Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area
The spectacular Alpine Lakes Wilderness covers 393,000 acres of high Cascades country, a diverse landscape ranging in elevation from 1,000-foot valleys to towering 9,000-foot mountain spires. Much of the area—hence the name—is high alpine country filled with some 700 crystalline lakes, ponds, and tarns.
Because of its proximity to Seattle, an abundance of short and long hiking possibilities, and the dramatic alpine-and-lake scenery, this is one of the most heavily used wild places in Washington. In some ways, Alpine Lakes Wilderness is being loved to death; people come to escape city life but instead find crowded backcountry sites and abused trails. Avoid the crowds by coming here midweek rather than on weekends.
To alleviate crowding, the Forest Service has instituted a wilderness permit system that limits the number of hikers in the Enchantment area near Leavenworth. Call the Alpine Lakes Wilderness information hotline (206/775-9702 or 800/627-0062) before heading out.
Permits are required throughout the wilderness June 15 to October 15. In most areas of the wilderness, free, self-issued permits can be obtained at the trailheads. In the Enchantments, lottery-based permits (www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee/passes/enchantments, $5 per person per day) are required for overnight camping, and they may be obtained anytime after March 1. Midsummer weekends fill up fast, so apply right on March 1 for your best chances. Day use is free in the Enchantments, but you’ll need to fill out a permit at the trailhead.
Heading south from Highway 2, the Pacific Crest Trail climbs past the downhill ski area and Lake Susan June before reaching Josephine Lake on the wilderness boundary (4.5 miles from the highway). From here, you enter a web of trails that covers the high alpine land, opening up many loop-trip possibilities. Two fun and very popular trails (wilderness permits required) begin from the Foss River Road (Forest Road 68, two miles east of Skykomish).
One of these, the Necklace Valley Trail (No. 1062) starts up an old narrow-gauge railroad bed before entering a tight canyon and ascending quickly to a cluster of lakes in upper Necklace Valley. The one-way length is 7.5 miles, with a gain of 3,140 feet in elevation.
A second excellent short hike is to follow West Fork Foss River Trail to Trout Lake, and then on to a chain of half a dozen jewel-like lakes. The one-way distance is seven miles, with an elevation gain of 2,900 feet.
Many popular trails lead into the Enchantment portion of the wilderness, including the seven-mile Snow Lake Trail, which starts from Icicle Road out of Leavenworth. Backpackers often use Snow Lake as a base area and day hike into the rugged and spectacular Enchantment Lakes.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition