The crown jewel of the Cascades’ Alpine Lakes Wilderness brims with toothy granite peaks and sparkling emerald tarns. For jaw-dropping scenery per mile, it’s off the charts, which is why our Northwest readers voted it tops—picking it over other heavy hitters in the area like Rainier and the Olympics. “The glittering lakes that fill this backcountry basin are magical,” says map contributor David Tate. See it all in three days on this challenging, 22.2-mile point-to-point (add an extra day for a sweet layover). From the Stuart Lake trailhead (1), the route climbs gently through a moss-draped forest to a log-bridge crossing of frothing Mountaineer Creek (2). At mile 2.2, bear left at the Y-junction (3) and scale a series of steep switchbacks that top out on the banks of Colchuck Lake (4). Leave the trail, and head north roughly 150 feet for a primo campsite that overlooks the lake.
The next day starts with an easy warm-up—you’ll need it!—on the mostly flat, mile-long stretch to the base of 7,841-foot Aasgard Pass (Colchuck Pass on USGS maps) (5). Then prepare for a real grind: The trail climbs a staggering 2,200 feet in less than a mile. Your reward: stay-awhile views of Dragontail Peak (6), one of many mythically named landmarks you’ll pass (Gnome Tarn, Sprite Lake, and Leprechaun Lake appear at miles 7.3, 12.4, and 12.8, respectively). From the pass, drop into the Enchantment Lakes Basin proper, passing a string of 10 lakes, to the northern tip of aptly named Perfection Lake (7). Must-do detour: Throw on a daypack for a five-mile side trip over Prusik Pass (8) that visits Shield, Earle, and Mesa Lakes (9). (Alternatively, head .8 mile up the main trail to a campsite near Leprechaun Lake (10), then backtrack for the detour.) Day three: Wrap around Lake Viviane for a .9-mile descent to Snow Lakes (11), then continue two miles to Nada Lake (12). The remaining 5.2 miles descend two sets of switchbacks (13, 14) before crossing Icicle Creek to the Snow Creek trailhead (15).
From Leavenworth, drive southwest on US 2 for .2 mile. Turn left on Icicle Rd. Go 4.2 miles to the Snow Creek trailhead.
Continue 4.2 miles on Icicle Rd. Turn left on FR 7601. Go 3.6 miles to Stuart Creek trailhead.
USGS: Cashmere Mountain, Enchantment Lakes, Blewett, Leavenworth ($8 each, store.usgs.gov)
$5/person/day. Apply for the lottery Feb. 1 to Oct. 15. Five walk-in permits drawn daily.
Leavenworth Mountain Sports, Leavenworth; (509) 548-7864; leavenworthmtnsports.com
(509) 664-9200; fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee
Trip ID 378867