Enchanted by The Enchantments: What you need to know about the permit system
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, chances are you have heard of this beautiful area in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Since moving to this part of the country, I look forward to hiking season every year. Last year we decided to sign up for The Enchantment area lottery. This was a BIG deal because it would be my first official backpacking trip. Andy and I had signed up to climb Mt. Rainier for our anniversary so we figured we would be able to handle an overnight camping adventure! Here is a quick break down of how this lottery works and more details inside!
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, chances are you have heard of this beautiful area in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Since moving to this part of the country, I look forward to hiking season every year. Last year we decided to sign up for The Enchantment area lottery. This was a BIG deal because it would be my first official backpacking trip. Andy and I had signed up to climb Mt. Rainier for our anniversary so we figured we would be able to handle an overnight camping adventure! Here is a quick break down of how this lottery works, but you can read more details on the website.
All visitors must obtain a permit if they are planning to overnight The Enchantment area May 15th through October 31st. If you want a day use permit, this is free and available at the trailheads. There are three ways to get a permit. The first, is the pre-season lottery, which is held February 15th through March 2nd every year. About 75% of the permits are reserved for the lottery. After the pre-season lottery, the remaining permits are available first come, first serve basis by making a reservation online. There are a handful of permits that are unreserved and available daily at the ranger station on a walk-in basis (more about that later).
For the pre-season lottery, you create an account on recreation.gov and request your preferred zones and dates. Only one application is allowed per person with up to 2 alternate choices. A $10 non-refundable fee is charged. If you are one of the lucky applicants that wins the lottery, you still need to confirm your date and site online. The individual that is the permit holder, must be present when you overnight! Also, you have to include your party size on the permit and keep a printed copy along with photo ID with you while you camp.
UPDATE: Soooo I tried for the pre-season lottery (second year in a row) and still did not get it! But then I lucked out and snagged the Stuart Zone for the first weekend of October when the remaining entries were available online (they post these April 1st). Christy and Rob, as well as a few other friends were all signed up too...I was SO EXCITED...it was finally happening. Fast forward to October and all the forest fires :(. Unfortunately, the Stuart Zone was impacted by the fires and we lost our permit/camp site. Christy and Rob could no longer make the backpacking trip due to a wedding and our other friends backed out due to the lack of permit and potential snow on the forecast. This is where my stubbornness really shines. I am luck to have an amazing, supportive husband that is equally as stubborn. We decided to drive up bright and early and try to get one of the unreserved day use permits. Worst case scenario, we don't get it and we still hike part of the trail. Best case scenario, we get it and I get to find out if I truly love backpacking as much as I think I do!
IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN THIS DAILY "WALK-IN" PERMIT SITUATION, READ THIS:
Andy and I arrived at the Wenatchee River Ranger District Office in Leavenworth around 7 A.M. on Saturday and I had the same adrenaline and nerves that I do on race days. I wanted the day use permit SO BAD. For a much needed distraction, we stopped at a cute bakery for a coffee and treat while we waited for 7:30 A.M. This is when you should arrive to put your name in the drawing. The rangers will draw the names for the permits at 7:45 A.M. There is ONE permit per zone in the walk up lottery, which typically means 5 permits but with Stuart closed there were 4 remaining permits. There were about 10 of us, which honestly is not that bad since per the website there can be up to 50 people there in the summer months. I would say we were lucky because it was cold and definitely going to snow. FYI the daily "walk-in" permits are only available Monday-Saturday, so don't try to do this on a Sunday!
UPDATE: There was only one couple that wanted the Eightmile zone and they got it, but there was a smattering of us that were interested in the other zones --Core, Colchuck, and Snow Lake. We put our names down for Core Zone (ambitious). I have never won anything in my life. Okay that may be an exaggeration, I am sure I have won things but I do not consider myself a lucky person. Somehow our name was called!!! [Insert victory dance]
It took about another 20 minutes to get our map and permit from the ranger station and then we were off driving toward the trailhead. We decided to hike in from the Snow Lakes Trailhead. We did not want to worry about hiking through to Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass since the forecast was snow and we were getting a later start. We wanted to hike the greatest distance, but still be able to set up camp and enjoy the larches and views before nightfall. We had our backpacking packs, hiking poles, Yaktrax, plenty of water, food, and a bag of wine (duh...and no it was not Franzia --college glory days). All I can say is that this overnight is TOTALLY WORTH IT. If you decide to hike through, you need to coordinate leaving a car at each trailhead and the distance is about 18 miles. We ended up doing a similar distance (maybe a bit more), but we were able to enjoy the views, take breaks along the way, drink wine in a tent while snow flurries came down around us, and sleep through the snowfall. Our campsite was at Leprechaun Lake and the view was EVERYTHING. The best part was waking up naturally with the sunrise. We had time to enjoy warm oatmeal and hot coffee for breakfast before packing up our camp and slowly making our way back to the car. We saw a mountain goat family on our way out, which is more wildlife than you typically get hiking in the Seattle area! We were back home that same afternoon and were able to decompress, clean up, and get ready for the work week without feeling exhausted.
I cannot wait to explore The Enchantments again this Summer or Fall and try the Colchuck Trailhead for some more Alpine Lake views!