The Enchantments Washington, one of the most beautiful, most protected ecosystems in the state. The Enchantments Thru Hike through this otherworldly landscape is approximately 18 miles, 4500 feet gain going up the Stuart trailhead and 7,000 feet loss to the Snow Lakes trailhead.
Enchanting is truly an understatement.
There were seven of us when I did this hike the first time, ranging in age from 17 to 55. Only one of us had done it before. The remaining six of us each made our own mistakes, which I will share with you here.
How hard is the Enchantments trail? There are three ways of doing this and according to the Washington Trails Association (WTA), and anyone who has ever done it, none of them are them easy.
Please see their website for a detailed description of the hike itself. It’s an excellent description and one you should print out, for the guide points alone, if nothing else.
Why Prepare for the Enchantments Thru Hike
Life happens. Nothing goes completely as expected. Are you hiking in a group? It’s best that you do, for sure, but the more people in your group, the greater the odds of something going wrong.
When planning to thru hike the enchantments, it’s a good idea to prepare for every possible contingency, so the experience is the best and safest one possible for everyone. It’s the difference between fond memories of a happy if exhausting day and something you could regret for the rest of your life.
Hike through Enchantments Training
Only the super-fit or extremely advanced hikers are able to do this without training for it. What waits for you if you decide not to train and don’t fall into one of those categories above? Potentially pain, injury, embarrassment, unnecessary expenses and downright misery.
You could also add to an already overburdened Chelan Emergency Responder system and rangers efforts and that is not cheap.
The good news is that you can train for it, so that you’re as healthy and fit as you need to be in order to be successful. The best training for any hike is hiking or rucking. They say that if you can go up Mailbox the old way and down the new way, back to back twice, you’re ready for hiking the Enchantments.
I would have to agree, and add that maybe it’s better to go up the old, down the new, up the new and down the new to get the mileage you’re going to have on the Enchantments through hike.
Training is a very individual thing. No one can tell you what your body needs but you. I’ve suggested several hikes below that will help you train, but you should listen to your body and build up your strength and endurance over time to avoid injury.
Enchantments thru hike elevation gain
Many hikers going up to the Enchantments find the hike up to Colchuck alone is challenging enough. But going around the lake and looking up at Aasgard itself is surely an act of bravery too.
Aasgard Pass is steep, 1900 feet elevation gain in less than a mile. You can train for this incline by doing other hikes with steep elevation such as several at Snoqualmie Pass.
Mt Si, Mailbox, Tenerife, Snoqualmie Mtn, Granite Mountain Lookout or Hidden Lake Lookout in the North Cascades are good options for just elevation training.
Enchantments thru hike distance
There’s no question that Aasgard is hard. It’s like climbing steps, but steps that slide and give away in unpredictable ways. And while you definitely have to train for steep inclines, it’s not the only obstacle. I trained for the elevation mostly, because I thought that would be the hardest part.
In reality, the hardest part for me was the distance. It was going down to the Snow Lakes trailhead when my body was already exhausted and in pain.
I trained for distance, but I should have made it more of a priority. Third Burroughs, Gem Lake, Siouxon Trail, Spectacle Lake, and segments of the Wonderland Trail are good hikes for distance.
You need the endurance training to get you through to the end. If you’re going down to the Snow Lakes Trailhead, you’ll be descending 7,000 feet in the process.
You’ll need the emotional experience of pushing on after ten miles of anything and you need to know that your body won’t quit on you, because all of it is worth the effort.
Navaho Peak, Tuck and Robin Lakes, Marmot & Jade Lakes, Upper Lena Lake, High Divide, Sahale Glacier Camp, Tenerife to Mt Si traverse and Snow Lakes will all challenge you and help prepare you for the Enchantments Thru Hike.
While it is true that there is no real way to train for hiking other than hiking, mixing up your training with some stairs is a fantastic way to shift your perspective and increase your quad and calf strength.
Stair training is an excellent workout, with or without added weight, and can be accomplished in significantly less time than many of the hikes. This is what gets me through the colder and rainier weeks in Seattle, or when I don’t have enough time to get out and hike.
The beauty of these is that you can easily do it in the rain, you’re rarely alone and it really targets your quads, calves and cardio capacity. Here are my four favorites. Gradually build your way up to an hour, or half an hour, and you will see what a difference it makes in your hiking performance too.
- Issaquah steps, Issaquah, 137 steps – These steps are to the right of the Dick’s Sporting Goods building on the plateau. Coming from I-90, take a right onto NE Ellis Drive, which ends in a T facing the steps. Plenty of parking.
- Golden Gardens Stairs, Ballard, 287 stairs – Heading towards Golden Gardens from Ballard, turn onto right onto Seaview Avenue with the marina to your left. Drive under the Rail bridge, approximately 30 yards further and look for switchbacks and stairs.
- Howe Street Stairs, Seattle, 391 stairs – 810 E Howe St Seattle, WA 98102; corner of East Howe and Franklin Place East
- Thistle Street stairs, 367 stairs – Located in west Seattle. Park your car at Lincoln Park, in the most southern lot on Fauntleroy Way SW. The steps begin at the corner of SW Thistle St and 46th Ave SW. These steps are divided in two, with 132 steps after crossing 44th Ave SW.
- Don’t train at all
- Focus on your weaknesses only
- Focus on your strengths only
- Going anyway, even when you’re not ready
- Going with people you know aren’t ready, because you’re afraid to say something
The process of training for the Enchantments thru hike should give you plenty of opportunity to optimize your gear. REI is your friend in this journey. Not just for knowledge and experience but in that you can return anything that doesn’t work for you.
Are your feet unhappy after one of your training hikes? Is it a regular occurrence? If so, your shoes might be to blame. Finding the right shoe for you is a journey in itself but the rewards are unbelievably epic. Here are some tips to start with…
Do you have weak ankles? Go for the shoes with ankle support. I wish I had, in retrospect, particularly going down the long stretch after Snow Lakes.
Do you have narrow feet? Lowa might be a good place to start.
Do you have a wide toebox? Hokas seem to work for a lot of women.
Plantar fasciitis? I’ve heard great things about both Oboz and Hokas.
Whatever you do, don’t give up until you’ve found a pair of shoes you’re happy with. Also, do not wear new shoes on this hike. Just don’t.
Bonus – treat yourself to some lovely Superfeet insoles for the thru-hike.
Do you use hiking sticks? If not, consider bringing them anyway. They compact nicely and come in handy for a variety of things, as follows:
- extra support uphill
- crutch-like assistance on the way down if you need it
- can be used to pick things up that are otherwise out of reach
- help you get up after sitting down
- used as a splint if necessary
- used as a shelter support in an emergency
- a probe for uncertain ground
- protection from 2 and 4 legged animals
- used to hang your clothes on to dry
Consider them an 11th essential if you will, especially on this hike.
You want a pack that will carry everything you need and be as light as possible. But more importantly, you want one that fits right.
Did you know you can go to REI and walk around in their store with a weighted backpack? They will adjust it as much as possible to fit your body. It’s a great idea and an opportunity you shouldn’t pass by.
It seems most popular backpacks are either Gregory or Osprey type. All of mine are Ospreys, but most of my friends prefer the Gregory line. Try them both, try them all. There are many other brands that are also wonderful. Keep trying until you’re happy with your backpack.
The 10 Essentials, or What Not To Do
- Do not rely on your phone for navigation, bring a paper map and know how to use it. Watch for trail signs and cairns, but carry maps with you. Phone apps often use people tracks instead of the real route, and this can be a problem when the trail is not immediately obvious. Do not rely on others to know for you. You can easily get separated.
- Do not forget your headlamp and extra batteries. I advise one that doesn’t need charging, one that just uses batteries.
- Don’t assume there will be plenty of water sources along the way. There most likely will be, but don’t take any of them for granted. Fill up every chance you get, with a filter. Always have an extra already filled.
- Don’t forget your first aid kit. Ibuprofin and moleskin are rather important on this hike. I use rock tape instead of band-aids and moleskin, because it’s also good for taping up an injury.
- Don’t dismiss the knife. A little knife can be remarkably handy for a huge variety of things. Bring it even if you don’t think you need to.
- Same goes for a fire source. Matches weigh next to nothing, but keep them in a waterproof container.
- And your emergency shelter. A raincoat makes a good one if nothing else but an emergency bivvy is even better.
- Don’t forget your sunglasses, sunscreen and chapstick.
- Don’t under-estimate the crazy weather up there. It changes quickly and can be snowing in July. Wear layers.
- Don’t under-estimate your food and nutrition needs.
Bring more than enough. The two younger ones in our group did not bring enough food. They didn’t take into account how slow the older ones in our group would be, how much longer the hike would take. Fortunately most of us brought plenty of food for everyone.
Nutrition is a huge factor in making it through this hike happily. Bring complex carbs, healthy fats and protein. Consider covering your nutrition needs one of the main factors you need to optimize while training, just like your gear.
The healthier you are for the Enchantments thru hike, the easier it will be.
- Don’t forget a pen to fill out the permit at the trailhead
- Toilet paper and pee cloth
- Quick drying towel if you want to relieve your feet in the ice cold lakes
- Back up battery. You will take far more photos than you anticipate.
- Don’t forget there will be bugs. Sometimes you don’t even have to stop to find them. Or they find you.
- Leave a care kit in your end of trail car – food, water, change of clothes, more chapstick.
- Let someone else be responsible about knowing the trail or map
- Not bringing enough water
- Not re-filling and filtering water at every opportunity
How to hike the enchantments in one day?
This is not something you can just wing it on. Here are some things you should figure out in advance if you’re planning to hike the Enchantments in one day.
Where are you starting and ending?
You must know that the path from Snow Lakes to the trailhead has a greater elevation gain and is longer than the one from the Stuart lake to the upper core.
We went the typical route and the descent at Snow Lakes was long, slow and somewhat painful. Still, I am not even tempted to go the other direction because Aasgard is not just steep but also slippery.
I know some women who have gone up Aasgard, explored a bit and come back down the same way and they have said that while it is slippery, it’s doable. You simply have to be extremely cautious and go slowly.
How are you getting to the trailhead and back to your car?
One mistake people often make is assuming the shuttle runs at all hours. It doesn’t. If possible, coordinate with someone in your group to leave a car at the second trailhead, approximately half an hour away.
Checking the mountain forecast, not the Leavenworth one
This is a critical step because the weather in the Upper Core is not the same as in Leavenworth and it can change on a dime. Here is the website for mountain forecasts.
How much time will you spend in the core Enchantments?
It’s a tough decision. You can’t possibly spend enough time in the upper core, yet every detour will cost you energy and time that will be a valuable commodity towards the end. It’s a personal decision but the very least you can do is is plan to take your breaks at the lakes, not in between them.
Also, keep in mind that it’s going to be a very long, beautiful and exhausting day whatever you decide.
What do your layers do for you?
Regardless of the weather, wear layers and know which ones do what and why. This is the difference between comfort and misery. You don’t want to sweat too much and you definitely don’t want to hold that sweat close to your body.
Who is your hiking buddy?
Even if you’re in a group, pair up and stay with each other. This person will turn back with you if you need to, so that the entire group doesn’t have to too. This person will stay with you if you’re injured until help arrives and will motivate you if you need it.
And you will do the same for them. Pick your buddy carefully. Make sure you each have a solid understanding of expectations.
Common mistakes the day before
- Eat a large undigestable meal the night before
- Not hydrating the day before
- Trying to camp without a permit. Two of the people in my party had tried to do this earlier in the month, not even making it out of the Stuart parking lot before they were caught. If they had made it to their destination without a permit, they would have been evicted and hit with the fine of $200 each. Instead, they were just forced to turn around.
- Not checking the weather forecast. Or alternatively, checking it and doing it despite common sense.
Where to Stay and When to Hike Enchantments
Should you stay the night in a hotel the night before? Or maybe the day after? I made sure to have enough time in my schedule to stay the night before and the night after and will do the same next time as well.
A good night’s sleep the night before is a game changer for mood and motivation, and not having to drive home after hiking 20 miles is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
Yes, you can sleep in your car and save yourself the money. The younger ones in our group did that and seemed quite happy with their decision. We were just as happy with our choice, hotels on either end of the hike.
It comes down to how much time you have, but if you’re limited to only one overnight, I highly recommend the comfort of a hotel for the night after you hike the Enchantments. The creature comforts of a hotel room are beyond spectacular after doing this hike.
- Physical Address: 301 Ward Strasse, Leavenworth, WA 98826
The Hampton Inn and Suites has a variety of amenities but unless you’re planning to do more than sleep and shower, you won’t really need them. I chose this one because it was within walking distance of Safeway, and am ever so grateful for my choices in life.
- Physical Address: 7375 Icicle Rd, Leavenworth, WA 98826
If you’re planning do more than sleep, or even stay a few more days to revel in your accomplishment, the Sleeping Lady is the place to be. It has a charming, cozy atmosphere, lovely little cabins and truly incredible food. This is my favorite place to stay in Leavenworth in any season, by far.
Day Hiking Enchantments
Remember you are a guest here and behave like one.
Rangers find, on average, 300 pounds of abandoned trash a year up there. Be a decent human and pick up after yourself.
Dogs are not allowed. It’s for everyone’s safety – the dogs, yours, mine and especially the goats and ptarmigan. Don’t be selfish.
Fires are not allowed, for obvious reasons. Our fire season is bad enough as it is. Don’t make it worse.
If you love music, please keep it to yourself.
Right of way – people going up have the right of way.
Like any other steep slope, Aasgard is slick when going down wet. With a long path of loose scree. Yell “rock below” you if you send any down.
Stay on the trail, always.
Leave no trace.
How long is the Enchantments through hike?
The Enchantments thru hike distance is 18 miles according to WTA but my tracker indicated closer to 19 miles.
Know Before You Go
This is a beautiful and fragile ecosystem, recovering from decades of overuse. Please be kind and take all of your garbage home with you, even the things you think are biodegradable.
Do not get close to goats, no matter how tempting it is. More people die from goat attacks than bear attacks. Bring a zoom lens if you must, but a close-up photo is not worth your life.
Stay ahead of the inflammation that are an inevitable result of 10+ hours of hiking. Take something before you head out and along the way. Even teenagers will appreciate the pain relief.
If you feel a blister coming on, don’t wait until it is one before doing something about it.
I highly recommend starting before sunrise. You do not want to be going up Aasgard, which can take about two hours, in the heat of the day.
There are 31 toilets up there and yet 1000 samples of human waste were picked up by rangers last year alone. Also, the goats have become accustomed to people and have acquired a taste for human urine. Use the toilets, for your own safety.
The Enchantments Day Hike
Pace yourself. Enjoy the many benefits of being outdoors. Stop at the beautiful lakes and sit down. Putting your feet in ice cold water helps with the soreness. Just be sure to dry them off completely before putting your socks and shoes back on.
Rest, eat, drink water, refill your water. Take thousands and thousands of photos. Happy hiking!