We tried our chances at the Enchantments Walk-In Lottery, but did not get lucky.
I could not find anything online on how the Enchantments Walk-In Lottery works, so I thought I do a quick write-up on what to expect.
You should be at the ranger station in Leavenworth at 7:30am. If you search for “Wenatchee River Ranger District“ on Google maps, it will send you to the wrong place. Google will send you to “600 Sherbourne Str“ which is the backside of the ranger station where you cannot enter. The actual entrance is just North of the town center on US Highway 2, which is the main highway through town. Just look for the big brown sign “Ranger Station“.
On a mid-week day in the middle of August about 10 cars showed up. I have heard stories of 50 cars showing up on a weekend day,
At 7:45am the ranger shows up on the porch at the entrance. She will spend 5 minutes explaining the basic rules of the permits, camp fires, toilets, etc.
The ranger will ask the leader of each group to raise their hand and say which permit zone they want to apply for.
You are not allowed to combine groups (i.e. make one large group out of two smaller groups) to improve your chances of winning. Any group that wins a permit must actually walk together as a group, and camp in a single location as a group. You will only get one permit, so if you split up, one half will be left without a permit.
The choices are the Core Enchantment permit zone, the Snow permit zone, the Stuart permit zone, the Colchuk permit zone, and the Eight Mile and Caroline permit zone. Green Trails Maps has a good map that shows all the zones (it is for sale at the ranger station and you will need this map for you hike anyway).
The Core Enchantment zone permit allows you to camp in ANY zone. Not only are you allowed to camp in the Core Enchantment zone, but also in the Snow Lake zone, the Colchuck Zone, or any of the other zones.
The permits for all the other zones ONLY allow you to camp in that particular zone. For example, if you win a permit for the Snow Zone, you can only camp at Snow Lake. You can leave your tent at Snow Lake as a base and make day hikes into the other zones, such as the Enchantment zone, but you must camp in the Snow Zone.
Typically, there is one single permit available for the Core Enchantments Zone, one single permit for the Snow Zone, one single permit for the Stuart Zone, one single permit for the Colchuck Zone, and multiple permits for the Eight Mile and Caroline Zone.
The lottery is always for same day permits. For example, if you win a permit in the Monday lottery, you must start your trip on that same Monday. If you want a permit to start your trip on Tuesday morning, your only option is to participate in the Tuesday morning lottery.
You must pick one single zone before any of the lotteries take place. You cannot pick multiple zones. You cannot say “I will take any zone” or “I will take zone X and Y but not Z”. Make sure that you have thought about which zone you want to apply for so that you don’t have to decide on the spot.
If you are flexible about which zone you want it may make sense to stand in the back so that you will get called on last to pick a zone. That way you will know what zones other groups pick, and you can pick one that no one else has chosen to improve your chances. But I can already tell you that the vast majority of groups will pick the Core Enchantments Zone (which actually makes sense — see below), followed by small numbers of groups picking Snow Lake, Colchuck Lake, Stuart Lake, and Eight Mile and Caroline Lake, in that order of popularity.
If only one group picks a particular zone, they automatically win the permit for that zone.
If multiple groups pick a zone, each group leader has to quickly fill in a form with their name, the permit zone, the number of people in the group, the entry date, and the exit date. The number of people in the group, and the exit day (i.e. the number of days) do not influence you chances of winning in any way. Just to repeat (because this surprised me) it doesn’t matter whether you get a permit for 1 day or for multiple days, your chances of winning are the same.
The ranger will take all the forms for a particular zone, fold them up, put them in a bin, shuffle them, and pick out the winner(s) at random.
I don’t know what happens next. We did not win our zone, so we left and went to get coffee. I presume the winner(s) for each zone go into the ranger station to get the actual permit. The cost of the permit if $5 per person in the group per day, plus $6 processing fees.
Here are some considerations to help you pick a zone.
Clearly, the core enchantment zone is much more attractive than the other zones.
First, it is the only permit that allows you to camp at the actual Enchantment Lakes. The Enchantment Lakes are far more picturesque than the other lakes (Snow Lake, Colchuck Lake, Stuart Lake, or Eightmile Lake). Since this is what you are coming for, why not camp there?
Second, the Core Enchantments zone permit is the only permit that allows you to backpack end-to-end Stuart Lake trailhead to Snow Lake trailhead (or vice versa) with multiple overnight stops. For example, you can camp one night at Colchuck Lake, camp one night at the Enchantments, and camp one night at Snow Lake (or vice versa). Believe me, the hike is surprisingly difficult and you will appreciate the multiple camping stops if you are hiking with a full pack. The Asgard pass has a well-deserved reputation for being very difficult, and the section between Viviane Lake and Snow Lake is nothing to sneeze at either. If you go counter clock wise you have 4000 feet vertical up and 6000 feet vertical down for the entire traverse. If you get one of the single-zone permits you must base camp in that zone and do a day hike into the Enchantments.
If you want to do a traverse (which is what we wanted to do), my opinion is that it makes sense to shoot for the Core Enchantments permit zone, even though your chances of winning are slim because most groups chose this zone in the lottery. Here’s why.
In my opinion it almost doesn’t make sense to do the entire traverse if you only have one of the single-zone permits. If you basecamp at Snow Lake, you would have to hike through the Enchantments, go down the Asgard pass, and hike out to the Stuart Lake trailhead, all with a full pack. Similarly, if you basecamp at Colchuck, you would have to climb the Asgard pass, go through the Enchantments, go down the steep section to Snow Lake, and hike out to Snow Lake trailhead all in one day. And base camping at Stuart Lake or Eightmile lake for a traverse doesn’t make any sense at all. If you are fit enough to do any of these things, you might as well do the entire traverse as a day hike, with just a light a daypack and without a heavy multi-day pack. This is what we ended up doing after we could not get anything in the walk-in lottery. Plenty of people do it — when we did it, there were about 5 or so other groups doing the entire traverse as a day hike. Most people start hiking around 6:30am and you should count on 11 to 15 hours to complete the entire 20 miles.
If you do the traverse (either as a day hike or a multi-day hike) you will want to set up a shuttle. You will want drop a car at the exit trailhead and arrange some transportation to the entry trailhead (e.g. a second car). There is a company “Leavenworth Taxi and Shuttle” but I have found them to be expensive ($50) and unreliable (see Yelp).
PS: One other way to get a permit is to check the permit website (Google for “Enchantments Permit”) frequently. Most of the time everything is solidly booked, but people do sometimes cancel and the available slot get snapped up very quickly.