So You Want to Hike The Enchantments in Washington's Central Cascades?
Washington state is home to The Enchantments, a rugged area in the central Cascades located within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, southwest of Leavenworth, Wash. To say this is one of the most spectacular locations in the Cascade Range is an understatement.
Backcountry Permit Lottery
Backpacking here requires a permit, and the area is so popular that permits are awarded via lottery.
I have been lucky enough to be part of a group backpacking in the Enchantments two years in a row. To apply for the lottery, send in your application in February. Here is a link to the Forest Service lottery application page.
Backpacking in Eightmile Lake/Caroline Lake Zone
My 2018 permit was for an area called the Eightmile Lake/Caroline Lake zone. (Here is a link to a map of all the zones). Last year I had a permit for the "core zone" which is a bit more difficult and considered the best permit to win. However, as you will see from my pictures, seeing the Stuart Range from this zone is nothing short of amazing.
On this trip I brought my Wind River III as I knew I would be doing some creek crossings and have high elevation gain. The area is full of granite, quartz, and boulder fields which is why I suggest ankle support.
After spending the night at Bridge Creek Campground prior to our first day, we packed up and headed for the trailhead. My group and I wanted to make it a thru-hike, so we set up a shuttle, left a car at Jack Creek trailhead and returned to the Eightmile Trailhead.
Our first day on the trail was a little rainy, and windy. We had about 3.2 miles to hike that day with 1,300 feet of elevation gain. Fields of lupine greeted us as we hiked higher. When we got to camp at Eightmile Lake the weather was light rain and heavy winds most of the day well into the evening.
When we woke up the next day we were pleasantly surprised it had cleared up without a cloud in the sky. Little did we know the weather would stay this way the entire trip.
After enjoying the morning sunshine we packed up and headed 4 miles to Lake Caroline, which is about 1,300 feet of climbing. As we ascended the switchbacks, we saw more varieties of wildflowers and the entire Stuart Range behind us.
From Indian paintbrush, lupine, wild orchids, and bear grass, wildflowers were abundant! Looking back on the trip, this was definitely the most tiring part of the entire trek. Most of this trail is exposed to the sun due to wildfire damage, and hiking was hot. All of me got warm, and I was thankful to have sock liners for my socks to help safeguard against blisters.
We expected our last day of hiking to be our hardest. From Lake Caroline, we would climb 1,500 feet in 1.3 miles to Windy Pass. Surprisingly, the switchbacks and gradual climb made the trek much easier than anticipated. Or perhaps it was the distracting views, which got better and better as we approached the pass. There was also some requisite route finding, as some of the trail was buried with snow or washed out. Upon reaching the pass, the phenomenal views made the effort more than worth it.
I was glad to have a GPS trail downloaded as well as a map! After we enjoyed the summit and scrambled up the ridgeline, we descended down towards Trout Lake. With even more snow on this side of the mountain, we got lost for the better half of an hour. We followed the GPS version of my map and found our campsite. Phew!
We got an early start for our final day in anticipation of a slog—1,900 feet of elevation loss and 5.2 miles to the trailhead—a rainy forecast, and burgers in Leavenworth. Thankfully, the rain stayed away, granting us another beautiful sunny filled day. It wasn't until we approached Icicle Creek area that we saw humans and a dog on the trail.
*Pro Tip: pack a cooler with dry ice and two bags of ice, fill with cold beer, La Croix, and champagne to celebrate at the end. We were also equipped with bags of snacks-the hanger was real
Logan Dralle is an avid outdoor enthusiast who lives in Oregon. She loves the Pacific Northwest as it is a year-round playground from snow sports, to backpacking trips all summer long. She enjoys finding the best gear for her adventures that will last multiple seasons and through the wet PNW rain. You can find more on her here at www.heroregonlife.com.