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The best hikes in Washington

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The best hikes in Washington

Washington is a state of jeweled, dramatic beauty, from its chilly clouded coasts to the dramatic peaks of the North Cascades to shaggy rainforests to glacier-carved valleys studded with the occasional stratovolcano. One of the best ways to see Washington’s emerald beauty is to get out there on foot and hike its national and state parks, municipal trails, and towering mountains. If you’re wondering where to begin, however, don’t worry – these are Washington’s bucket list hikes.

Prusik Peak sticks up amidst The Enchantments in the Cascade Mountains ©Kimberly Shavender/Shutterstock

The Enchantments

The Enchantments encompass the best of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, full of eye-popping teal lakes, jagged peaks and rock formations out of Norse myths or high fantasy, and glacier-carved meadows. It’s no wonder this pocket has become one of the most coveted hikes in Washington, accessible only if you’re up for a seriously long, intense day hike, or if you’re lucky enough to win the lottery that dispenses a limited number of backcountry permits.

All visitors to the Enchantments must obtain a permit during the peak season from May 15 through October 31, whether you’re undertaking a day hike or a backpacking trip. The rare hiker who can manage 18 miles with almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain in a single day can traverse the whole Enchantments. That said, you might find it more reasonable to break up portions of the Enchantments into more managable day hikes, like the 9 mile stretch to Colchuck Lake on the Stuart Lake Trail, which clocks just 2,283 feet of elevation gain.

Backpackers can take their time wandering from cirque to cirque, puffing up the aptly-named Asgard Pass (a reference to the works of JRR Tolkien), and adding in additional day hikes like the trail up Dragontail Peak. 

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The Hoh Rainforest is amongst the quietest places on earth ©Susan E. Viera/Shutterstock

The Hoh River Trail

A well-used route into the wide, glacier-carved Hoh River Valley, this path is also the principal means of access to Mt Olympus. Beginning at the visitor center, at the end of the Upper Hoh Rd, the trail follows an easy grade for 12 miles through moss-drenched temperate rain forest, and day hikers can use it as a pleasant out-and-back excursion. Beyond this the path climbs to the flower-scattered paradise of Glacier Meadows, perched at 4300ft.

WASHINGTON - Hiker  reflecting in a small tarn below Curtis Ridge next to the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park.
A small tarn below Curtis Ridge next to the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park © Alamy Stock Photo

Mt Rainier

Rainier’s textbook long-distance hike is the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which completely circumnavigates the mountain with a cumulative elevation gain of 21,400ft. Longmire is its most popular starting point, with the majority of hikers tackling the route over 10 to 12 days in a clockwise direction in July or August. There are 18 backcountry campsites en route.

For a shorter hike from Longmire you can test your mettle on the precipitous Eagle Peak Trail, a steep 7.2-mile out-and-back hike. A more laid-back look at some old-growth forest and pastoral meadows is available on the signposted Trail of the Shadows Loop, a 0.8-mile trail that begins across the road from the museum and is wheelchair accessible for the first 0.4 miles.

Starting off Hwy 123 just north of the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, the Grove of the Patriarchs is 1.5-mile trail is one of Mt. Rainier National Park’s most popular short hikes and explores a small island (the grove) in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River replete with soaring Douglas fir, cedar and hemlock trees, some of which are over 1000 years old.

A Walk in the Wood Along the Skyline Trail
A viewpoint on the Skyline Trail reveals Mount Adams in the distance on walk in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. ©Mark C Stevens/Getty Images

Paradise

Paradise, situated at 5400ft, has a much shorter hiking season than Longmire (snow can persist into late June), but its wildflower pastiche, which includes avalanche lilies, western anemones, lupines, mountain bog gentians and paintbrushes, makes the experience spectacular.

The Paradise area is crisscrossed with trails of all types and standards, some good for a short stroll (with the kids), others the realm of more strenuous hikers. To get a close-up of the Nisqually Glacier, follow the 1.2-mile Nisqually Vista Trail. For something more substantial hike the 5-mile Skyline Trail

Intrepid day hikers can continue up the mountain from Panorama Point via the Pebble Creek Trail to the permanent snowfield track that leads to Camp Muir, the main overnight bivouac spot for climbing parties. At 10,000ft, this hike is not to be undertaken lightly. Take sufficient clothing, and load up with a good supply of food and water.

Evergreen Falls
The Sol Duc Falls surrounded by green trees, moss and ferns in Olympic National Park. © Naphat Photography/Getty Images

Sol Duc River

The 14-mile road that leads off US 101 into the heart of Olympic National Park along the headwaters of the Sol Duc River is worth a spin for great day hikes, a dip in a natural spa and a glimpse of the Olympic rainforest. The trees along the roadside become taller and more majestic the moment you enter the park.

The road ends 1.5 miles past Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, and this is where most of the trails start. The most popular hike is the 0.75-mile Sol Duc Falls Trail, where the river plummets 40ft into a narrow gorge. However, you can lengthen this hike by setting out from the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort along the Lover’s Lane trail and using the ‘campground trail’ on the return to make a loop.

Other more strenuous hikes cross the bridge at the falls and climb the Deer Lake Trail along Canyon Creek. This sometimes steep, 8-mile round-trip trail reaches the tree-rimmed lake then joins the High Divide Trail before tracking back via the Seven Lakes Basin, a popular overnight destination. Another good leg-stretcher is the 2.5-mile Mink Lake Trail, departing from the resort. The marshy lake is noted for its bird-watching and wildlife viewing.

A woman hiking in Mt St Helens National Monument, Washington, USA.
Mt St Helens got its distinct crater from its last eruption, which literally blew the peak off the mountain © Alamy Stock Photo

Mt St Helens

In addition to climbing to the summit, there are plenty of other hikes on and around Mt St Helens. Ask a ranger at Silver Lake Visitor Center to direct you to the best trail for the weather and the distance you want to tackle – they’ll also provide basic trail maps, but you should always carry a detailed topo map as well.

Suggested hikes include a circumnavigation of Coldwater Lake on the 9-mile Lakes Trail/Coldwater Trail (hikes 211 and 230), through an area of forest blow-down and developing shrubs (with 2500ft of ascent, the trail is graded ‘difficult’); and the Truman Trail (hike 207), named after Harry Truman (not the president), who perished in the eruption, leading from the Windy Ridge viewpoint through pumice fields and wildflower fields for 5.7 miles.

The 2.5-mile Hummocks Trail (hike 229) is a good choice when the upper areas haven’t yet opened for summer; it loops around mounds of volcanic debris (called hummocks) as well as along the Toutle River for spectacular views of the mountain.

Mt St Helens’ version of Mt Rainier’s Wonderland Trail is the rugged 30-mile Loowit Trail (hike 216), which circumnavigates the volcano, crossing numerous ecosystems. Winter storms can affect trail quality here, so inquire at Silver Lake Visitor Center before setting out.

The Quinault River Trail passing between moss covered maple trees in the Quinault Rain Forest of Olympic National Park.
The Quinault Rain Forest of Olympic National Park has wildly varied landscapes including groves of trees, cascades, and cliff faces © Alamy Stock Photo

The Enchanted Valley Trail

The Lake Quinault area’s hiking highlight is this photogenic trail, which climbs for 13 miles beyond the Graves Creek Ranger Station, at the end of S Shore Rd, up to a large meadow (a former glacial-lake bed) crisscrossed by streams and springs, and resplendent with wildflowers and thickets of alders.

To the north rise sheer cliff faces and peaks craning 2000ft from the valley floor; during spring snowmelt, the 3-mile precipice is drizzled by thousands of small waterfalls. After the late-June snowmelt it is possible to lengthen this hike by continuing over 4464ft Anderson Pass (19 miles from Graves Creek) and descending to the Dosewallips Trailhead on the park’s eastern side.

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Saddle Rock in Wenatchee, Washington is popular with hikers and bicyclers who want to stick close to town © Meghan O’Dea / Lonely Planet

Wenatchee and Cashmere

Best known for mountain biking, Wenatchee and neighboring Cashmere have a lot to offer hikers, too. In Wenatchee, the go-to trail is Saddle Rock, a 2.5 mile trail with 900 feet of elevation gain that offers fantastic views of the surrounding town, not to mention the dramatic rock formation for which the park and trail are named.

Just a short drive away, Nahahum Canyon is carpeted with bright yellow balsam root in the spring, and the trail that winds up to a radio tower atop of the hills overlooking Cashmere and, further southeast, West Wenatchee, is easy enough for moderate hikers to take in the panoramic views. In April, the valleys you see from above are painted in sharp contrasts of blue shadow, green leaves, and the white blossoms of Central Washington’s apple orchards. On a clear day, you can even see the jagged points of the Enchantments to the west. 

A woman taking pictures of the Skokomish river in the Staircase Rapids area of Olympic National Park, Washington, USA.
A woman taking pictures of the Skokomish river in the Staircase Rapids area of Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. Alamy Stock Photo

Staircase

The trail system in this part of Olympic National Park follows the drainage of the North Fork Skokomish River, which is flanked by some of the most rugged peaks in the Olympics.

The principal long-distance path is the North Fork Skokomish Trail, which leads up this heavily forested valley, eventually crossing into the Duckabush River valley to intercept other trans-park trail systems. Ambitious day-hikers might consider following this trail 3.7 miles to the Flapjack Lakes Trail, an easy 4-mile climb up to several small lakes that shimmer beneath the crags of the Sawtooth peaks.

A popular short hike follows the south bank of the North Fork Skokomish River through lush old-growth forest along the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail. Continue up the trail a short distance to the Rapids Bridge, which crosses over to the North Fork Skokomish Trail and makes for a nice 2-mile loop.

Rear View Of Hikers On Mountain Against Sky
Mt Baker was originally known as Koma Kulshan, which means the White Sentinel in the language of the Indigenous Coast Salish people ©Phil Lewis/EyeEm/Getty Images

Mt Baker

The interpretive Artist Ridge Trail is an easy 1-mile loop through heather and berry fields with the craggy peaks of Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan scowling in the background. Another option is the 0.5-mile Fire & Ice Trail, adjacent to the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, which explores a valley punctuated by undersized mountain hemlock. The 7.5-mile Chain Lakes Loop starts at the Artist Point parking lot before dropping down to pass a half-dozen icy lakes surrounded by huckleberry meadows.

Many of Mt Baker’s best trails start lower down on Hwy 542 from a series of unpaved forest roads. The 7.4-mile out-and-back Heliotrope Ridge Trail begins 8 miles south on unpaved USFS Rd 39, 1 mile east of Glacier, and takes hikers from thick old-growth forest to flower-filled meadows and, ultimately, a breathtaking Coleman Glacier overlook. At the 2-mile point the path for the Coleman Glacier ascent of Mt Baker branches to the left.

Skyline Divide hiking trail, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, United States.
The Skyline Divide hiking trail in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, United States © Alamy Stock Photo

The 11-mile out-and-back Skyline Divide Trail is another spellbinding stroll through forests and meadows on the edge of the Mt Baker Wilderness, with eye-to-eye views of the main mountain and countless other more distant peaks. Access is via USFS Rd 37, which branches southeast off USFS Rd 39 immediately after Hwy 542 and runs for 12 miles to the trailhead.

Access to North Cascades National Park and an abundance of multiday backcountry hikes is via Hannegan Pass, a 5-mile hike from the Hannegan campground and trailhead at the end of USFS Rd 32, which branches east at a sharp bend in Hwy 542. Walk in through a beautiful roadless valley.

The American Alpine Institute offers a huge range of private tours, skills courses and expeditions, including guided three-day novice climbs up Mt Baker from $795 (May to September); they fill up fast, so reserve well in advance. Its next-door gear shop sells and rents outdoor equipment (10am to 6pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 2pm on Saturday).

Introducing Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest

The Sourdough Ridge Trail

This 1-mile ridge climb heads from the north side of the Sunrise parking area on the park’s eastern side and takes you out into pristine subalpine meadows for stunning views over Washington’s volcanic giants: namely, Mt Rainier, Mt Baker, Glacier Peak and Mt Adams.

Hikers on Olympic Coast near Wedding Rocks Cape Alava and Lake Ozette trail, Olympic National Park, Washington
Hikers on Olympic Coast near Wedding Rocks Cape Alava and Lake Ozette trail in Olympic National Park, Washington © Alamy Stock Photo

Ozette

The Hoko–Ozette road leaves Hwy 112 about 3 miles west of Sekiu and proceeds 21 miles to Lake Ozette Ranger Station, on Lake Ozette. There is no village here but, from the ranger station, two boardwalk trails lead out to beaches at Cape Alava and Sand Point.

The 3.3-mile Cape Alava Trail leads north to the westernmost point of land in the continental US and is the site of the ancient Makah village, where archaeologists unearthed 55,000 artifacts, many of which are on display at the Makah Museum in Neah Bay. The southern Sand Point Trail from Lake Ozette Ranger Station leads 3 miles to beaches below a low bluff; whale-watchers often come here in the migration season.

Petroglyphs at Wedding Rock, Olympic National Park, Washington
As the petroglyphs at Wedding Rock show, people have been coming to what is now Olympic National Park for thousands of years to watch whales and fish © Washington Alamy Stock Photo

The two shorter Ozette trails can easily be linked as a long day hike by walking the 3 miles between Cape Alava and Sand Point along the beach (beware of the tides) or overland (but note that the trail is brushy and primitive).

The high point of this hike is Wedding Rocks, the most significant group of petroglyphs on the Olympic Peninsula. Approximately a mile south of Cape Alava, the small outcropping contains carvings of whales, a European square-rigger and fertility figures. The site was traditionally used for Makah weddings and is still considered sacred.

The really hardcore can hike the 20 miles from Ozette to Rialto Beach near La Push. Note that this last hike is dependent on the tides and hikers often have to retreat into the wilderness, where there’s no trail. All hikes require paying the Olympic National Park entry fee.

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You may also like: Introducing Washington’s national parks
The 12 best secluded cabins to rent on the West Coast
10 best peaks for beginner mountaineers
 

Source : Lonelyplanet

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