With thousands of miles of trails spread across the state, Washington is well-known as an outdoor recreation hub in the Pacific Northwest. While the summer tends to be the busiest season with the best chance for sunny skies, hikers prepared for a little wet weather can also enjoy hiking in the spring or autumn. If […]
With thousands of miles of trails spread across the state, Washington is well-known as an outdoor recreation hub in the Pacific Northwest. While the summer tends to be the busiest season with the best chance for sunny skies, hikers prepared for a little wet weather can also enjoy hiking in the spring or autumn. If you plan to hike in the winter, trade in your hiking boots to go snowshoeing or skiing. With national parks including Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Olympic and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, plus the many trail systems throughout the adjacent national forests, there are many year-round hiking options to explore. State and local parks and other recreation areas found in the greater Seattle area and along the coast into the Olympic Peninsula offer plenty of hikes, ranging from coastal paths and temperate rain forests to subalpine meadows with glacier-fed cascades and sweeping summit vistas. While it is nearly impossible to sum up the hiking opportunities in a state as varied in terrain as Washington, this list will get you started with 10 top hikes as rated by the Hiking Project community.
Located on the west side of Olympic National Park, the Hoh Rain Forest is an unforgettable experience in one of the few remaining temperate rain forests in the United States, receiving an incredible 12 to 14 feet of rain annually. It is one of the park's most popular destinations, so don't expect to find much solitude unless you plan to venture deep into the interior of the rain forest. Despite this, you can choose from a couple different trails that wind through the impressively lush landscape along the Hoh River. If you'd like to extend your stay, the 88-site Hoh Campground is open year-round and operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Stop by the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (about a two-hour drive from Port Angeles) for more information on the area. If you don't have an America the Beautiful Pass or an Olympic National Park Annual Pass, you will need to pay the entrance fee upon arrival.
The Hoh Rain Forest Loop is a short, family-friendly hike that combines several interpretive trails near the visitor center for a truly breathtaking tour of the Hoh Rain Forest. From the north end of the parking lot, start on the Mini Trail, a flat, paved, accessible loop that connects to the nonaccessible Spruce Nature Trail, a 1.2-mile mellow, wide and well-traveled trail that takes you through an amazingly verdant landscape, filled with trees, mosses and ferns. You may spot elk grazing in the underbrush. The Spruce Nature Trail is a lollipop loop, and at the junction you can choose to hike in either direction. Continuing counterclockwise as mapped, at about half a mile, the trail turns northeast to follow along the Hoh River. Here, you will have occasional glimpses of the blue water of the wide, meandering river. Looping back into the woods, you'll return to the fork and take the Mini Trail to return to the main parking area. If you are looking for a slightly longer hike, consider adding on the 0.8-mile Hall of Mosses Trail. For a true backcountry adventure, pack your overnight gear and head out backpacking on the Hoh River Trail.
Located outside of Seattle, Olallie State Park is a day-use area that is a great getaway for the entire family. With hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing and bird-watching, you can easily fill a day at the park. Nestled on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, you will find a mix of rich forests, stunning waterfalls and sweeping views. The park is especially known for its many scenic cascades found along the creeks that weave through the trail system. The park is open daily from 6:30am to dusk in the summer and 8am to dusk in the winter. Be sure to pay your day-use fee at the automated pay station if you do not have an annual Discover Pass. This is a popular weekend recreation area, so be sure to arrive early or visit the park during the week to avoid the crowds.
From the Twin Falls Trailhead, the trail heads south from the parking area and is fairly wide and maintained. You may encounter some muddy sections depending on the time of year, but for the most part, this often used trail has a well-packed tread. The trail winds through the woods following along the South Fork Snoqualmie River. At about half a mile, the trail starts to switchback and climbs a bit more steeply before turning west. You will continue to climb for the next half mile until you reach Lower Twin Falls. Take the short detour on the Lower Falls Viewpoint Connector down a set of stairs to a viewing platform, which offers a particularly memorable vantage point of the Lower Falls. Continuing on along the Twin Falls Trail, you'll cross the river on a bridge, from which you have the best view of the Upper Falls snaking through the rocky canyon. The Twin Falls Trail continues on to a junction with the John Wayne Pioneer Trail for a longer outing, but most hikers will turn around at the Upper Falls viewpoint. As an out-and-back hike, you can turn around whenever you're ready.
Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area is located within convenient driving distance of downtown Seattle and many other major metro areas around Puget Sound. It's a popular recreation area, and very busy on weekends. The 1,771-acre scenic area forms part of the southern mountain range of the Snoqualmie Valley and is located across the valley from the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area. Rattlesnake Mountain is home to a variety of landscapes, from cliffs and old-growth forests to riparian systems. The main parking area and Cedar River Watershed Education Center are located on the south end of the scenic area at Rattlesnake Lake. This parking area requires a Discover Pass, and the lot will fill early on weekends, so be sure to arrive early. Alternatively, in the summer, you take advantage of the longer days by heading out in the afternoon after most of the crowds have left.
The hike to Rattlesnake Ledge starts on the Rattlesnake Lake Service Road, a gated roadway that skirts around the northern edge of Rattlesnake Lake. When you reach the information kiosk, turn right onto the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail to begin the climb. In the next mile and a half, you will gain nearly 1,000 feet on a steady climb. There are a couple large, sweeping switchbacks that help ease the grade as you climb through the lush forest. The trail is mostly easy to navigate, although there are short sections of rocks and roots where you'll want to watch your footing. Just over two miles in, take the Rattlesnake Ledge Spur to head to the viewpoint. Here, the views of the surrounding mountains, forests and blue waters of Rattlesnake Lake open up in a panoramic expanse from the craggy pinnacle of Rattlesnake Ledge. Use caution along the ledge as the footing is uneven, and there are some sections with a large drop-off. If hiking with small children or four-legged companions, keep a close eye on them in this area. After soaking up the views, enjoy the downhill cruise back to the trailhead.
No trip to Mount Rainier National Park would be complete without a visit to Paradise. This section of the park, easily reached by paved road, is known for its stunning wildflower-filled meadows, sweeping mountain views, subalpine lakes and glacial snowfields that linger well into the summer. Here you’ll also find the historic Paradise Inn, one of two lodging options inside the park, and the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center. Paradise is tucked on the southern shoulder of Mount Rainier at 5,400 feet in elevation, so you may want to allow extra time for an easier hiking pace due to the altitude. While best in the summer or autumn for hiking, this area of the park sees its fair share of snowfall in the winter and is one of the prime winter use areas in the park (in winter the visitor center is only open on weekends). If visiting in the spring or autumn, be sure to check the road conditions before heading up. Regardless of what time of year you visit, the scenery is sure to be outstanding. You’ll need to pay the entrance fee if you don't have an annual pass.
The Skyline Trail makes a spectacular day hike. At about 5.5 miles round-trip, its relatively short distance packs a visual punch with subalpine meadows, panoramic viewpoints, waterfalls, glaciers and mountain views in all directions. Be sure to take the altitude and nearly 1,500 feet of elevation gain into consideration—the hiking, while not strenuous, may be a bit more difficult than the distance alone would imply. You can do the loop in either direction, but clockwise, as mapped on Hiking Project, will give you a steeper climb on the first half of the loop and a more gradual descent.
Leaving from the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center, the trail climbs steadily for two miles, passing through open meadows. You'll have views to the west and can take a short detour on the Glacier Vista Spur Trail to a stunning viewpoint of the Nisqually Glacier. Continuing on, the Skyline Trail turns east and traverses the lower slopes of Mount Rainier to reach Panorama Point, offering more impressive views overlooking the Paradise area and the Tatoosh Ridge in the distance. Past this viewpoint, the trail descends to a junction with the Golden Gate Trail. Stay left at this junction to continue past the Stevens-Van Trump Memorial—a memorial dedicated to the first recorded ascent of Mount Rainier in 1870—and Sluiskin Falls on the Paradise River. The trail turns back to the west and climbs briefly and gradually to Myrtle Falls on Edith Creek before returning to the trailhead.
Located in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, this hike tours the national forest on the southeastern edge of North Cascades National Park. Located just west of Washington Pass along North Cascades Highway 20, the hike starts from the Rainy Pass rest stop (on the right side of the highway if driving from Seattle). You'll need a recreation pass for your vehicle—you can pay at a ranger station on your way to the trail or at the self-pay station at the parking area. There are restrooms at the parking area. The best time of year to visit the North Cascades is from August to September once the snow has melted and the trail conditions are more reliable; however, this will also be the busiest season. While the trailhead may be crowded in peak season, don't be fooled by the bustle along the highway (you may meet thru-hikers along here as the PCT crosses Hwy 20 at the Rainy Pass area). A short hike into the area quickly becomes remote and rugged—come prepared with your Ten Essentials.
The loop can be done in either direction. If heading counterclockwise, as mapped on Hiking Project, you will have a more gradual ascent on the first half of the loop and a slightly steeper descent for the second half. From the trailhead, take the Maple Pass Trail #470 heading toward Lake Ann. You'll begin your hike in dense woods, climbing gradually on the trail. At just over a mile, the Ann Lake Trail will split to your left; to hike to the shores of Lake Ann, take this 0.6-mile trail for a short detour. To stay on the main trail, turn right at this junction and continue to climb until you emerge above treeline with Lake Ann below you on the left. The views start opening up and give you a taste of what's to come. At just over two miles, you'll climb to Heather Pass; this is a good place to stop to catch your breath and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
Traversing along the top of Heather Pass, you'll follow a well-worn singletrack that winds through a meadow, where abundant wildflowers blossom in season, before turning to follow a stunning ridgeline trail that meanders along the edge of North Cascades National Park. The scenery here is outstanding, with green and wildflower-speckled slopes in the spring and summer and yellow larches dotting the red and orange underbrush in the autumn. Your ridgeline hike will top out at nearly 7,000 feet on Maple Pass before you descend a series of switchbacks. On the way down, enjoy additional views of Lake Ann to the northwest and Rainy Lake to the southeast. Take a moment to stop and count the many large and small cascades that drain into Lake Ann. In the spring, when the water levels are high, these waterfalls are quite spectacular. The descent along this section is steep in places, so take your time. Eventually, the trail re-enters the forest, and you'll come to Rainy Lake Trail #310, a paved path which you follow north to return to the trailhead.
Wallace Falls State Park showcases some of the beautiful lakes, streams, woods and waterfalls that the Pacific Northwest is known for. With 12 miles of trails and access to Wallace River, Wallace Lake, Jay Lake, Shaw Lake and the three-tiered, 265-foot-high Cascade Falls, the park is an ideal destination for hiking. In addition to the quiet paths through old-growth coniferous woods juxtaposed with the rushing rapids of the Wallace River, visitors can pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the park's two kitchen shelters or five sheltered and five unsheltered picnic tables (all available on a first come, first served basis). The park is very popular so be sure to arrive early as the parking usually fills by 11am on the weekends. If you'd like to stay overnight, reserve one of the park's five modern cabins or hike into the two secluded backcountry campsites which are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Otherwise, the park is open daily from 8am to dusk. If you don't have a Discover Pass, be sure to pay the day-use fee at the automated pay station.
This hike hits both highlights of the park, with a trip to the well-known Wallace Falls followed by a quiet amble up to Wallace Lake. From the parking area, start on the Woody Trail. This trail is a bit of a leg-burning climb and has just enough rocks and roots to keep the footing interesting as it ascends through the dense, moss-covered woods. The rocks can be slippery when wet, so watch your step. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to stop off at the Lower, Middle and Upper Falls viewpoints—the Middle Falls viewpoint is particularly scenic and a favorite spot for photographers to capture the full glory of Wallace Falls. The Woody Trail ends at the Upper Falls where you will want to turn around and carefully make your way back down to the junction with the Old Railroad Grade. If you are looking for a shorter day out, an out-and-back to the falls is a popular option for a 5.6-mile round-trip hike.
Turn right on the Old Railroad Grade and right again to connect to the Greg Ball Trail. This trail winds through a shaded forest following along the North Fork Wallace River and is mostly smooth, though it climbs steadily for the next two miles before leveling off around Wallace Lake. This trail is not as popular as the Woody Trail so you can enjoy a bit more solitude even on a popular summer weekend. The final stretch to Wallace Lake transitions from dirt to a wide, crushed gravel path. The lake itself is a serene spot for a quick snack or longer picnic lunch. Once you are done enjoying the views, retrace your way down the Greg Ball Trail. If you would like to add a bit more variety to your return trip, take a right onto the Old Railroad Grade trail to make a loop through the woods before returning to the trailhead.
Located on the border between Washington and Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area spans some of the most stunning landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Here, the Columbia River winds through a gorge in the Cascade Mountains, and hikers have their choice of trails to explore on either the Washington or Oregon side. Certain areas in the gorge require a day-use permit and day passes can be purchased in advance online. With options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, picnicking, fishing, boating, tubing, swimming, windsurfing and more, there are plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities for the entire family. Unfortunately, the western end of the Oregon side of the area was heavily impacted by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. The U.S. Forest Service has many online resources for current closures and ongoing updates that are worth checking before heading out.
The hike to Dog Mountain, located on the Washington side of the Columbia River, is a local favorite, and one that is made extra-memorable if you can time it with the spring wildflower bloom, typically between May and June. However, due to the popularity of wildflower season, a permit is required if planning to visit on a weekend between April 20 and June 16; no permit is required on weekdays. Parking at the trailhead is extremely limited, and no parking is allowed along SR 14, so you will need to arrive early to get a spot.
The trail starts from the east corner of the parking lot and immediately climbs through sparse woods, although the grade is eased by several switchbacks. At just over half a mile, you will come to a trail junction with the Dog Mountain Alternate. Stay to the right to follow the main trail and the less difficult ascent to the summit. The trail continues to switchback, and as you climb, the views of Columbia Gorge and the Columbia River start to open up below you. At 2.5 miles, you emerge from the trees to a sunny, open ridgeline. If you are visiting at peak wildflower bloom, this hillside will be covered in yellow balsamroot flowers. Continue along the singletrack trail all the way to the peak. Once you are done enjoying the views, simply head back to the trailhead the way you came.
For moderately fit and experienced hikers looking for a challenging and rewarding day hike, the trek to the summit of Mount Pilchuck, topped by a historic lookout tower, will fit the bill. Located in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on the Mountain Loop Highway east of the town of Granite Falls, this hike is very popular in the summer months as it stays a bit cooler than other areas. Be sure to arrive early to secure a parking spot; a Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead.
The Mount Pilchuck Trail starts as a broad gravel path through old-growth trees. Very soon, however, you will encounter your first obstacle, a small stream crossing, where you may need to do a little rock hopping to keep your feet dry. From here, the trail ascends more noticeably, and soon you'll be working up a sweat. In just over 2.5 miles, you will gain over 2,000 feet in elevation on a steady and, at times, steep climb. Over the course of this climb, the trail narrows and can be very rocky, though some sections have steps to ease the climb. There are many places where the trail turns into a rock scramble, and you'll have to pick your footing carefully in order to cross boulder fields and craggy ridgelines.
Keep an eye open for a rock fin that marks the final quarter-mile stretch of trail. Shortly after this, you'll have your first view of the wooden lookout that you’ll reach after a boulder scramble and short ladder climb. You can enter the lookout as long as the door is unlocked. On a clear day, the panoramic views of Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains are fantastic. Even if it’s a cloudy day, you may find that you have actually climbed above the low-hanging clouds. Enjoy the views and then head back down the same trail. Alternatively, if you would like to spend the night, the Mount Pilchuck Lookout does allow overnight use on a first-come, first-served basis.
Located in the Central Cascades in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the mountains and lakes of the 7,000-foot-high Enchantment Lakes basin comprise one of the most spectacular regions in the Cascades. This rugged and beautiful area is home to jutting peaks, blue lakes, autumn colors in season and some of the most unforgettable views you can find on a hike. If you are planning an overnight trip between May 15 and October 31, you must apply for a permit. Due to the extreme popularity of this area, camping permits for five zones are allotted through a lottery system. Day visitors will need to fill out a free day-use permit that can be obtained at any of the three trailheads accessing the Enchantment Permit Area. Whether you are visiting for a day or planning an overnight trip, be sure to come prepared with plenty of food, water, sun protection, and warm and waterproof layers. Though the area is very popular and you likely won't be alone on any hike you choose to do, the terrain is rugged and the area remote, so you’ll want to be well-prepared. In the spring, the area has an abundance of wildflowers, and the autumn brings a splash of yellow to the high alpine with the changing larches. You may also spot wildlife such as mountain goats. Please follow all posted rules and regulations during your time in the area.
The Enchantments Traverse is a stunning point-to-point hike that encompasses the best of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. As a one-way point-to-point hike, be sure to arrange for transportation (shuttles can be arranged in Leavenworth) or leave a second car at the end point. Starting from the Stuart Lake Trailhead, begin your journey on the Stuart Lake Trail #1599 that winds through the woods, climbing steadily alongside Mountaineer Creek. At just over two miles, turn left onto the Colchuck Lake Trail #1599.1 to head to Colchuck Lake. The trail gets a bit steeper and transitions from forested singletrack to rocky, boulder-strewn terrain. Keep climbing to reach the lake where you can take a breather and enjoy the view of the craggy slopes of Dragontail Peak towering above the blue-green waters. Continuing on, get ready for a challenging climb as the next 1.5 miles ascends 2,000 feet up to Aasgard Pass, taking you above treeline on rocky switchbacks marked by cairns.
Once you reach the top of the pass and Isolation Lake, you will enjoy a more level hike along the gorgeous high-alpine lake basin. Be aware that even in the summer, the weather at this altitude can be unpredictable and change rapidly so pack your layers accordingly. The trail winds through rocky terrain with open views in all directions. You will then transition onto the Snow Lakes Trail #1553 passing by Inspiration Lake, Perfection Lake and Lake Viviane as well as many smaller tarns. From here, you leave the Enchantments basin to begin a nearly 10-mile-long and somewhat grueling descent, taking care on exposed granite and rugged trail until you reach Upper Snow Lake; continue across an old concrete dam to Lower Snow Lake. You’ll start to see more trees as you wind past the long, narrow Nada Lake before your final descent to the Snow Lakes Trailhead. This last stretch is more forested, and there are several creek crossings with bridges. The trail becomes progressively more well-worn and less rocky as you approach the trailhead, finally crossing one last bridge over Icicle Creek to reach the trailhead. If you didn't leave a car here, be sure to arrange for transportation to return you to your car at the Stuart Lake Trailhead.
Standing at 14,410 feet, the iconic snow-covered slopes of Mount Rainier tower above the surrounding landscape. Due to its proximity to the Seattle area, Mount Rainier National Park is an especially popular destination for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering and camping. You will need a day pass or annual national park pass to enter the park. Note that while day hiking does not require a permit, you will need a wilderness permit for any overnight stays in the park. Whether you are hiking on the forested slopes of Rainier, traversing along stunning cascades or climbing the snowy slopes of the active volcano to enjoy panoramic views, this national park offers a variety of hiking experiences for all ability levels.
For hikers looking to tackle a challenging multiday backpacking trip, the Wonderland Trail should land high on your bucket list. With many backcountry campsites to choose from, you can plan to hike the trail in segments over the course of several trips, or make one long push to hike the full loop that normally takes anywhere from eight to 12 days. Reservations for the campsites must be made in advance, and if you are looking to hike the full loop, you may need to be flexible on your start and end point as permits are rewarded by lottery and are difficult to obtain due to the popularity of the area. Hiking the full route will require some significant logistical planning, including stashing food and fuel at designated locations and being sure to mark and reserve your overnight sites as well as plan out your water sources along the loop.
Regardless of where you start or end your hike, the Wonderland Trail is certain to be stunning. The trail completes a circuit of Mount Rainier, traversing subalpine meadows full of wildflowers in the spring and summer. You'll cross turbulent rivers with crystal clear cascades from the snowmelt off of Rainier's slopes. As you pop in and out of the trees, you'll enjoy outstanding views of Mount Rainier's 25 named glaciers and imposing summit. Additional highlights that can be seen along the loop include Reflection Lakes, Inspiration Point and Box Canyon. The loop boasts nearly 25,000 feet of climbing and descent, taking you from just over 2,400 feet up to 6,700 feet.
On the loop, you won't hit the technical terrain of the upper slopes of Mount Rainier, but you will need to come prepared for all kinds of weather. Though some stretches of the trail are popular and will be well-used in the summer, you can similarly have very remote stretches where you will need to be self-sufficient. This trail rewards those who do their homework—your time spent preparing supplies and planning your route will be more than paid off by the spectacular views and outstanding hiking to be enjoyed while out on the Wonderland Trail. Whether you are out for a single day, a few days or the full loop, this trail is not to be missed.
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