As I recounted in this week’s Mile Markers, we did not get much of a hike in on Saturday. It was rainy rather hard and higher elevations were expecting snow, so we opted for a short and easy trail at Mirror Lake in the Snoqualmie Pass region. However, we turned around when the “small stream” we anticipated turned out to a roaring and foaming stream. Since neither of us were keen on getting drenched and Charlie was already having a borderline hissy-fit due to the rain, we turned around, had lunch at the trailhead, and then decided to see Snoqualmie Falls instead.
We had visited the falls back in August when my sister visited, but my mom had shared a video of the Falls at twice the volume we’d seen them at, thanks to the heavy November rains. We heard the waterfall thundering from the main road; by the time we got to the viewing area, the noise was mildly deafening and we were getting sprayed by the water! What an incredible sight!
Needless to say, less hiking due to the late autumn rains and snow in the mountains has only stoked our desire to hike, so I’ve already started researching hikes to do throughout winter and in 2016.
Hiking, for me, comes from the same desire as running: the desire to be outside and move, the desire to always push a little further and a little bit faster, and the ineffable and strange love of foot-to-ground contact (or, why I can’t stand swimming).
There’s often a misconception (one which I held before we moved here) that hiking is only for the extremely fit and adventurous. While options abound for thrill-seekers and endurance junkies, hiking is by no means an exclusive sport. So, today I’m going to share with you 9 must-do hikes in Washington state for every level of experience, from novice hiker to mountaineer! Of course, there are hundreds of more hikes across the state of Washington to fit your preferences, be it beginner, challenging, family-friendly, dog-friendly, or scenic. You can find your perfect Washington hike on the Washington Trails Associations website (not affiliated, we just use this site every single week).
9 Must-Do Hikes in Washington
Poo Poo Point – Chirico Trail on Tiger Mountain
This short yet scenic hike in the Issaquah Alps is a great introductory hike for beginners. It was one of the first hikes we did when we moved to Washington! This 3.8 mile round-trip hike gains just shy of 1800 feet, but rewards you with a breath-taking view of Mount Rainier. This hike is dog- and kid-friendly, which means it’ll be fun for the whole family! Tiger Mountain is not far from downtown Issaquah, which offers several restaurant and brewery options for post-hike dining and drinking (including many dog-friendly restaurants).
This 18 mile hike is so popular that it requires a permit through a lottery (although a few daily permits are reserved for first-come, first-serve). Once you see pictures of the Enchantment Lakes, you immediately understand why: the Enchantments offer an otherworldly and dramatic panorama of alpine lakes, mountain peaks, and passes. If you don’t desire to do the full 18 mile hike, you can opt to do a portion of the Enchantments, such as Viviane Lake or Stuart Lake.
Snow Lake is ideal option for hikers of all experience levels, from beginners to experienced and including dogs and children. The 7 mile round trip hike features a mostly gentle incline (with a slightly steep 400 meter descent at the lake) and a beautiful alpine lake. The trail brings you directly to the shores of the lake; if you wish, you can climb further to enjoy picturesque views of Snow Lake and the surrounding mountains. Snow Lake is perfect for camping as well!
Hurricane Hill on the Olympic Peninsula
Hurricane Hill is one of the most popular natural attraction on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington (just across the Puget Sound from Seattle). This short hike of 3 miles with a 950 foot elevation climb is perfect for families, pets, and those who want to do only a short hike after a long day of travel to the peninsula. If you hunger for more, you can hike a 14 mile round trip from the connecting Elwha River Valley trails. Be sure to pack your windbreakers: it’s called Hurricane Hill because of the harsh winds, but it’s well worth the view of the Bailey Range of the Olympic Mountains.
Located in the Snoqualmie Region of the Cascades, Mount Si is a perennial favorite for hikers. You can summit this mountain on one of two trails: the popular newer trail, which ascends 3100 feet over a round trip of 8 miles, or the older trail, which is less crowded and climbs 3400 feet for a round trip of 7.2 miles. Either way, hikers of all experiences levels (and fit canines) will enjoy the challenging hike and the incredible views of the Cascades. Mount Si is an ideal hike if you’re visiting Seattle, as it’s only a 45 minute drive (in, ahem, good traffic) from the city.
Oh, Gothic Basin. This hike kicked all three of our butt’s when we tackled it in August. I nearly cried (I imprudently ran 10 miles before hiking this) and Charlie actually fell asleep during a short break. It was brutal, but it was beautiful and the endurance athlete in me wants to conquer it again. Gothic Basin demands a round trip of nearly ten miles with an elevation gain of 2840 feet – with nearly 1000 feet over the last mile. The hills and switchbacks will burn your lungs and legs. This is a hike for intermediate and beyond hikers, but once you reach the top, you’ll enjoy the gorgeous mountains views and ethereal lakes. If possible, plan on camping this one, as it’s beautiful at the top and will make the trip much more enjoyable.
Skyline Trail Loop at Mount Rainier
While hiking Mount Rainier can sound intimidating, as its the fifth tallest mountain peak in the continental U.S., the Skyline Trail Loop makes this majestic mountain accessible to hikers of all abilities. The trail begins out of Paradise, which is a popular destination on the southern side of Mount Rainier, and covers a total of 5.5 miles and just under 1500 feet of elevation gain. You’ll be treated with views of rivers, waterfalls, wildflowers, and surrounding Cascades. You may even encounter some wildlife! The most notable features along the Skyline Trails is Panorama Point, from which you can see Mounts St. Helens, Adams, and Hood on clear days.
Mount St. Helens Summit
Mount S. Helens is the famous volcano in southern Washington that erupted in 1980. Today, you can hike to the summit and stand at the edge of the giant crater left from the eruption. Unlike Mount Rainier or Mount Baker, Mount St. Helens does not require technical climbing skills to summit. The hike spans 5 miles each way (10 mile round trip) with an elevation gain of 4500 feet. You’ll need a climber’s permit, which you can easily acquire online. At the very top of the mountain, you’ll be at 8365 feet, which will provide you with sweeping views of the southern Cascades and possibly a glimpse of Mts. Hood and Rainier in the distance. You will hike through volcanic ash, so you will want to wear long pants at the very least, if not hiking gaiters as well.
The Pacific Crest Trail
The book-turned-movie Wild by Cheryl Strayed ended when the 2650 mile long Pacific Crest Trail reached the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon, but the Washington portions of the famous PCT are not to be forgotten. There are two segments of the PCT in Washington that beg to be hiked, if you have the time and the endurance.
In southern Washington, you can hike 147 miles and gain a total of 28000 feet (yes, that’s twenty eight thousand feet—lots of climbing, descending, and climbing again). You’ll be treated to spectacular views of Mts. Adams, Rainier, and St. Helens and the Columbia River while transversing from The Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon/Washington border to the White Pass.
For a less strenuous but still challenging hike, you can opt for the Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. This passage covers 75 miles and climbs a total of 16000 feet through some of the most scenic parts of the Cascades. Take it from someone who has hiked in both Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie Pass: these views will leave you speechless as the hiking leaves you breathless. Ryan and I are hoping to do this part of the PCT in 2016; we honestly want do the entire PCT someday, if possible.
So, who wants to come visit and go hiking?
Questions of the Day:
Would you ever hike any of the Pacific Crest trail or other long cross-country trail?
Are you an endurance athlete? What sports beyond distance running satisfy your desire for endurance challenges?
Which of these hikes would you choose to do?