Best Trails for Everyone in Washington

Updated: Mar 29

Hiking in the evergreen state is unlike any other. Whether you're looking for a short flat path through the rainforest or a multi-day expedition in the mountains, Washington has you covered. In this list, we'll cover the most spectacular walks, day hikes, and backpacking trails in the state.

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Day Walks: <2 hours

Hall of Mosses, Olympic National Park 0.8 Miles

This iconic trail traverses through the densest portion of the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park. With little to no elevation gain, the Hall of Mosses trail is perfect for all ages/skill levels. Get transported to another world on this picturesque walk straight from the visitor center parking lot.

When to Go: The trail is open year-round. The best times to visit are winter/spring for the deepest greens and lushest foliage.

What to Know: There is an entrance station for Olympic National Park located 6 miles before the trailhead. An entrance fee of $30/vehicle is required.

Johnston Ridge Observatory Walk, Mt. St. Helens 0.5 Miles

One of the most famous volcanoes in the world hosts some incredible, easy-to-access, views! The Johnston Ridge Observatory, located just 1 hour from I-5, provides a dramatic view of the Northern face of Mt. St. Helens. During the snow-free season, anyone can drive up through the spectacular Gifford Pinchot National Forest and stretch their legs on the paved interpretive path around the facility.

When to Go: May-October, weather permitting, is when the road to the Johnston Observatory is open to the public.

What to Know: Weather conditions in the Central Cascades can change in an instant. Be prepared for the curvy road with good tires and traction mechanisms, especially in the early/late season.

Ruby Beach Trail, Olympic National Park 1.4 Miles

The Olympic Coast of Washington may be the best sunset-viewing location in the country. Jagged rock formations rise abruptly out of the tidepools teeming with life. Open all year long, the best beach of them all is Ruby Beach. Accessed by an easy 1.4 mile out-and-back trail, all ages/skill levels can visit this coastal paradise.

When to Go: Although the trail is open year-round, we recommend visiting in summer/early fall for warmer, calmer weather.

What to Know: Tides can approach quickly. Beware of the water level and check the posted tide charts.

Day Hikes: 2-8 hours

Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout, Mount Rainier National Park 5.7 Miles

Albert Yang, Mt. Fremont Lookout

The state of Washington is famous for its nearly 100 fire lookouts scattered across the state. Of these, arguably the most impressive is the Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout located in Mount Rainier National Park. The well-kept trail with a steady climb of 1000ft traverses the Rainier foothills to a stunning historic lookout. Explore this trail at sunrise for the most spectacular vista over Mount Rainier.

When to Go: Sunrise Road opens in July and closes at the end of October, weather permitting. We recommend visiting this area in late summer when the snow has fully melted.

What to Know: Occasionally, park rangers will spend the night in the lookout and the doors will be closed early morning. Be prepared for the possibility that the lookout may be locked.

Falls Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest 4 Miles

Bryan Swan, Falls Creek Falls

Plunging 300 feet into the Columbia River Gorge, Falls Creek Falls is one of Washington's most impressive waterfalls. The trail steadily rises 1,000 feet into the rainforest, following Falls Creek to the waterfall. The access road, through Gifford Pinchot National Forest, is unpaved but well maintained. Expect a moderate trail with steep banks and occasional obstacles.

When to Go: The road may be impassible in winter depending on the altitude of the seasonal snowpack. Summer and fall are the best seasons to visit.

What to Know: Wildfires in summer can cause closures to areas of the Columbia River Gorge, check the forest service website for updates.

Cascade Pass Trail, North Cascades National Park 7 Miles

Rachel Jitabebe, Cascade Pass Trail

Some of the best North Cascade views can be found along the Cascade Pass Trail 5,000 feet over North Cascades National Park. The windy road to this trailhead is only open in the snow-free season, leading to severe crowding during the summer holidays. However, along the route, visitors disappear into the jagged peaks and you're surrounded by alpine scenery.

When to Go: Fall, before early season snows. (September/Early October) Fall colors can form on larches and grasses at high altitudes.

What to Know: Huckleberries grow all along the trail, especially above 4,000 feet. This may also attract bears to the area.

Summit Lake Trail, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest 6.1 Miles

Albert Yang, Summit Lake

For some of the most picturesque views of Mount Rainier, the trails in the nearby Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest offer world-class views of the impressive mountain. This moderate hike to a viewpoint over Summit Lake provides one of the most rewarding views in the state. Drive towards the less-visited Carbon River entrance to the National Park and veer slightly into the National Forest for access to the trailhead.

When to Go: Summer/Fall, the trail is inaccessible during the winter/spring seasons.

What to Know: The road to the trailhead is rough and may require 4WD and high clearance to access. Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Maple Pass Loop, North Cascades National Park 7.1 Miles

Lake Ann, Maple Pass Loop

The Maple Pass Loop is one of the most popular trails in North Cascades National Park. Climbing over 2,000ft, the trail can be strenuous at times. Start off by climbing into the high alpine, through wildflower meadows and rockfalls. Near the pass, expect amazing views of Lake Ann and the surrounding mountains. On the loop back, expect steed declines and avalanche chutes as you look for mountain goats on the adjacent cliffs.

When to Go: Early fall to escape crowds and experience the autumn larches.

What to Know: The trail lies at a high altitude, far north region of Washington. Expect snowpack conditions from October-July. Check NPS website for road details.

High Rock Lookout, Gifford Pinchot National Forest 3.2 Miles

Drew Simms, High Rock Lookout

Any southern vista of Mount Rainier can only be accessed from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This picture-perfect fire lookout is one of the state's best. A steep, but short, 3.2 mile trail zigzags up the mountain, offering views of Mount Adams and Mt. St. Helens along the way. Expect to struggle to find parking along the skinny forest road during busy holidays, so plan accordingly.

When to Go: July-October. Like other high altitude trails in the area, the road becomes impassible after a few snowfalls and stays that way until mid-summer.

What to Know: Areas around the lookout are very steep and dangerous, especially in wet conditions.

Multi-Day Backpacking Trails: 1-5 days

Hoh River Trail, Olympic National Park 35.3 Miles

Lee Rentz, Blue Glacier

For the complete Washington experience, climb from near sea level, through old-growth rainforest, into cloud forests, and past alpine lakes, all the way to the source of the Hoh River, Blue Glacier. This trail travels through nearly every PNW ecosystem, passing vistas and waterfalls along the way. Expect to spend at least one night on the trail at one of several campsites along the way. The Hoh River Trail stays relatively flat, only gaining 1,000 ft in the first 13 miles (out-and-back trail). However, the last 4 miles climb nearly 5,000 feet, above the Olympic range, to a vista over Blue Glacier and Mt. Olympus.

In mid/late summer, mosquitoes can be a nuisance along the trail, especially in alpine meadows. Also, be aware of the threat of bears and mountain lions that roam the Olympic Peninsula.

This trail is a must-do for all backpackers in Washington state. Very few trails offer the chance to follow a river from its mouth to its source, high in the mountains. Water is frequently available from streams and lakes along the way.

When to Go: Snowpack levels, often above 3,000ft, vary seasonally. Expect conditions to be impassible until July and difficult beginning in late October. Check trail reports before going.

What to Know: The Hoh Rainforest Entrance Station charges a $30 entrance fee to all vehicles. Also, Olympic National Park charges $8/Night of backcountry camping anywhere in the park.

Lee Rentz, Hoh River Trail

Recommended Tents for Washington Backpacking:

The Enchantments Trail, Alpine Lakes Wilderness 23.6 Miles

Scott Smorra, The Enchantments

One of the most famous trails in the state, the Enchantments trail is both inviting and exclusive. Only a lucky few, who win the lottery hosted by the Forest Service, have a chance to backpack throughout the area each year. The trail passes by dozens of emerald-colored lakes, through alpine wildflower meadows, and along many dramatic ridges. Due to the altitude and location in the central cascades, the Enchantments are buried under many feet of snow until early July.

Before beginning a trail through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, be sure to consult a map to see if any other trails are appealing. There are thousands of miles of trails in the Central Cascades, all worth hiking. Many creative paths are possible through the Alpine Lakes. Also, make sure to check online reviews to know the conditions of a trail before you go.

When to Go: The Alpine Lakes wilderness is a late summer/early fall paradise, as with most alpine locations in Washington. We strongly recommend late September/first week of October for prime larch photography.

What to Know: The Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest charges a $6.00 (non-refundable) application fee for anyone entering the lottery. This only applies to those wishing to camp overnight in the permit-areas.


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