I love taking the walk to Windy Pass as a day hike. It’s long day, so you feel like you’ve accomplished something. And the trip covers a wide variety of terrain: gentle walking through the forest, steep hillside climbing through an old burn, a stroll past a couple of high mountain lakes, and a wander through the alpine meadows of timberline. All of it ends on an airy, rounded ridge that sweeps up toward the craggy summit of Cashmere Mountain. Here, if the day is pleasant and the sun warm, you can find a siesta spot that looks both outward over the high peaks of the Stuart Range and inward at the back of your eyelids.
Maps: Green Trails #2905 (The Enchantments) or use our map below. Note: Use ‘Print Preview’ before printing to properly scale this map to a full sheet of paper.
Activities: Hiking or vigorous trail running.
Nearest Town: Leavenworth
Skill: 2 (intermediate)
Fitness: Day tripping to Lake Caroline is a 2+ (strong intermediate). Day tripping to Windy Pass is a 3 (advanced). Overnight backpacking to Lake Caroline is a 2 (intermediate).
Distance: It’s 5.5 miles (one-way) to Lake Caroline, 8 miles (one-way) to the top of Windy Ridge. The really ambitious, can follow the ridge north and east of Windy Pass and eventually use the climber’s route to the summit of Cashmere Mountain (this entails some knowledge of the easiest route up the peak and some exposed 3rd class climbing).
Elevation: This hike begins at 3,300 feet and ends at Windy Pass, elevation 7,200.
Recommended Season: late spring, summer, fall
Access: From Leavenworth take the Icicle River Road approximately 8 miles to the Bridge Creek Campground. Turn left on Road 7601 (Eightmile Road), cross the bridge over the Icicle Creek, and follow the road about 3 miles to the well-signed trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking.
* The first 2.8 miles of this hike is the same trail (#1552) leading to Eightmile Lake. You’ll gain 1,100 feet in elevation in the first 2.8 miles, so the going is fairly easy. At 2.8 miles there’s a natural resting spot at Little Eightmile Lake. Here, you’ll also encounter the one and only trail intersection. The Eightmile Lake Trail continues on straight and reaches Eightmile Lake in another 1.2 miles. For this hike, however, branch right on the Lake Caroline Trail (#1554) and start heading uphill.
* Follow Trail #1554 for nearly two miles as it switchbacks its way up the hillside. On a hot day, this can be a real cooker, so it’s best to start early to be on this part of the trail early in the day.
* At about mile 4.8, you will be looking down into Lake Caroline. Continue down the hill and follow the trail as it circles around the right side of the lake. Continue past the lake and through the trees toward Little Caroline Lake (a half mile farther along the trail). Both lakes have good camp sites. There’s a pit toilet at Lake Caroline (a bonus if you’re camping).
* If you’re headed to Windy Pass, follow the trail past Little Caroline Lake. At about mile 6.5, you enter alpine meadows with long views, lots of animal tracks, and an incline that is not too taxing. This is really fun hiking.
* Windy Pass arrives a lot sooner than expected. I kept thinking we were aiming for a different destination, when voila we were there. The pass has plenty of room for stretching out and looking at the views through half-closed (and drowsy) eyes. The 360-degree views can’t be beat.
Misc: Don’t be faked out by the weather at the trailhead. I have done this hike several times and generally surprised by the conditions found at the pass. In one of my younger, dumber moments, I started this hike on a warm fall day dressed in shorts and a T-shirt with minimal extra clothing. As I got higher, everyone I met coming down the trail was wrapped in down coats, fleece hats, and what appeared to me to be excessively warm gear. The higher I hiked, the more obvious it became that I was significantly under-prepared. The pass was cool and misty—perfect hypothermia weather, so I was forced to abandon the hike before I reached it. Now I do this hike with much more clothing (wind pants, fleece hat, gloves, and warm coat). Even if I don’t need it all, the extra clothing makes a great pillow for a nap at the pass.
Uses Allowed: Hiking, horse back riding, trail running. This part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness does not allow dogs. Campfires are not allowed at the lakes.
Dogs. Dogs are prohibited in the Enchantments Permit Area, which includes Caroline and Eightmile lakes and the access trails to these lakes.
Horses. The Eightmile/Caroline area is open to pack and saddle stock, but there are no campsites at the lakes allowing stock animals. Those wishing to camp in the area with stock must travel toward Windy Pass or use the designated stock campsite near Caroline Lake. Stock should be kept 200 feet from lakes, except while traveling.
Fees/Permits. This is part of the Enchantment Permit area, so overnight camping requires a permit that must be obtained in advance. Permit season for overnight trips is mid-June to mid-October. Click here or call the Leavenworth Ranger Office (509-548-6977) for permit details. Day trips do not require the camping permit, you just need a free, day-use wilderness pass, which can be self-issued at the trailhead. You also need a Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead.
Reporter: Carolyn Griffin-Bugert. First written in October 2006, updated June 2015.
Updated Condition Reports. See the bottom of this page found at the WTA.org website. Also contact Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest: Wenatchee River Ranger District Leavenworth, 509-548-2550.
Leave It Better Than You Found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or may not know all the issues affecting a route. You are still completely responsible for your decisions, your actions, and your safety. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.