How to Get an Enchantments Permit

Get notified when the 2018 Enchantments lottery opens

The 2017 Enchantments lottery is now closed.

If you’d like me to let you know when the Enchantments lottery opens in 2018, just sign up for my email list below. You’ll also get occasional emails from me with guides and photos from my hikes.

Keep reading to learn more about the lottery system used to award permits and get step-by-step instructions for filling out your application.

Want to get right to your application? Here are the links you’ll need to enter the Enchantments permit lottery:

New 2017 regulations for The Enchantments

There are a handful of new regulations in 2017 that you’ll want to keep in mind when applying for a permit. From Recreation.gov:

  • Alternate group leaders will NO LONGER be accepted. Party leader MUST carry photo ID with permit and show it to a Ranger upon request. Permits are not valid without ID.
  • Only one lottery application per person will be accepted.
  • ALL group members must begin on the reserved trip start date only and camp with the Party Leader. Permit is NOT VALID if trip is started on date other than what is indicated on the permit. All members of the group will be cited and visitors will be asked to leave.
  • Every group member must carry a copy of the permit.

The removal of alternate group leaders has a few clear impacts. First, it means that if you apply, you have to do so with the intention of actually going, and not just giving your permit to a friend or family member. Second, it obviously means that if you end up with an injury, getting sick, or otherwise being unable to make it to your trip, your entire group will have to cancel.

Requiring the entire party to start on the same day also removes some flexibility. There’s no meeting your party a day later to stay for the weekend.

These new regulations are obviously being made in response to continued demand and pressure on The Enchantments area.

Overview of The Enchantments

Enchantment Lakes day hikeThe Enchantments are a chain of lakes in the Alpine Lake Wilderness near Leavenworth. It’s easy to see why they’re one of the premier hiking destinations in Washington: an abundance of photo-worthy vistas, clear lakes, wildlife, side-hike possibilities, swimming holes, and fly-fishing opportunities mean this hike has something for everyone.

But as the Enchantments’ popularity grew, so did the amount of foot traffic and stress placed on the ecosystem. To preserve the area, a lottery-awarded permit system was put into place. This system regulates the amount of overnight use in the Enchantments area without shutting it down completely. It goes a long way to preserving the land for future generations, and it also makes the area more appealing today. No one wants to see the area trashed or spend their backpacking trip surrounded by crowds.  Hiking the Enchantments in one day

The lottery system also means that not everyone who wants to stay overnight gets to. Every year, thousands of interested backpackers enter the permit lottery. Fewer than half who enter get their desired Enchantments overnight permit.


Stream crossing in The Enchantments

Thankfully, you don’t need a special permit to do a single-day through-hike, and that’s what I did last year (that’s when I snagged the photos in this post). It was equal parts amazing and strenuous: I knew I had to come back, and I knew I’d want to stay overnight when I did.

So earlier this month, I researched what it takes to get an Enchantments permit. Here’s my research!

First: when is a permit required?

In 2016, the permit season for The Enchantments increased by six weeks. Now, all overnight stays from May 15 through October 31 require a lottery-awarded permit.

Realistically, this means you’ll need a permit for your stay unless you’re an experienced backcountry skier or snowshoer with avalanche training, winter gear, and a willingness to brave the winter elements. Trips early in the permit season (May and June) also typically require traveling and camping on snow and inclement weather.

During the permit season, you can still do single-day hikes through the area without a permit—you just can’t stay the night. It’s a strenuous hike when done in one day, but if you’re in good shape and willing to get an early start, it’s an attractive option. I recommend starting early either way: it can get hot on the trail, and the feeling of the sun gradually warming you up is amazing. Plus, it’ll help you knock out some of the early trail miles. 

Colchuck Lake in the morning

How to get an Enchantments permit

Enchantments_Lottery_Instructions

  1. Before you start, familiarize yourself with the permit and area rules so you know how to plan your trip. Here are some things to keep in mind:
    • Maximum of eight people per party
    • No campfires anywhere
    • While the core Enchantments zone encompasses the entire area, other permit zones only cover part of it
    • Prepare to encounter holdover snow in May and June
  2. Once you’ve reviewed permit details, visit Recreation.gov to start the application process. You’ll start by choosing your permit type, zone, and an entry date (don’t worry, you can adjust this and add alternates later). You’ll be able to enter for up to three date and zone combinations. Enchantments_lottery_date_chooser
  3. After selecting one entry date, you’ll be prompted to sign in or create an account
  4. Complete your application. Don’t forget: on your lottery application, you can include up to three entry dates.Enchantments lottery application
  5. Submit your application, and wait! On March 14, you’ll learn your fate.
  6. Between March 14 and March 31, sign back into your Recreation.gov account to learn if you managed to snag a permit. If you did, you’ll have to accept it in this time frame.

Other ways to get an Enchantments permit

Entering the core Enchantments area

After the lottery is over, any leftover permits will be posted on Recreation.gov. If you’re quick, flexible on dates, and don’t care which zone you stay in, you may be able to snag one.

There are also a limited number of walk-up permits available each day. If you have a flexible schedule and you live in the area, you might be able to snag one from the ranger station. Just don’t get your hopes up: only one permit is available for each zone per day, and there are normally large crowds vying for it.

If you strike out on all of these, you can always go on a different backpacking trip in the area or do the Enchantments in a day trip, and try again next year.

Other things to keep in mind

If you’re lucky enough to get a permit, you’ll also need a recreation pass (like the Northwest Forest Pass or other National Forest recreation pass, like the interagency America the Beautiful pass).

Also, keep in mind that you can only get one permit per zone per season. Because of the area’s popularity, you’ll have to limit yourself to one overnight trip per year.

Get friendly application reminders

The Enchantments permit lottery is only open from February 15 to March 2. If you don’t apply during this window, you’re out of luck in the lottery. You also need to accept your permit between March 14 and March 31—if you miss this confirmation window, you’ll lose your permit.

Worried you’ll forget to enter the lottery? If you’d like me to shoot you reminders to enter and accept your permits, sign up here:

3 Comments

Joshua Machniak

When did they open the lottery this year (2017)? For some reason I had thought it’d open today- but instead its closed today. What a bummer.

Reply
tyrel

Hi Joshua,

The lottery opened on February 15 this year. I’m sorry you missed it!

Make sure you check the Recreation.gov site on April 1. If any the lottery winners fail to accept their permits, they’ll become available through the advance reservation system there. You could also try for a walk-up permit.

To make sure you don’t miss 2018’s lottery, sign up for my email list in the post above. I’ll let you know when it opens! =)

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