Category: Washington (HWY 2 and HWY 20)       


TR #: 76
Golden Larch Trees in the Enchantments
(also some from the Rainy Pass area at the end of this page)

When autumn arrives in the Enchantments, the basin becomes a sea of yellow as the Alpine Larch trees prepare to shed their needles. This is a spectacular scene like no other. Although I don't normally include non-climbs on my webpage trip reports, these flaming yellow larch trees deserve a page just as much as any climb.

The following page is chock full of photos of a golden yellow theme. (Most of the photos on this page were taken during 3 separate trips into the Enchantments in Oct 2008 and 2009; in addition, in 2011 I added some more larch tree photos from a couple of October dayhikes into the Rainy Pass area to the north of the Enchantments). On this page there are also some cool facts about the larch tree, and a little general information about the Enchantments here and there. Hope you like the color yellow.


A Little About the Larch Tree

Alpine Larch Tree in mid-October.

Needles of Alpine Larch.

There are two larch species in Washington - the Alpine Larch (aka Lyall's Larch) and the Western Larch. The type of larch tree in the Enchantments is Alpine Larch, which grows at elevations above 5,000 ft (the Western Larch grows at elevations between 2,000-5,500 ft).

The Alpine Larch lives at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, and Alberta. The Alpine Larches in the Enchantments are part of a disjunct population on the east slopes of the Cascade Range of Washington.

The Alpine Larch is a hardy tree, often found in the most inhospitable, rocky spots in north-facing basins buried by snow much of the year. It is also the smallest type of larch, growing from 30-70 ft tall, and shorter at higher elevations. The branches of the Alpine Larch are horizontal to the trunk, irregularly spaced and twisted by the snow, ice, and winds of its extreme habitats. (The Western Larch, by contrast, grows straight and tall, sometimes reaching 200 ft.) The needles of the Alpine Larch are about 1 inch long and crowded in groups of 30-40.

Larch is one of only two deciduous conifers in North America. It has needles on what look like typical evergreen trunks and branches, but like a leafy tree, it drops its needles in the fall. The needles of the Alpine Larch are pale blue-green in the summer, but turn a spectacular golden yellow in the autumn before they fall off for the winter. Usually, the trees begin turning golden in late September, reach their peak brightness in mid-October, and fall off by the winds and storms of November. The alpine spectacle that larches create in October is so compelling that many hikers plan annual trips to trails known for the trees.

The larch is a fire-resistant species that could play an important role as national forest managers attempt to restore the health of federal forests across the West. Amazingly, these trees may live in excess of 1000 years.

Okay, now for some photos!!

Photos of Autumn Brilliance in Enchantments


Temple Canyon / Tamarack Meadows under north side of Mt. Temple.
Temple Canyon / Tamarack Meadows under north side of Mt. Temple.
Prusik Pass from north.
Shield Lake from Prusik Pass.
Near Prusik Pass.
Little Annapurna from north.
Hiking through Enchantment Basin, Temple Ridge in distance.
Little larch.
A lake in Lower Enchantment Basin.
Prusik Peak from Gnome Tarn.
Remnants of ice storm.
Little Annapurna from north.
Prusik Peak south face.
Larch tree needles.
Larch tree needles.
Upper Enchantment Basin, Mt. Temple Ridge in distance.
Upper Enchantment Basin, Mt. Temple Ridge in distance.
Enchantment Basin from summit of Little Annapurna.
Larch tree needles.
Reflection of Prusik Peak.
Prusik Peak near trail to Prusik Pass.
Little Annapurna from north.
Prusik Peak from Gnome Tarn, at night.
Prusik Peak from Gnome Tarn.
Larches reflected on ice.
Little Annapurna from north.
Hiking in Enchantment basin.
Looking towards Witches Tower and Dragontail near Asgard Pass.


Near Asgard Pass.
Ice formations.
Tree hit by rockslide.
Trail marker.
Flat summit of Little Annapurna.
Ice formations.
Ice rimming log.
Prusik in October twilight.
Ice rimming log.
Camp below Prusik Peak.
Frosty ferns.
Colorful reeds in Nada Lake.
Low water level in Upper Snow Lake.
Ice formations.
Glow of Leavenworth at night.
Star trails over Little Annapurna.
October climb of Prusik (link to trip report).
Ice crystals.
Witch's Tower and Dragontail from Aasgard Pass.
Big Dipper over Prusik Peak.
Glowing camp below Prusik Peak.
Grass enclosed with ice.
Grass enclosed with ice.
Grass enclosed with ice.

Key Info about the Enchantments

Here I only give the bare info about the Enchantments. For much more detail, see the page.

There are two standard approaches into the Enchantments. The two stanards are: (1) To the west end of the Enchantment basin via Asgard Pass from Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake Trailhead and (2) To the east end of the Enchantment basin via Snow Lakes from Snow Creek Trailhead.
Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake Trailhead to Asgard Pass: 6.1 miles
Snow Creek Trailhead to east end of Enchantment Basin: 10 miles
From Asgard Pass to east end of Enchantment Basin: approx. 2 miles
Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake Trailhead: 3300 ft
Colchuck Lake: 5600 ft
Asgard Pass: 7800 ft
Snow Creek Trailhead: 1300 ft
Snow Lakes: 5400 ft
Lake Viviane (east end upper basin): 6800 ft
Enchantment Basin: 6800-7800 ft
Popular camping spots on the approaches are Colchuck Lake, Nada Lake, and Snow Lakes. In the basin itself, there are great camp sites practically everywhere you look, at any of the tarns, lakes, or streams.
Permits are neded between June 15-Oct 15 for overnight camping. This is a popular area, so permits can be difficult to get if not reserved in advance. Permits are not needed for day hiking in the Enchantments.

Another larchy area in NW Washington

While the Enchantments is certainly a place to go to see larches in their flaming fall splendor, the area around Rainy Pass on HWY 20 is another hot spot for golden larch trees. The larches at Rainy Pass are not quite as concentrated as they are in the Enchantments, but they are still just as golden and they can be reached with less effort (only a few miles from the road). Also, Rainy Pass is a good destination for those who live further north. And of course, the mountain views are spectacular.

In early October 2011, my mom and I hiked the popular Maple Pass loop just above Rainy Pass. This relatively easy 7-mile loop is spectacular in the fall. Here are a few photos.

We enjoyed our larch hike so much that we returned the following weekend (mid-October 2011) to dayhike the nearby Easy Pass trail, which also is chock full of snow-capped yellow-fringed views...

...and then returned again the next year (early October 2012) to the Rainy Pass area to hike to Cutthroat Pass and back. The arrival of fall in 2012 had been unusually warm and dry, which seems to cause the larches to change color in more gradual (but still spectacular) greens to oranges rather than to explode suddenly in brilliant yellow.


Tank Lakes overnight, WA

Hidden Lake Lookout (winter), WA