With so many hiking opportunities in the Pacific Northwest, choosing your ideal trail can be a bit daunting. Luckily, with such pristine and wild landscapes as Olympic National Park and North Cascade National Park, there is no such thing as a lesser trail.
The beaches, rainforests, valleys, rivers, meadows, and glacial peaks of Olympic National Park have been public hiking magnets since the park was established in 1938. The park became a World Heritage Site in 1981, and as of 1988, 95% of it is designated wilderness area. Access to the park is open all day, every day, but some roads may close in the winter due to inclement weather. Be sure to check driving routes before you head out. Keep in mind the entrance fee of $15 per vehicle. For those looking to spend the night, a pass for overnight stays in the backcountry are $5, plus $2 per person per night.
The North Cascade National Park is home to over 300 glaciers and 380 hiking trails. Of the dozens of lakes in the area, Lake Chelan is the longest (55 miles) and deepest (1,500 feet) in the state, not to mention the third deepest in the country and 24th deepest in the world. The park has no entrance fees and parking is free in most lots. Though the park is open 365 days a year, late May to late October are the recommended visiting months, as the roads are clear and the park’s facilities are open.
Other well-known hiking areas include wildlife-abundant Wallace Falls State Park and the Issaquah Alps, a 14,000-acre mountainous area with trails that follow the routes of 1920s logging railroads.
Mountains and valleys are scattered throughout the state with thousands of miles of trail traversing them like a network of arteries. Below are three of the area’s most popular hikes, but this list is by no means exhaustive.
Hurricane Ridge: Named for its winter storms, Hurricane Ridge is among the Olympic Peninsula’s most breathtaking hikes. The Hurricane Hill Trail is just three miles round trip, but its 550-foot elevation gain and lack of guardrails along some cliffs makes the path a bit more treacherous than a leisurely stroll. Wildlife is plentiful, particularly at sunset when you can see marmots, rabbits, deer, and the occasional bear. In the spring, the meadows are filled with wildflowers. Because of the trail’s elevation—5,200 feet—the air can be bitingly cold, even in the sun, so dress accordingly. At the summit, the Olympic Mountains stretch out beyond you like a craggy carpet unfurling into the distance. Bask all you want in the presence of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, sub-alpine forests, and alpine meadows.
Wallace Falls: This trail is the pride of the 4,735-acre Wallace Falls State Park to the west of the Cascade Mountains. The Wallace River’s nine waterfalls—the longest being 265 feet—plunge down the mountain through miles and miles of old-growth coniferous forests. Three different trails will deliver you to the lower, middle, and upper falls. You’ll gain about 1,400 feet in the two and a half miles to the top, and you can expect the entire hike to take close to three hours (not including the time you’ll allot to staring open-jawed at the lookouts). The park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk all year, but the best hiking is in the spring, summer, and fall.
Mt. Pilchuck: Winding through second-growth forests, alpine forests, and open mountain peaks, this North Cascade National Park trail is well-maintained and accessible to people of all ages. The fireman’s lookout at the summit affords 360-degree views of Puget Sound, Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, the rest of the Cascade Mountains. The best seasons to hike are fall and summer, before and after the bulk of the snowfall. The elevation gain is 3,400 feet, and the six-mile round-trip takes approximately three and a half hours to complete.
- • Find a Hike: The Washington Trails Association, www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes, is a great resource for those with specific trail criteria, like kid- and pet-friendly trails. You can search by region, trail name, and/or trail rating.
- • Hiking Outfitters Near Seattle: REI – the go-to store for high-quality, durable clothing and equipment: www.rei.com and Patagonia – environmentally conscious clothing and gear outfitters: www.patagonia.com
- • National Park Service: www.nps.org (search for your desired park)