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