It may be hyperbole to say that there are more hiking trails than there are paved roads in the state of Washington. It may be hyperbole, but if it is, just barely. Countless trails criss-cross the lush forests of this fantastical wonderland of natural beauty in the gem of the Pacific Northwest.
Long known a a source of pride for local residents, the word is getting out about Washington’s world-class status as a hiker’s paradise and plethora of landscapes from which to choose. Family friendly day hikes are every where you look and rugged technical climbing is anywhere you choose to set your spikes.
Our Picks: The Best Hikes in Washington
Wildflower-strewn meadows at the foot of an alpine forest, craggy mountain tundra beyond the canyon and steep mountain switchbacks climbing high into the clouds and offering views of mountain peaks poking up through the sky… these are not images dreamed up from Hollywood movies.
These are the very real images you will witness while hiking the trails of Washington. Come explore the sights, see the views, challenge yourself and push the limits of what you expect to see. Expect more and see it, from the ten best trails in Washington.
Heather Pass and Maple Pass Loop
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Before the Cascade Mountain range begins to ease up on the terrain and flush out into central Washington, the final few peaks are a pleasant way to explore the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest area without venturing deep into the mountain range making this a great hike for anyone coming from the interior “lowlands” to see some spectacular views from the intermediate level hiking trails at the Heather Pass and Maple Pass loop.
The trailhead begins at the parking area for the Lake Ann Trail. The Heather/Maple Pass loop goers around Ann Lake so you will see markings and signage for the lake all the way to the cutoff. Another commonly recommended counter-clockwise trail, you can take either direction but the steeper portion of the trail is a descent rather than an incline if you don’t do it clockwise.
Close to a mile and a half into the trek you will see the Ann Lake Trail cut off and it’s a quick half mile down to the lake if you want to take the detour. Otherwise, stay on the trail and you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the pristine waters from above at Heather Pass. Complete your ascent at Maple Pass around four and a quarter miles in and enjoy the equally gorgeous views of Rainy Lake as you descend the final leg of the hike and return to the trailhead.
Mount Pilchuck Trail
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Five and a half miles up and back, all rated between intermediate and difficult, a stream that will likely get you wet, peaks that may still have ice and snow on them into June… Why do we climb Mount Pilchuck Trail? For the very same reasons we just listed. Also, for the VIEWS!
Located just east of Granite Falls in the Pilchuck National Forest and part of the Mount Baker North Cascades, the Pilchuck Trail will wind you southeast through some of the most fantastic scenery you will experience. You will climb out of the forest and notice the fewer trees and you attack the mountain and climb into a more barren and rocky atmosphere, the change is astounding and quite noticeable.
Once you reach the top you will see the lookout building just beyond the final obstacles, the sight of your goal will give you renewed energy to tackle that final leg and make it to the wooden house. Once there, you will enjoy rewarding views in any direction.
The National Forest Service allows overnight stays in the lookout and even recommends packing a tent as an alternate if the lookout is already occupied. A night’s stay at the lookout, above the clouds and among the peaks piercing the sky will certainly be an amazing and memorable experience and a fresh way to take in the trail’s beauty by hiking down in the morning.
Wallace Falls and Wallace Lake
Wallace Falls State Park
This wonderful trail will take you from the trailhead to the spectacular Wallace Falls, up to Wallace Lake and then back to the trailhead making this a great way to see some fantastic sights on an intermediate day-hike. The trail loop was once nearly two and a half miles shorter than it is now. The trail from the falls up to the lake has been converted to a logging road and is now closed to hikers forcing the trail to backtrack upon itself and become a longer 11 mile “loop with multiple spurs” rather than an honest loop.
Woody Trailhead takes you from the parking area up to Wallace Falls. At 1.4 miles in you will see the “Old Railroad Grade” cutoff. From here to the falls it’s an out and back to this point. At 2.5 miles you peak the more strenuous hiking at the upper falls and return back to the Railroad Grade.
A short trek and you find yourself at another crossroads with the “Greg Ball Trail” taking you out and back the 5 miles to Wallace Lake before returning here to hike the back side of this “loop” to return to the beginning. An unintended benefit of this trail alteration is that it makes these out and back spurs adjustable for different hikers. Fewer hikers are making the entire trek and this has been giving some peacefulness and quiet to the otherwise popular trail.
Hoh Rain Forest Loop
Olympic National Park
The Hoh Rain Forest Loop is a nice and easy, family hike in the Olympic National park. At just under a mile and a half, this stretch of scenery is long enough to give you a sense of a journey without having to trek deep into the woods and stray too far away from the parking lot in case some of the younger hikers start to tucker out.
The loop trailhead is in the same location as the more well-known “Hall of Moss” trail and the much longer “Hoh River Out and Back” trail. From the “Mini Trail” follow the signage to the south towards the riverbed and from there follow the path counter clockwise and enjoy the beauty of one of America’s last remaining rain forests until the loop brings you back to the start.
The lush green forest is the result of the immense rainfall the area receives each year. The glacial runoff of the Hoh River and the unmolested ecosystem still goes through the natural cycles that have developed the magical landscape you will be experiencing.
Thick overhead canopies, old growth trees, fresh moss and ferns entrenched in every natural crevice they can find… As you walk the Hoh Rain Forest Loop, you will finally get a sense of what a true rain forest looks like and how thick, rich, and full of life they can be.
Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Come to the tail of the Cascades outside Leavenworth and pack your gear for a once in a lifetime journey that will leave you stunned in its beauty and feeling accomplished from the rugged terrain and dominating atmosphere. The Enchantments Trail is a twenty mile hike that offers other-worldly scenery and a challenging point to point difficult-rated trail that once successfully trekked, you will have a reason for feeling the strong sense of accomplishment. It’s not just the spectacular views from this trail, it’s the difficult terrain you have to defeat to see them.
Proper planning is always key on any hike, but especially crucial on backpacking excursions such as the Enchantments. Overnight permits must be applied for, transportation must be arraigned as this is a point to point and not a loop or out-and-back.
Also the trail itself is prone to weather changes and lingering seasonal surprises such as summer snow and high water, so pack your gear expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Although the trail is extremely popular, you aren’t likely to run into very many fellow hikers, so make sure you don’t put yourself in a position of relying on the kindness of strangers, there likely won’t be any.
However, all these admonishments are steps you should already be taking for every hike. Hiking out for the Enchantments will bring out the magic of hiking Washington’s trails. A gorgeous trail that showcases some of the finest views in the shadow of Mount Stewart.
Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area
As you begin your planning for this trail, make sure you have your nomenclature correct before set out. Rattlesnake Ledge Trail is the first two and a half miles of the ten mile Rattlesnake Mountain Trail that will take you out to “Rattlesnake Ridge”.
That last portion of the Mountain trail is a bit more strenuous and if you’re not prepared for a longer and more involved hike, following the “Ridge” instead of “Ledge” could give you more of a hike than you planned for. Name confusion aside, neither hike is all that difficult, but that ten mile hike is not measured as an out and back, so it could turn into a 20 mile oversight.
Spending the day at Rattlesnake Lake you will find plenty of people out to enjoy the great outdoors. Some are enjoying the water activities, some are sunbathing on the rocks, some are picnicking in the wilderness area, and many are on the same trail we came here to enjoy.
This popular trail attracts a faithful flow of hikers coming to take in the views from the Rattlesnake Ledges. The trailhead at the north end of the lake will have you climbing north into the foothills and then turning south along the face of the mountain and climbing four gradual switchbacks until you come to the lower ledge.
Many hikers are content to turn around here after taking in the view but we recommend enduring the final few switchbacks to the middle and upper ledges as there is slightly less foot traffic here and you can enjoy the views with fewer hikers.
Olallie State Park
I’m going to tell you that one of Washington’s fantastic hikes is right alongside an Interstate Highway and before you doubt me, stop off I-90 at Exit 34 and follow the signs to Olallie State Park. At the Twin Falls trailhead you’ll begin an out and back hike along the Snoqualmie River’s South Fork that will result in an easy 2.2 mile view of the waterfalls or if you’re looking for a longer excursion, an extended 4.5 mile trek to the end of the trail and back.
The Twin Falls trail ends where it joins the 22 mile John Wayne Pioneer Trail. The “falls” of Twin Falls is roughly at the trail’s half-way mark, so the back end of the trail between the falls and the John Wayne Pioneer sees less foot traffic and that isolation may hold an appeal for hikers sharing this popular trail.
If you do your homework before hiking and remain aware of your surroundings, you will know you are never far from the Interstate just off to your northeast, but you will forget all about it as the thick forest vegetation shields you from the modern highway and envelops you with the beauty of nature.
The trail climbs some switchbacks at around the half mile mark but never gets strenuous or difficult. The view of the lower falls will inspire you to continue on and when you reach the bridge across the Snoqualmie River giving you the fabulous view of the upper falls, you may turn back or you could be inspired to continue to that less hikes section of the trail.
Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park
You will find no shortage of trails in the Mount Rainier area. This spectacular mountain is nestled in among some of Washington’s finest viewpoints and offers fine mountain viewing that could be classified as world-renowned and competitive with legendary alpine peaks. On Mount Rainier’s south face is Paradise, aptly named and worthy of its reputation. The Skyline Trail begins at the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center and is a moderate 5.5 mile hike that travels past roaring waterfalls and flowing fields of wildflowers before looping back to the trailhead once again.
Other guides recommend hiking this trail in a clockwise direction and we tend to agree. In this direction, the climb runs out at the two mile mark and you can hike downhill from there. In counter-clockwise direction, you’ll spend three and a half miles gaining the same elevation but once you find the climb to be too strenuous for any member in your party, you’re past the halfway point and may find yourself hiking further once you “opt out”.
Remember, this hike is on the face of Mount Rainier and Paradise Glacier. The base elevation is already nearly 5500’ and only during the peak summer months will you find the trail free from snow and mud. So this moderate trail can become a strenuous trail for anyone under-prepared to handle the heightened elevation or taking trail conditions.
Mount Rainier National Park
Now if you’re coming to Mount Rainier looking for the adventure of a lifetime and are prepared for a multi-day backpacking hike along a difficult yet most rewarding trail, the Wonderland Trail awaits you and your adventurous spirit. This one is going to require some intense homework before you embark in order to give you the best possible chance at an completely enjoyable and pleasurable experience.
Hiking the 90+ miles around an active volcano is no small feat and while Mount Rainier is spectacular to look at from afar, it will take some planning and logistical engineering to complete the full circumference in a single hike.
Plan your route and apply for your permits. Although you won’t be hitting any of Rainier’s technical climbing regions, camping along the Wonderland Trail still requires permission of the park. Depending on your load and pace, you may want to stash some food and water replenishments on the other side of the mountain for a halfway restocking stop, or you will fond yourself carrying much too much equipment and supplies along the first half of the trail.
You will need to pack multiple weather gear loads as the trail can change temperament even in otherwise “reliable” months of hiking. Nothing should be taken for granted as you will be hiking some isolated stretches and out for days at a time. Even the best hikers among us need to be properly prepared before undertaking this difficult but oh-so rewarding hike.
Dog Mountain Trail
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Dog Mountain Trail #147 is one of the most popular hiking trails on the Columbia River and will draw plenty of hikers to make the climb in all weather. Hardy and experienced hikers may take the journey in winter, plenty of novice hikers will use Dog Mountain in summer to judge their experience levels and step up their game.
Autumn brings the same, but in spring, when the wildflowers bloom in the meadow above the trail at Dog Mountain Overlook, you will be in fierce competition for parking and trail access as it seems nearly every person in Portland and all of southern Washington has determined to climb this trail and see the beauty for themselves. And so should you.
A three and a half mile switchback climb straight up, and turn around and climb straight back down, Dog Mountain Trail is rated as intermediate-to-difficult and lives up to its designation. While not a technical climb, there will be small elevations to overcome and steep grade changes that will challenge you to make it all the way to the top.
Should you find the trail easier than expected, there is the Dog Mountain Alternate for the return back to the trailhead, and a short Dog Mountain Summit Loop that adds in an additional half mile walk once you reach the spectacular Lookout at the top.
Once you conquer Dog Mountain trail, it can be used as the initial leg of a loop that brings you up past the summit lookout and over to the Augspurger Trail. This longer loop will give you additional challenges, and another reason to return and hike Dog Mountain trail.