Backpacking The Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a remarkably beautiful, but gruelingly difficult journey. The landscape is heavenly with gorgeous alpine lakes and jagged mountain peaks, not to mention the wonderful wildlife. Those who explore this remote area of Washington State find that neither the beauty of this place nor the challenge of this trail can be overstated.
This post is all about our personal experience on our third day of Backpacking The Enchantments. If you missed either our 1st day when we hiked Aasgard Pass or our 2nd day exploring The Enchantments trip reports, get caught up before reading on. Any backpacking trip to The Enchantments starts by acquiring a permit. For more details on how to prepare for your own journey check out our complete guide to The Enchantments.
Backpacking The Enchantments – Day 3 Trip Report
- 3rd Day’s Destination: Snow Lakes Trailhead (1,330′)
- Rating: Difficult
- Distance: 11.5 miles
- Elevation Loss: 5960′
- 3rd Day’s Hiking Time: 7 hours
- Our Itinerary: 3 days, 2 nights
- Season: Early-August
I once again awoke early to the blaring sound of my cellphone alarm going off inside my sleeping bag. I begrudgingly emerged from the tent to witness another Enchantments’ sunrise. This time I was almost immediately greeted by one of the mountain goats who seemed to have waited around all night for me to emerge from my tent. I watched as the sun rose over Perfection Lake. The first sunlight of the day caressed the surrounding mountainsides including the 8,364′ McClellan Peak.
Sunrise with Goats
I wanted to see if I could get an image with the sun silhouetting Prusik Peak so I climbed up the hillside behind our campsite. Upon reaching the summit I found a family of mountain goats bedded down on the hard granite surface. I didn’t really get the silhouette of the peak but got some amazing shots of the silhouetted goats. At one point I shifted my focus away and went to another overlook of the lake only to turn and find the three goats following me closely. These creatures really have no personal boundaries when it comes to humans.
A Long Way Back to the Truck
After returning to the tent, Jennifer and I made breakfast and packed up our campsite. We had an 11.5-mile trek ahead of us and we needed to get moving to finish our journey of backpacking The Enchantments. The descent past Perfection Lake (7,080′) and down to Sprite Lake (7,069′) went quickly, but once we reached new areas of The Enchantments our pace slowed. The Enchantments are so beautiful that it is nearly impossible to speed through them.
Below Sprite Lake
There is a waterfall below Sprite Lake that overlooks Prusik Peak. The creek drops down to another flat basin full of pothole pools of water. It flows through the pools and then drops down another small waterfall before it and the trail reaches Leprechaun Lake.
Leprechaun Lake (6,870′) had another resident goat to greet us. Then on the north side of the lake we got a small taste of cliffside-hiking as the trail narrowed and climbed out onto a solid rock surface with a 12’ drop into the water’s edge. This spot isn’t overly challenging but it is a good indicator of what the trail has in store for those backpacking the Enchantments.
The Upper Lake Viviane Campsite
Leaving Leprechaun Lake the trail has a gradual descent down to a cliffside overlooking Lake Viviane. There is a spot on the cliff for camping. This would be a nice spot but it is fairly small so if someone else beats you to it you might have to settle for a less scenic location. Here too we found a family of goats perusing the area.
Traversing the Cliffs down to Lake Viviane
Lake Viviane (6,812’) is more or less the end of the Enchantments zone. It sits in a deep bowl with only the eastern corner where Snow Creek flows out being accessible to exploration. The trail around Lake Viviane’s south shore hugs a cliffside about 80’ above the lake. It is a somewhat nerve-wracking experience. The intensity and challenge of the trail increases as it emerges onto a cliff overlooking Snow Lake more than 1,400’ below. This Via Ferrata like section has rebar pounded into the slick granite surface to add traction. It isn’t for the faint of heart. We cautiously lugged our backpacks slowly down the side of the cliff before reaching the relative safety of the lake’s eastern shore.
There is a small camping area on Lake Viviane’s eastern shore, that once again is very popular. We not only found campers here but the goat family we passed above the lake came traipsing through the area behind us. They seemed to have had a much easier time navigating the descent than we had. We took in Lake Viviane, said goodbye to The Enchantments Core Zone, and continued our descent.
Dropping Out of The Enchantments Core Zone
Over the next mile, we dropped nearly 1,400’ of elevation. While the trail never reaches the level of exposure of the rebar area or the steepness of Asgard Pass it is still very steep. If we had lost our footing, it would have been a while before we stopped rolling. The trail is also hard to follow through this area. It is essential to constantly locate the next cairn while descending the slopped and uneven granite surface. It is rough on the knees. All the while the trail constantly overlooks the valley far below. During the descent, we listened to the crash of several waterfalls on Snow Creek. There are several that can be taken in on the way down but no unobstructed views present themselves.
Lunch at Snow Lake
Once into the valley, we thanked the Lord that we had survived and for the flat earth in front of us. We proceeded through the woods for a short distance and then crossed over a well-made bridge to the eastern shore of Upper Snow Lake (5,418′). We followed the lakeshore a short distance and found an open spot to have lunch and resupply on water.
Upper Snow Lake
The easy terrain around the Upper Snow Lake was a welcome change for the day and we highly enjoyed the area complete with cool shaded tree cover and amazing boardwalks. Traversing the lush terrain around this lake feels almost foreign to all the alpine lakes above. There are a lot of great camping spots along the lakeshore so if you have a permit for the Snow Lakes Zone and are looking for a good spot there are plenty to choose from. There was even one on a small peninsula jutting into the lake’s cove that was very cool.
Upper Snow Lake Dam
As the trail rounds the northeastern corner of the Upper Snow Lake it crosses over a small strip of land dividing the Upper and Lower Snow Lakes. We then reached the small man-made dam which had an incredible amount of logs jammed behind it. Crossing over the thin dam provides the best views available from the trail of the Lower Snow Lake.
Descent to Nada Lake
The trail leaves the Snow Lakes area by climbing over a small tree-covered hill and then starting another rocky but much more gradual descent towards the last lake on the trail, Nada Lake. It is a 500’ descent to the lake but the path is well defined and with only a few switchbacks is actually a very nice hike. Add to that the scenic beauty and the astonishing horizontal waterfall and this is a very cool section of trail.
A Horizontal Waterfall
The horizontal waterfall is where the dammed lake above releases the water and the water shoots out like a giant firehose horizontally. The forceful column of water crashes into the boulder-laden creekbed below and continues a speedy descent into Nada Lake.
Nada Lake (4,930′) has a lime green tint to it that is stunning and here too there are many great camping spots lining the lakeshore. On the north side of the lake, the terrain actually turns into a small but beautiful swampy bog. This trail has a little bit of everything.
A Long Way Yet to Go
Beyond Nada Lake, the trail once again finds its way to another canyon overlook, and the task before us came into focus. So far today we had hiked 6.5 miles but another 5 miles still lay ahead. We had descended a very challenging 2,250’ but nearly 3,700’ of descent remained. We took a moment to catch our breath and rest our knees before pushing on.
We continued our journey descending through the tree-covered terrain before emerging from the trees onto the bush-laden canyon-side and switchbacking endlessly on a 1,100’ drop into the canyon. Along the way we found yet another mountain goat enjoying the bushes along the trail. It was surprising to find the creature so far removed from the alpine terrain above.
Following Snow Creek
Once on the canyon floor, the path ahead became almost flat which was a nice reprieve for the knees. The trail resumed following the flow of Snow Creek for a short distance. This area is also tree-covered which we found to be a great break from the intense summer heat. Unfortunately, a large portion of the forest burned in a wildfire, giving way to new growth. This burned-out area coincides with the trail also leaving the creek and venturing across the terrain on another cliff before starting the final steep switchback-laden descent towards the parking lot.
The Last Descent
The final 900’ descent into the canyon traverses yet another area of seemingly endless switchbacks but lucky this area didn’t burn in the wildfire and it has ample tree cover. The parking lot during the final descent was within sight which helped our minds drive our aching bodies forward. The trail reaches Icicle Creek and crosses over a beautiful bridge below the Snow Lake Parking Lot (1,330′). It is a cruel design that the bridge sits 20’ below the lot and requires a final climb. It isn’t much but after 19.25 miles of backpacking The Enchantments, it is a tough way to end the trail.
Successfully Backpacking The Enchantments
In the parking lot, we dropped our bags and had the bittersweet reflection that our journey had come to an end. Backpacking The Enchantments is an awesome adventure into nature through the unique and beautiful landscape as well as the truly enchanting wildlife. It is the hardest backpacking trail we’ve ever done and the permit acquisition can be equally painful. But the experience and the memories are worth every ounce of effort and financial cost.