coming in from the Snow Lake Trailhead which is about 8 miles away. It is a long 8 miles of descent in the woods.
It takes some perseverance to do this hike in one day. If you want to camp overnight in the core zones, you will need to apply for a permit. The permit works by a lottery system which has eluded me for the last four years that I have applied. The lottery application opens in February on the USDA website if you are interested.
The Enchantments is an 18 mile hike with 4500 feet elevation gain from the trailhead to its highest point. The trail is in a U shape, which means that the beginning and ending point are different and your group will either need to take two cars, hitchhike, plant bikes, or walk an additional 7.6 miles along a forest road. Sounds a little complicated? Yes, it is. Is it worth the hassle? Absolutely!
You can start the hike from either end of the trail. The trailhead and parking lot closer to Leavenworth (20 mins drive) is Snow Lake trailhead. The other trailhead is at Colchuck Lake and is an additional 30 minutes drive from the Snow Lake trailhead. Starting from Snow Lake the climb to the high plateau is longer and more gradual; from Colchuck Lake entrance, the climb is steeper, shorter and more scenic. Tricia and I have started from both entrances and my preference is starting from the Colchuck Lake side.
- When did we go?
- What permits/Passes did we have?
- Northwest Forest Pass for parking in Colchuck Lake Trailhead. We didn’t have a camping pass which is why we couldn’t camp overnight. We had planted two cars on the two ends of the trail and hiked it through in a day.
- How long was the trip?
- 18 miles, 12 hours.
- What’s the elevation change?
- Total elevation change is 4500 feet on this hike
- How much water did we pack?
- There is no shortage of water source on this trek. I had one litter in the water bladder and refilled water once using a Sawyer water filter.
- How much food did we pack?
- I was prepared to have two meals on this trek so I had a sandwich, a bag of trail mix, a couple Cliff bars and a few fruit bars. That was more than enough food for me. My rule of thumb for food is about 250 calories every 2-3 hours in medium to high strenuous hikes.
What do you think? Please feel free to leave me a comment in the comment section below.