The Enchantment Lakes are located in the upper Cascade Range of Washington State, southwest of the German-themed town of Leavenworth. The area is accessible by two main trailheads just off of Icicle Creek Road. Each route leads to the same fabulous destination; however, the overall distance and elevation gains are much different depending on the path taken. No matter the choice, a climb of no less than 4,400 feet is required to get to just the first of the countless lakes near the top. The area features stunning granite spires, pristine lakes strung together by creeks, never-ending larch trees and curious mountain goats. There are multiple ways to enjoy the park, but the best way for photographers is to apply for an overnight permit, allowing for multiple attempts to get great photos.
The Enchantment Lakes are located at an elevation of between 7,000 and 7,800 feet, so weather will change drastically during a long trip. During my five days in the area, I experienced everything from light snow, gale-force winds, calm crisp mornings and blisteringly hot days.
After quitting my day job in September, I spent my first three weeks of freedom photographing the Canadian Rockies and the northern United States with my good friend. The absolute highlight of the three weeks was our trip-ending backpacking trek up to the Enchantment Lakes. While the area is accessible to serious day hikers, we were lucky and won overnight permits through the park’s lottery system. This meant we had a full five days to explore this spectacular area during the peak of fall color, upping our chances to capture unique photographs. Although I came out with many compelling images from this trip, none compared to this epic morning on our second to last day in the park. Our screams of joy echoed through the valley below as we scrambled to capture this eye-searing sunrise. It was the best combination of light and fall conditions I’ve witnessed in my life, and I was glad I had the opportunity to capture it in all its glory. Due to the strenuous hike, I recommend minimizing the amount of gear you carry. Although world-class images can be made using any focal length, I suggest bringing one wide-angle lens and a telephoto. The 14-24mm range is perfect for taking in the grand landscapes here, and a 70-200mm is great for zooming in on the distant layers and sidelit larches. I found myself rarely using the 24-70mm focal length, although everyone’s shooting style is different. As with creating all high-quality landscape images, carry and use a sturdy, lightweight tripod.
The best time to visit the Enchantment Lakes is no doubt during autumn. Contrary to most pines, the larch tree is deciduous and loses its leaves in autumn. This special attribute makes for truly stunning views of gold and orange surrounding the crystal-clear lakes.