A steep-at-times 8-mile hike located 2.5 hours from Seattle, The Enchantments trail is still notoriously popular in the fall—but don’t let the cars of dayhikers discourage your overnight plans.
If the weather is clear and you’ve got the gear, have a go! A winter tent might be nice if you get a little wind off the lake like we did–and be sure to bring an extra layer, gloves, and a good sleeping bag/pad. And there are no fires above 5000’, so bring the hot chocolate.
Distance from Seattle: 2.5hours
Trail length: ~8mi loop
Gear: Warm layers, hot drinks, gloves, and possible winter tent.
Extras: Fishing pole: No luck at Coldchuck this time, but Stewart and Horseshoe have yet to disappoint on trout.
On the drive: Sultan Bakery on the way out. Prospector’s on the way back. Duh.
As the days get shorter and alpine swimming becomes less invigoration and more hypothermia, the appeal of overnight camping drops—particularly when there isn’t snow to justify dealing with tingly fingers.
But fear not, because you have a down bag, a sense of adventure, and a need to leave the city—which is what I told myself when I looked into a fall Enchantments trip.
A great thing about the PNW is that there are always active people everywhere; a problem with the PNW is that there are always active people everywhere. Patting myself on the back for the original idea of hitting the Enchantments in the offseason I began to look at trail reports to vet conditions—apparently this would be a great time to see spectacular view and fall colors. But there were a lot of reports; this was not close to an original idea.
The car-choked trailhead on Saturday morning made my heart drop. Originally, we had planned on heading to Stewart Lake, making camp, and then taking daypacks up to Horseshoe Lake–a dollop of high-alpine water stocked with trout and brimming with curious goats.
Unfortunately my plantar fasciitis was raging and at the 2.5mi fork in the trail we opted to head to the more-dramatic Colchuck Lake, scrapping the higher ascent.
The trail was a climb, particularly with cold-weather weight, but we soon saw the cobalt-blue water of Colchuck and the white of Asgard Pass.
The late start meant we didn’t arrive until about 3pm, and the scene was largely vacant of the dayhikers we’d been passing coming up.
Following the trail along the western edge of the lake we searched for a camping spot—the first 15 minutes of walking yielded few spots (except for very small tents). Dropping in elevation we crossed a log and came up on a wide open spot with a view of the lake through the trees and set up camp.
The mid-october the weather was predictable cold—in the mid-thrities—so extra puffy layers and hot drinks were staples. Once the sun went down we took advantage of the clear weather and watched the stars from a log above the water—it’s a great area to count shooting stars and satellites. Being a late-nighter, I’d packed up some UNO cards and the 4 of us crammed into my 2-man tent for an evening tournament, and an epic 45-minute game.
Despite all the talk of the season being over I had a great time—the weather was cool but dry, and we were comfortable (after some hot drinks and hand-warmers). Backpacking doesn’t need to end when the leaves start to change—heck, it just means you get a little more of Mother Nature to yourself. And the most important thing to remember is that I won the Uno tournament. Twice.