Key Gear: Ultralight Daypack
To keep your load light—but still carry essential gear for a detour on the five-mile out-and-back to Shield, Earle, and Mesa Lakes (at mile 7.1)—local expert Terence Lewis recommends carrying a minimalist daypack, such as the REI Flash 18 (10 oz.), which features an easy-access drawstring top, hydration sleeve, sternum and waist straps, and built-in emergency whistle. “This little pack always comes in handy for side trips and summit sprints,” says Lewis. Even better, it multitasks as a stuffsack when turned inside out. $30; rei.com
See This: White-tailed Ptarmigan
You won’t find this small species of grouse hiding beneath the low brush or stunted trees that dot the Enchantment Lakes Basin. Instead, the chameleonlike bird disappears by simply changing colors seasonally. Look for a mottled brown and white coat in summer and a pure white one in winter. “In August, we watched a group of them in nearby boulders, and their colors blended perfectly with the rock,” says Tate.
The Alpine Lakes Wilderness attracts nearly 150,000 annual visitors to its 700 sparkling pools, making it one of Washington’s most popular hiking destinations. To prevent overcrowding, the Forest Service uses an annual lottery system—for trips from June 15 through October 15—to dole out overnight permits in the coveted Enchantment Area (divided into five overnight zones). Since most hikers vie for a spot in the Core Enchantment Zone (20 people per day), Tate recommends applying for a backup option in the neighboring Colchuck Zone, which has better campsites and views than the alternative zones. “There’s a big granite slab at the northwestern tip of Colchuck Lake,” says Tate. “It’s great for both sun and stars. And you can still hike into the upper Enchantment Basin in just a couple of hours.”