Jefferson Park Wilderness

Quick Stats

Distance: 13 miles

Time: 2+ days

Difficulty: moderate to difficult (approx. 3000 ft. gain)

Season: July to October

Permit: Northwest Forest Pass required

Dog Friendly: Yes, the trail doesn’t have much for steep drop offs, there is regular water access, and plenty of shade (aside from a couple sections that seem unrelenting) Note: some sections are kinda rocky…so know your pooches limits…especially if they have sensitive paws. Our dogs were plenty excited for a post hike swim…and it was hard to keep them out of the water.

Pros: Wildflower filled meadows, multiple stream crossings for yourself and your furry friends, views of Mt. Jefferson, alpine lakes

Cons: Busy…tons of people…and what they leave behind. We ended up burning a bunch of TP…it seems many of Jefferson Park’s backpackers have forgotten the principle of leave no trace; there is also a fire ban usually util September or October. We hardly passed anyone on the South Breitenbush trail, but Jefferson Park was quite busy.

View of Mt. Jefferson

One of the many great views of the mountain.

Jefferson Park is one of those fabled gems that my parents still speak fondly of…many, many years after their first visit. And it’s true, the scenery is absolutely stunning and so worth every ounce of sweat to get there. Following the South Breitenbush trail you’re graced with a rushing river, a damp forest, open vistas, meadows bursting with wildflowers, views of Mt. Jefferson, and crystal clear alpine lakes….what more can a backpacker ask for? Well, I guess some solitude would be nice too.

mt. jefferson and jefferson park

Even Sal stopped to admire the view.

Most people take the Whitewater trail or the Park Ridge trail into the park, but we wanted a more challenging hike with fewer people, and that’s exactly what we got. There was only one other car in the parking lot and when we hiked out the next day there were only two other cars. I would definitely hike this trail again, but I am interested in checking out the other two as well.

Over the first 1 1/2 miles the trail passes multiple little creeks and begins gaining elevation pretty quickly. The trail continues on a generally uphill path for the next few miles. If you’re feeling inclined to punish yourself further at about two miles in there is a junction with the Bear Point trail…I’m sure there are great views, but we simply weren’t interested.

After the Bear Point junction the trail gets steeper, rockier and more exposed. If you’re game to leave the trail by a couple of dozen feet you might find a partial view of Mt. Jefferson.

Jefferson wildflowers

Tons of wildflowers carpeted the meadow just before reaching Jefferson Park.

Once you’re about 3 1/2 miles in you’ll stumble into a gorgeous meadow and you’ll forget all about the trudge up the hill. The  trail meanders through the meadow, running along the streams and around little ponds.

jefferson flowers2

Still more flowers!!! and a view of one of the neighboring buttes.

 

After about three miles more you will finally enter Jefferson Park with it’s postcard perfect views of the mountain and it’s jewel toned lakes. There are three main lakes here: Russell, Scout and Bays. It’s important to note that camping is ONLY allowed at the spots marked by a post. The area has been loved to death by it’s biggest fans, so please tread lightly, leave no trace, and respect the wilderness. Park rangers are more than happy to fine those who build a fire (during the ban) and/or camp outside the designated spots.

jefferson view from camp

Our view from camp overlooking Russell Lake.

To complete the hike, you simply return the way you came.

jefferson park lakes

Peek-a-boo views of the lakes entice you to wander.

Mt. Jefferson with Russell Lake

Mt. Jefferson with Russell Lake in the foreground.

There are many options for daytrips from Jefferson Park and I think it would be worth it to stay an extra day or two. You could hike up to Park Ridge for the view of Mt. Jefferson, explore the many lakes, amble along a section of the PCT…you get the picture.

I’m Afraid of Heights… Backpacking the Enchantments

Leprechaun Lake in the Enchantments

Leprechaun Lake with McClellan Peak in the background

Quick Stats

Distance: 21+ miles roundtrip (18 miles as a through hike); side trips abound

Time: 3+ days

Difficulty: moderate to Upper Snow Lake; very difficult to the Enchantments

Season: Mid-July to Mid-October

Dog Friendly: No, dogs are prohibited due to a fragile ecosystem, the native mountain goats, and tricky, steep hiking/climbing

Pros: Mountain views, crystal clear alpine lakes, larches, mountain goats, toilets, and no horses.

Cons: Can be crowded at times (permit system helps), tricky and dangerous rock scrambles, mosquitos early in the season, toilets, and fires are prohibited

Permit: Yes, you need a permit to camp in any of the enchantment zones and even to day hike into the Enchantments. Backpacking permits can be acquired at recreation.gov (must be picked up by 9 am on the day of your hike (or the night before) or it will be given away to another group, while day hiking permits can be acquired at the ranger station in Leavenworth…I assume. After closing hours the ranger station stores permits in a box outside its door which allows you to pick up your permit the night before and get an early start on the trail.

To celebrate fall Steve and I decided to take some time off and head up to Leavenworth, (a cute little Bavarian style town… aka a tourist trap) about a 5 hour drive north from Portland, to see the larches in their golden glory up in the Enchantment Lakes.

Fall Color in the Enchantments

Fall color in the Enchantments

Prusik Peak Larches

The larches in all their glory in front of Prusik Peak

 The Hike

So the real reason you’re here. You’re curious about the hike that left me hobbling around town for days afterward. Hiking in to the Enchantments from the Snow Lake trailhead makes you REALLY earn those lakes. The Snow Lake trail is longer than the Colchuck Lake/Aasgard Pass trail and it starts at a lower elevation.

Looking toward Leavenworth on the Snow Lake Trail

Looking toward Leavenworth on the Snow Lake Trail

Day 1 (8.5 miles)

After a relatively late night drinking beer in Leavenworth Steve and I ended up starting on the trail a little later than we had intended. We were happy to see that the wind had blown most of the smoke from the Wenatchee Complex and Cashmere Mountain fires out of the valley and were able to breathe freely as we hauled ourselves up the hill with our overloaded packs.

Nada Lake on the Snow Lake Trail

Nada Lake on the Snow Lake Trail (5000 ft. elevation)

The hike from the Snow Lake Trailhead to Nada Lake is essentially all uphill with switchback after switchback for 5 ½ miles gaining 3600 feet. There are a few pretty campsites at Nada and the lake itself is stunning. From Nada Lake the trail continues uphill gaining another 400+ feet switchbacking up a talus slope until dropping in to the Snow Lakes.

Talus Slope Switchbacks on Snow Lake Trail

Talus slope switchbacks on Snow Lake Trail

We camped at the very far end of Upper Snow Lake, just before the stream crossing, so we would be able to get an early start on our dayhike up to the Enchantments. We made it to camp just in time, the wind was starting to pick up and the temperature was dropping fast.

Snow Lake Hammock

Steve was finally able to try out his new hammock

Steve made quick time hanging up his new ENO Hammock and we were able to chill and drink whiskey spiked apple cider while we watched the last rays of sun light up the hillside across the lake and turn the sky a brilliant orange. Exhausted from our hike we retired to our sleeping bags by nine….no card games played and no stories told.

Day 2 (4 miles)

We knew this day would be the hardest; in fact it made Day 1 look like a cake walk. The “hike” from Snow Lake up to the Enchantments is as psychologically challenging as it is physically. I had never considered myself to be afraid of heights….and maybe I’m not, but I am definitely afraid of falling.

The Trail Disappears

The trail in to the Enchantments literally disappears beneath your feet

The trail from Snow Lake up to Lake Viviane had me questioning whether I should continue or not. The “trail” follows rock cairns across granite slabs where a missed step could send you careening over a cliff. In places, foot holds have been blasted into the rock and cement “steps” have been put in place to make it easier, but it is not easy…I found myself using my hands more often than not and spider crawling more than I should have been. Steve loved the challenge, while I just wanted to get up to the lakes so I could be on flat ground and away from a cliff edge for a bit. The first lake you reach is Lake Viviane which is flanked by Mount Temple and Prusik Peak.

Viviane Lake Larches

Beautiful fall color at Lake Viviane

When we reached Lake Viviane I was convinced we were in the clear, but no…we still had to finish climbing up the granite…. affectionately called “Trauma Rib” to reach the remaining lakes. Once in the basin my heart rate slowed and I dug my camera out of my pack and started taking pics.

Prusik Peak and the Temple

Prusik Peak and the Temple

We passed by Leprechaun Lake, nestled between Lake Viviane and McClellan Peak, Sprite Lake, Perfection Lake and finally to Inspiration Lake before we turned around to head back to our campsite at Upper Snow Lake.

Little Annapurna above Perfection Lake

Little Annapurna above Perfection Lake in the Enchantments

Inspiration Lake

Inspiration Lake and the rock scramble to get up to the upper Enchantments

Perfection Lake with McClellan Peak

Perfection Lake with McClellan Peak

In hindsight I would have packed lighter, applied for a permit earlier in the year, so could have camped in the Enchantment Basin and would have stayed longer. There were tons of areas to explore if we had had more time: the Druid Plateau, Gnome Tarn, Crystal Lake, Shield, Earle and Mesa Lakes, summiting Little Annapurna, etc.

Snow Creek Valley from Enchantments

View of the Snow Creek valley from the Enchantments

Our second night was even colder than our first night at about 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Surreal lighting at Snow Lake

Surreal lighting at Snow Lake

Day 3 (8.5 miles)

On day 3 we took our time packing up camp, but once we hit the trail we passed many different groups on their way up… including a couple packing their small child and a HUGE pack up to camp in the Enchantments for a couple of days. We had a hard enough time with just our daypacks and nothing makes you feel like a big wuss than seeing a family carry their baby with all their baby gear up; and to throw salt on an open wound we were passed by an elderly man who whizzed by us just as fast as the trailrunners. Ready for a beer and some food that hadn’t been freeze dried we hurried down the hill only stopping to strip layers and have the occasional snack.

GPX File of Our Hike

I’ve included a downloadable GPX file for the Enchantments based on our hike. Unfortunately, the batteries on our Garmen Earthmate PN-60 died during the second day so we don’t have tracks for the Upper Enchanted Lakes area. It’s not perfect, but at least it has a bunch of waypoints for the lower parts of the hike.

Download The Enchantments GPX File Here

Resources

Places to Eat, Drink and Camp in Leavenworth

Permit: www.recreation.gov

100 Classic Hikes in Washingtonby Ira Spring and Harvey Manning

Trekking Washington (Backpacker Magazine)by Mike Woodmansee

www.wta.org

Every Trail amazing trip report with waypoints