The Enchantments

Located 15 miles SW of Leavenworth WA, the Enchantments are one of the most beautiful alpine locations in the Cascade Range. A classic alpine environment, it includes brilliantly blue lakes with rugged, stark mountains. 
Goat heading to the water.
Looking down at Leprechaun.View of Lake Colchuck from south endLooking back over Lake Viviane in the morning.

Many people consider the scenery superior to the Olympic Mountains and even Mt Rainier. Because of the popularity of the location, combined with the fragility of the environment, the Forest Service has instituted a lottery-based permit system to control access. Permits are available here via during the lottery period, usually late February/early March. There's a lot of rules and the rangers are strict, so make sure you understand them.

Overview: the 'Enchantments' refers to a permit zone within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness near the town of Leavenworth, Washington.  There are 5 permit zones: Snow Lake, Colchuck, Stuart, Eight Mile/Caroline, and the Core Enchantment Zone - the high alpine basin at over 7,500ft that represents the most impressive scenery the region has to offer. 

This map courtesy of the US Forest Service:

Getting there: the trailheads are off of Icicle Creek Road at the west end of Leavenworth, WA. Most people come from Seattle via I-5 and Hwy 2 and over Stevens Pass, but I think it's a faster drive to take I-90 to 97 to Leavenworth - there's less two-lane road that way. Either way, expect about 2.5 hours from Seattle to Icicle Creek Rd.

View Larger Map

Once at Icicle Creek R, it's a quick 4 or 5 paved miles to the Snow Lake Trailhead. On busy weekends, the parking lot fills up early and you will need to park along the road. It's about 8 more miles to the Stuart Lake Trailhead and the last few are on rough forest roads, so expect it to take a little time. No 4-wheel drive needed.  About half a mile before the Stuart Lake Trailhead, you'll pass a smaller parking area for the Eight Mile/Trout Lake Trailhead.

Routes: There are two main approaches to the Core Enchantment Zone: via the Snow Lake Trailhead or via the Stuart Lake Trailhead. Snow Lake starts at a lower elevation (1,400 ft) and climbs more gradually to Core Zone while the Stuart Lake Trail includes the dreaded Aagard Pass, 2,500 ft of elevation gain in 2.5 miles. Pick your poison. 

Aasgard Pass

The best summary I've found is on the Forest Service's Enchantments page:

Colchuck/ Aasgard Pass Route: The route from Colchuck Lake to the Enchantments goes up Aasgard Pass, which is a very steep climb and involves boulder-hopping around Colchuck Lake, then scrambling on loose rock and gravel. This route is steeper, but a little shorter than going in via Snow Lake, and the Stuart Lake Trailhead is higher than the Snow Lake trailhead. On this route your overall elevation gain is less than going in via Snow Lake.

Snow Lakes / Lake Viviane Route: The route from Snow Lake to the Core Enchantments involves a more gradual climb than the route via Colchuck Lake, but is longer. It involves more total elevation gain than the Colchuck/Aasgard Pass Route . The first 7 miles are on a fairly good trail, but the next 2 miles from Snow Lake to Leprechaun Lake, travels steep, eroded trail sections. The route also traverses bedrock slabs where a slip could result in a serious fall. Most people find this route to be easier on the knees and the back, but it is longer. Beyond Snow Lake it is still a difficult hike.

I prefer the Colchuck route because it's a little faster and the lower-elevation scenery is nicer; you don't have to climb through a burn zone like you do via Snow Lake.

Additional routes: you don't have to go to Core Enchantment Zone to appreciate the region; there's several other great trips for those with permits in the other zones.