Backpacking The Enchantments' Eightmile/Caroline Lakes

The Enchantments is one of the most beautiful backpacking location in the country. It's the holy grail of backpacking in the Northwestern United States. But it's not easy to get to, because you need a permit to camp there, and those permits are awarded in a lottery that is becoming harder and harder to win. The lottery, held by Recreation.gov, is open to entries for about a month. It is held in late winter and the few lucky winners are announced sometime in March.

We applied like many others and, like many others, failed for the second year in a row. A colleague of mine, though, got one that she could not use, so I immediately offered to help pick up her permit, and so we got our chance.

It wasn't a Core Enchantments permit, but rather one for a satellite zone called the Eightmile/Caroline Zone, which is also part of the Enchantments but not at the very heart of it. While our expectations were not very high, I was far from being disappointed and came back home with some great memories and some great shots.

Green Trails Maps: The Enchantments No 209S, trailhead@ 47.5360, -120.8139 - WTA, Permit information: Enchantment Area Wilderness Permits (US Forest Service)

Eightmile Lake

We spent Friday afternoon driving the 2.5 hours to Leavenworth and setting up camp a few miles down from the Eightmile trailhead. There are several first come, first served campgrounds in the area. We found a spot in the Eightmile Campground, but Bridge Creek would have been even closer.

 Enchantments' Eightmile Lake trail head

Enchantments' Eightmile Lake trail head

Since our permit was for one night only, we broke camp early on Saturday and hit the trail before 8:00 am.

On the first part of the trail, before the lake, we found signs of a recent fire that has reshaped the forest. A new generation of plants had already started to grow, fueled by the rich soil.

 Burnt forest near Little Eightmile Lake in The Enchantments

Burnt forest near Little Eightmile Lake in The Enchantments

It took us about an hour and a half to reach the first of the two lakes in this valley, called Little Eightmile Lake. We gained 1,100 ft. over the 2.8 miles stretch from the trail head. This was an excellent spot for a snack and a rest break.

 Little Eightmile Lake, a great spot for a snack and rest break

Little Eightmile Lake, a great spot for a snack and rest break

After a short break, some of us continued on for another half mile to Eightmile Lake, while the rest took the fork going north towards Lake Caroline. They lost an incredible view and an opportunity for a dive/swim!

 Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments

Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments

 Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments (view west)

Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments (view west)

Lake Caroline

After a short break at the lake, we returned to the Little Eightmile Lake junction and took the other fork, heading uphill towards Lake Caroline. Pretty views up here too!

 Heading up to Lake Caroline

Heading up to Lake Caroline

 Remnants of a forest trimmed by a recent fire

Remnants of a forest trimmed by a recent fire

 Higher up, more charred trees   

Higher up, more charred trees

 

Naked trees on our way to Lake Caroline- IMG_4076 © Zilcsak.jpg

After about two hours from the Little Eightmile trail junction, a little over 2,000 ft. of elevation and a trail wide open, we finally reached Lake Caroline.

 Lake Caroline and a great campsite right on the shore

Lake Caroline and a great campsite right on the shore

 On the shore of Lake Caroline, The Enchantments

On the shore of Lake Caroline, The Enchantments

Here we found our friends Flo and Cornel, who must have arrived at least an hour earlier since they didn't stop down at the lower lake. They had already found a good site and we all set camp.

 Our camp on the east side of Lake Caroline

Our camp on the east side of Lake Caroline

Windy Pass

Since it was only two in the afternoon and nobody was really tired, we decided to go check out Windy Pass, another maybe 2 miles with some elevation to gain. The trail to Windy passes by smaller Little Caroline Lake and, shortly thereafter, it enters the alpine zone, leaving the trees behind.

 Above Lake Caroline, the Enchantment peaks in the distance

Above Lake Caroline, the Enchantment peaks in the distance

 Trail to Windy Pass from Lake Caroline, entering the alpine zone

Trail to Windy Pass from Lake Caroline, entering the alpine zone

 A fine view of the Enchantments Peaks from Windy Pass

A fine view of the Enchantments Peaks from Windy Pass

We had plenty of opportunities to explore around at Windy Pass, but we chose to just rest and enjoy the views. Later, we returned to camp, prepared a good dinner, then, once darkness set in, stashed our remaining scented items in our bear cans and went to bed.

The next day we traced our steps back to the car and drove back home, but not before stopping for the mandatory German sausage in Leavenworth.

Map

 The Enchantments, Eightmile/Caroline Zone Map (for information only)

The Enchantments, Eightmile/Caroline Zone Map (for information only)

Thanks for reading, and happy backpacking folks! This trip is a great weekend escape into the mountains.