18.0 miles, Multiple days
This is THE backpacking destination in the state of Washington. Wander through soft tundra meadows, glacial-cirque lakes, crystal clear trickling streams, and impossible granite rock formations in the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It will make you feel like you're in a completely different part of the world.
Note that you MUST have a permit to camp in this area and they are distributed months in advance, so plan ahead and see below for more info.
This area is thought to be discovered by A.H. Sylvester, who was originally a topographer for the USGS but went on to supervise Wenatchee National Forest starting in 1908. Climbers didn't start enjoying this area for recreation until the late 1940's. [100 Hikes in Washington's Alpine Lakes (1st ed.), Spring, Ira; Manning, Harvey, 1993] And the permit system, designed to protect the area from destructive humans, was not put in place until 1981.
The big question is: which side to enter from? The Snow Lake entrance is longer, more gradual, and less scenic. The Colchuck Lake entrance is shorter and steeper (maybe even slippery and dangerous), but Colchuck Lake is beautiful. The traditional entrance would be Snow Lake because this side brings you through the Enchantments "in order," meaning you start in the Lower Enchantments and work your way up to the Upper Enchantments.
It's your choice, but this guide is written assuming you're hiking in from Snow Lake, all the way through the Enchantments, and out the Colchuck Lake side.
The permit lottery system might actually decide this for you based on what zones you're allowed to camp in!
We've actually seem some individuals more on the "hard" end of the spectrum that will do this entire through-hike in one day. If you have a light pack, it's possible, but bring a headlamp and enough food and gear to spend the night if you have to.
I included some waypoints for good campsites and toilets which will hopefully help you plan your nights and your morning coffee. By no means are these ALL of the campsites and toilets, but I've included some that I think are pretty nice. Oh yes, some of the toilets up here in the Enchantments are truly amazing because of the views they offer. But probably a more complete reference for campsites and toilets is the paper map that you pick up with your camping permit at the ranger station in Leavenworth.
No fires or dogs up here. But there will be enough scenery to keep you company.
I recommend an overnight trip that's at least two nights, hopefully three. For this, you'll need a permit, which is not easy to get.
Applications for permits are accepted starting in February each year. There is an art to applying because you can be as flexible as you want with dates and locations. It's always a balancing act between trying to get the right time of year and making sure you actually get a permit. You usually know by March/April if you "scored" and are permitted camp up there. Permits are broken out by Zones: Core Enchantments, Snow Lake, and Colchuck Lake. Even if you don't get the Core Enchantments, you can still really enjoy the area by keeping camp at Snow or Colchuck Lakes.
If you don't get one, show up at the Leavenworth Ranger Station at 7:45 AM Mon-Sat to see if you can get lucky and grab from the small daily lottery. If you still fail, it's probably worth waiting until after 9 AM, when they start handing out unclaimed reserved permits.
Watch out for mice at your campsite. Get all your food bagged up and airtight. Hang it up in a tree if you want. They probably won't get into unopened Mountain House meals and I've seen heavy-duty Ziploc bags (fully airtight) cloak the smell of food so they didn't take interest. But they can and will chew through the material of your backpack to get to food that they can smell from the outside.