5 Outdoor Adventures That Are Like Winning the Lottery

I FIRST CAUGHT wind of the Enchantments at a dinner party in Seattle last fall. A recent transplant from New York City, I listened intently as my friend Mat described this Holy Grail for Pacific Northwest hikers. Just over 100 miles from the city, the Enchantments is an alpine wilderness of emerald lakes surrounded by granite peaks and inhabited by mountain goats, he said.

Seven years ago, Mat had hiked the Enchantments Core, a particularly idyllic zone that’s part of the greater Enchantment Lakes basin in the Cascade Range. He was among the lucky few granted a camping permit. The area is open to day hikers, but the trek there and back is about 24 miles, with a 5,000-foot elevation gain. Odds are you’ll want to linger.

The lottery for Core camping permits—implemented by the U.S. Forest Service in 1987 to protect the fragile area—opens for two weeks in February (the application fee is $6; then if you get it, it’s $5 per person a day). Thanks in part to social media, applications for the lottery have skyrocketed in the last decade. In 2019, 18,835 groups of up to eight people applied for a mere 358 permits.

There are a handful of other highly coveted backcountry experiences across the U.S. protected by a lottery or permit system. If you’re willing to roll the dice—or duke it out for first-come, first-served permits—read on for four equally worthy trophy excursions.


The Kalalau Trail, Kauai

This 11-mile-in, 11-mile-out trail on the NaPali Coast, in Haena State Park, zigzags up and down lush valleys, past secluded beaches and waterfalls—all accessible only by foot.


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