Enchantment Lakes Loop, Snow Creek Trailhead, Seattle - Alpine Lakes Wilderness - Snoqualmie Pass - Central Cascades, Washington
Enchantment Lakes Loop - 20.4 miles
Snow Creek Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||20.4 miles (distance and total elevation gain will vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||1,388' - 3,380' (7,812' max elevation on Aasgard Pass)|
|Elevation Change:||+6,424' net elevation gain to pass (+7,782' total loop elevation gain)|
Enchantment Lakes Loop - 20.4 Miles Round-Trip
The Snow Lakes Trail and Colchuck Lake Trail form a 20.4 mile semi-loop through the Enchantment Lakes Basin in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It features over a dozen subalpine and alpine lakes set among craggy peaks and granite bowls in the Stuart Range of the Cascades.
These are detailed below with links to the official USFS website(s) from which they're drawn. Review carefully to maximize your time and experience in the Enchantment Permit Travel Zone.
QUICK HITS (find important details below in the applicable section)
- The Enchantment Lakes Loop is accessible from the Snow Creek - Snow Lakes Trailhead on Icicle Creek Road, and the Stuart Lake Trailhead on Eightmile Road. The trailheads are 9 miles apart, so a two-car shuttle is necessary for thru-hikers.
- Camping permits are limited and strictly regulated. Most are issued during a winter lottery period and post-lottery reservation system. Learn about this process, and be proactive to improve your chances of securing a permit.
- This is a challenging route, even for the fittest hikers. Snow may linger well into July and make sections impassable if ill-equipped. Know your ability and call ahead for conditions before setting out.
- The route to/from Aasgard Pass is exceedingly steep, and can easily become technical with snow and ice (one section alone spans 2,100' vertical in just 1.4 miles). Other sections can be equally treacherous. When conditions warrant, carry proper gear and know how to use it.
- Though heavily traveled and well-marked by cairns, primitive sections between Snow Lake and Lake Viviane, across the Enchantment Core and around Colchuck Lake can be difficult to follow. Basic route finding and moderate scrambling / bouldering is necessary.
- Which way is easier? They're both challenging, just different. The net gain from Snow Creek to Aasgard is 6,424'. The net gain from the Stuart Lake TH to Aasgard is 4,432'. The Snow Lakes approach is longer and (relatively) moderate, but with more climbing. The Stuart Lake approach covers less vertical and is quicker by mileage, but the Aasgard climb is utterly brutal - it can take 3-4 hours to reach it (depending on your pack and conditions).
- Is the whole trail 18, 19, or 20 miles? While maps indicate a single route across the core with fixed distances, in practice you’ll likely deviate at some (if not many) points for better terrain, views, goat avoidance(!) or simply just to explore. These steps all add up, and distance will vary by traveler. Use the following as a reference for time and progress, but not a strict guide.
SNOW CREEK TRAILHEAD TO UPPER SNOW LAKE INLET BRIDGE
8.35 miles | 1,388' - 5,435' | 4,047' net elevation gain
The Snow Lakes Trail drops across Icicle Creek and begins a steady, winding climb up the canyon wall. It enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (1.2 miles : 2,190’) and gradually bends into the Snow Creek drainage. You’ll have good views of Snow Creek, Snow Creek Wall and Icicle Creek canyon from these fire-thinned slopes (2.0 miles : 2,725’).
Variously moderate, steep and rugged intervals switchback up the east side of Snow Creek to a bridge (4.3 miles : 4,190’). There are several kinetic cascades in this area. The bridge leads to the west bank and No Fires Beyond This Point Sign (4.6 miles : 4,460’), with several serviceable campsites just below it.
The trail opens across a rockslide (5.0 miles : 4,760’) and skirts a pond to the edge of Nada Lake (5.45 miles : 4,923’). There are 6 designated campsites between the pond and lake.
The trail levels along the shore with easy access before pitching steeply up the SW end into open talus (6.35 miles : 5,190’). You’ll have great views over the lake and of the ‘spout’ on this big push (see Worth Noting below for details). It dips backs through mixed forest to the dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes (6.85 miles : 5,415’).
Social trails fan out from this point to each lake and campsites at the lower lake. Lower Snow Lake is concealed by trees but easy to reach, and Upper Snow Lake is much larger with room to explore. Well-defined tracks lead to the massive logjam on its east end, and out to shapely outcrops with terrific views. The main trail – which can be tricky to pick out – veers left over the narrow dam wall and threads dense timber between the lakes.
It gradually turns up the east shore of USL on a level but shifty path to the inlet (8.3 miles : 5,420’). Travel around the lake to the inlet is a little more tedious and time consuming than maps and appearances might suggest. Numerous campsite and lake access spurs can be confusing, especially near the dam and again by the inlet. Turn left up the inlet and cross a narrow bridge to the north side (8.35 miles : 5,435’). Markedly challenging travel begins here.
UPPER SNOW LAKE INLET TO LAKE VIVIANE
1.5 miles | 5,420’ – 6,785’ | 1,365’ net elevation gain
The trail follows the inlet before turning sharply up an increasingly rugged and occasionally vague path (8.95 miles : 5,830’). There are several short but steep scrambles that can be problematic in either direction, especially with large packs.
The trail follows cairns across open rock slabs and talus, which can be tricky (if not precarious) with moisture or snow. Some short sections are exposed with little room for error. It edges up against several falls and cascades along the way, which are worth checking out if time and terrain permit.
This challenging climb gradually moderates in a lofty granite landscape to Lake Viviane (9.55 miles : 6,785’). You’re now in the Enchantment Core, and the fun begins.
LAKE VIVIANE TO AASGARD PASS
4.35 miles | 6,785’ – 7,812’ | 1,027' net elevation gain
Prusik Peak and The Temple (8,292’) frame this impressive granite bowl, and Temple Lake and Gnome Tarn are accessible with some creative effort. You can reach Leprechaun Lake quickly (the next destination on the circuit) with a direct scramble up Viviane’s inlet, but the following describes a longer route that arcs around. Distances cited from this point on take this slightly longer approach into account.
Turn left at Viviane and follow a rugged path up the south wall. It crests, drops out of the bowl and levels across a steep slope with great views down valley (rewarding perspective on distance covered to this point).
Follow sparingly placed cairns back west across a heather flat to Leprechaun Lake (9.55 miles : 6,882’). Leprechaun is large and shapely with diverse littoral terrain. The main trail turns right and wraps across the outlet stream onto open rock. The landscape opens here to large granite slabs, outcrops, tree-topped knolls, meadows, streams and waterfalls. Cairns lead up a wide stream to Sprite Lake and its juxtaposition with Perfection Lake (11.2 miles : 7,090’).
Cross Perfection’s outlet (right) and level along it’s park-like shore to the Prusik Pass Trail split (11.7 miles : 7,090’). The PPT branches off into open heather that’s worth checking out. The main route continues to the far side of Perfection and steepens up to Inspiration Lake (11.9 miles : 7,190’).
The trail wraps toward Inspiration’s inlet, where it scales the cirque wall and funnels up a steep chute with simultaneous views of Inspiration and Perfection. It levels into an expansive alpine landscape crossed by streams and dotted with tarns, a notably scenic and easy stretch worth exploring. Little Annapurna (8,436’) looms over Crystal Lake off to the south, Dragontail Peak stands due west, and the route to Aasgard (NW) begins to clarify.
The trail rises steadily across intervals of open rock and perennial snow to Isolation Lake (13.2 miles : 7,712’), one of the largest in the Enchantment Core. Though pushing on to Aasgard is tempting, allocate time for this special basin. The trail skirts Tranquil Lake and winds though scattered boulders to Aasgard Pass (13.9 miles : 7,812’). A precipitous descent begins here.
AASGARD PASS TO COLCHUCK LAKE TRAIL SPLIT
2.6 miles | 7,812' - 5,565' | 2,247' net elevation loss
Take in amazing views of Colchuck Lake before diving off the pass. The route quickly braids and there are many plausible paths. All stay right of the creek, and all have precipitous grades. Take your time, keep space between other hikers and watch for falling rock.
It drops into a talus field approx .6 miles from the pass (14.5 miles : 7,250'). There are several cairn-marked paths through it, and you'll likely borrow from each until reaching better terrain on the lower third of the descent.
The general route to the lake is now clear, but it's rugged and occasionally hard to follow.
The trail (which is once again braided) edges left and follows multiple cairn sets through boulders and thick willow across the creek (15.3 miles : 5,705'). You'll have descended 2,108' in just 1.4 miles from the pass to this point.
The lake is now close, but save one very brief point, not easily accessible. The route stays above the water and negotiates a boulder field that covers much of Colchuck's S-SW shore (15.45 miles : 5,610'). Follow cairns (again, multiple sets but generally all reliable) onto rugged, undulating singletrack up the west side of Colchuck.
Social trails and campsites spurs fan out, and the correct path can be difficult to follow. The trail favors the shore before leaning away and downhill at a nondescript hiker-symbol sign (16.5 miles : 5,555'). Continue downhill and away from the lake on the Colchuck Lake Trail.
COLCHUCK LAKE TO STUART LAKE TRAILHEAD
3.9 miles | 5,570' - 3,440' | 2,130' net elevation loss
This final segment drops quickly from Colchuck Lake on rugged, eroded terrain that gradually moderates along Mountaineer Creek to the Stuart Lake Trailhead. The trail turns out of the lake basin on a steep, winding path into a mid-elevation forest. It weaves through a short section of talus and crosses a bridge to the Stuart Lake Trail split (18.4 miles : 4,510).
A fast descent continues to a second bridge (18.95 miles : 3,965'), past which travel eases on mild, huckleberry-lined grades to the Stuart Lake Trailhead on Eightmile Road to complete the loop (20.4 miles : 3,380').
- N47 32.644 W120 42.578 — 0.0 miles : Snow Lakes Trailhead
- N47 32.473 W120 42.611 — .5 miles : Steady climb up face of Wedge Mountain
- N47 32.264 W120 42.502 — 1.2 miles : Alpine Lakes Wilderness Boundary
- N47 31.775 W120 42.782 — 2.0 miles : Steep, winding climb into drainage
- N47 31.242 W120 43.067 — 2.75 miles : Moderate and rugged intervals up canyon
- N47 30.862 W120 43.111 — 3.5 miles : Variously rugged intervals up canyon
- N47 30.409 W120 43.306 — 4.3 miles : Cross bridge to west side of creek
- N47 30.236 W120 43.496 — 4.6 miles : No fires beyond this point
- N47 30.030 W120 43.776 — 5.0 miles : Steady climb through valley
- N47 29.863 W120 44.102 — 5.4 miles : Nada Lake (4,948')
- N47 29.400 W120 44.695 — 6.35 miles : Climb over lake to spout
- N47 29.134 W120 44.958 — 6.85 miles : Cross dam between upper and lower lake
- N47 28.889 W120 45.195 — 7.5 miles : Shifting path circles lake
- N47 28.771 W120 45.861 — 8.35 miles : Cross bridge over Snow Lake inlet
- N47 28.752 W120 46.389 — 8.95 miles : Pass cascade on steep, twisting climb
- N47 28.920 W120 46.873 — 9.8 miles : Lake Viviane (6,782')
- N47 28.704 W120 47.108 — 10.55 miles : Leprechaun Lake
- N47 28.777 W120 47.381 — 11.2 miles : Sprite Lake (6,933')
- N47 28.997 W120 47.707 — 11.25 miles : Perfection Lake (7,100')
- N47 28.972 W120 47.933 — 11.9 miles : Inspiration Lake (7,192')
- N47 28.667 W120 48.424 — 12.7 miles : Steep climb levels by tarns
- N47 28.637 W120 48.728 — 12.95 miles : Begin steep climb to Isolation Lake
- N47 28.769 W120 48.935 — 13.3 miles : Isolation Lake
- N47 28.838 W120 49.337 — 14.0 miles : Aasgard Pass (7,817')
- N47 28.998 W120 49.386 — 14.6 miles : Route braids through rugged talus
- N47 29.181 W120 49.714 — 15.15 miles : Steep descent
- N47 29.233 W120 49.946 — 15.4 miles : Cross stream to left, pick up trail here
- N47 29.273 W120 50.064 — 15.55 miles : Near edge of Colchuck Lake
- N47 29.870 W120 50.072 — 16.6 miles : Split away from lake - begin descent
- N47 30.227 W120 50.432 — 17.9 miles : Cross and thread through talus
- N47 30.305 W120 50.419 — 18.4 miles : Stuart Lake Trail split
- N47 30.550 W120 49.831 — 18.95 miles : Cross bridge on fast, winding descent
- N47 31.685 W120 49.247 — 20.4 miles : Stuart Lake Trailhead
- The Snow Lakes water release occurs every year from late July - the first week of October. The release improves water flow and quality in Icicle Creek, which supports hatchery fish and riparian restoration efforts. This release creates the 'spout' hikers see while climbing between Nada and Snow Lakes.
- Goats are frequently encountered at close range along this route. Many are habituated and on rare occasions will display aggression. Keep a safe and respectful distance from wildlife.
Camping and Backpacking Information
Permits are required for all overnight stays from May 15 - October 31 in the Enchantment Permit Area.
- From October 16 – June 14, free unlimited permits are available for camping in the Enchantment Permit Area.
The Enchantment Permit Area is divided into five permit zones:
- Core Enchantment Zone
- Snow Lake Zone
- Colchuck Lake Zone
- Stuart Lake Zone
- Eightmile/Caroline Permit Zone
Camping is restricted to the zone for which your permit is issued. The only exception is for the Core Enchantment Permit, which allows you to camp in any of the zones.
All visitors are welcome to day hike beyond their zone, meaning those with a Snow or Colchuck Zone Permit may also visit the Core Enchantments, but on a day-use only basis.
There are three methods of obtaining an overnight permit during the permit season:
- Apply during the annual permit lottery.
- Make a reservation online after the pre-season lottery.
- Obtain a daily walk-in permit during the permit season
The Permit Lottery
- A pre-season lottery is held in February through early March of each year to award the majority of permits.
- Following the pre-season lottery, remaining permits are available on a first come, first served basis through the recreation.gov advance reservation system. A small number of permits are available on an unreserved daily walk-in basis at the Wenatchee Ranger Station in Leavenworth every morning during the permit season at 7:30 am (except Sundays).
Permit Fees, Rules and Restrictions
- Permits are $5 per person, per day.
- Permits are Non-Transferable.
- Group Leaders cannot be changed.
- Once a permit reservation is confirmed, no changes or additions may be made to the alternate group leader.
- You must enter the permit area on the entry date shown on your permit.
- You may camp only in the zone(s) indicated on your permit.
- Maximum length of stay is 14 consecutive days. People may not exit and re-enter at a later date.
Violation of terms may result in a fine and/or revocation of the permit / early termination of your trip.
Camping Rules and Regulations
- Group size is limited to 8 individuals or any combination of people and stock. All members of a permit group must camp together in one site.
- Two (or more) groups on separate permits may not travel and/or camp together if the total number exceeds 8.
- Groups must stay separate (minimum of 1 mile and 1 hour) and independent throughout their trip.
- Campfires are prohibited above 5,000', and within 1/2 mile of all lakes and streams.
- Camp only in established campsites.
- Bathe and wash dishes at least 150-200' from lakes and streams.
- Fishing is permitted throughout the Enchantment Lakes Basin and in all related streams with a valid WA state fishing license.
- Contact the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for specific guidelines.
Sport | Commercial Licenses: 360.902.2434
Disability Licenses: 360.902.2460
Rules and Regulations
- A valid Recreation Pass is required to access the Snow Creek - Snow Lakes Trailhead ($5 day use fee | overnight use requires payment for two days).
- Dogs are not permitted in the Enchantment Lakes Permit Area, including Nada Lake, the Snow Lakes, all Enchantment lakes, Colchuck Lake and Stuart Lake.
Directions to Trailhead
Snow Creek - Snow Lakes Trailhead
The Snow Lakes Trailhead is located on Icicle Creek Road, 4.1 miles south of Highway 2 on the west end of Leavenworth. The trailhead and parking area are located on the left (south) side of the road.
Stuart Lake Trailhead
The Stuart Lake Trailhead is located 12.2 miles from Highway 2 in Leavenworth.
From Highway 2 on the west end of town, turn south on Icicle Creek Road. Drive 8.5 miles to Bridge Creek Campground. Turn left and drive past the campground, cross a bridge over Icicle Creek and continue past the Eightmile Lake Trailhead (which is 3 miles in). Cross another bridge and continue .7 miles to the cul-de sac parking area and trailhead for Lake Stuart and Colchuck Lake. The lot fits 75 cars and has bathrooms.
Okanogan - Wenatchee National Forest | Wenatchee River Ranger District
600 Sherbourne St.
Leavenworth, WA 98826
Okanogan - Wenatchee National Forest | Headquarters
215 Melody Lane
Wenatchee, WA 98801