While each of the fifty states has a number of fine hiking trails, the state with the most impressively secret hiking trails is Washington. Although the trails in Washington are not as well-known as California, Colorado, or Utah, they are beyond stunning. Washington also features a number of different types of terrain, from the Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic Peninsula, to the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier and other Cascade peaks, to the arid plains of the Columbia Basin. In many respects, Washington has it all in terms of hiking, and as such, any list is subject to debate. For a start, try these six hikes below, and by the time you finish experiencing these trails, you’ll probably have learned about some secret spots of your own.
What to Bring
If you are an experienced hiker, you probably already have your go-to gear that you pack on every trip. If not, no worries, below is what I take on every trip. Put together something similar and get out there and enjoy the natural exercise Washington has to offer.
- Hydration Pack preferably in a light weight back pack
- Trail mix or a granola bar for a snack
- Suunto Ambit3
- Compact first aid kit
- Cellular Phone in case of emergency
- Hiking Boots
See the sidebars after each hike for more details!
Paradise to Camp Muir, Mount Rainier National Park
The Last Adventurer
At 14,409 feet of elevation, Mount Rainier is Washington’s highest mountain and Washington’s signature mountain; so much so, that locals call it simply, “the mountain”. While a full climb of Mount Rainier requires a number of days, and hopefully fair weather, hikers can get a taste of the difficulties that mountaineers face by ascending the Muir Snowfield.
This hike departs from Paradise, at 5,420 feet of elevation, before ascending the Skyline trail to the base of the Muir snowfield. From this point, the “trail” is an ascent up the 2,900 feet of the snowfield to one of the mountaineering camps on the mountain, Camp Muir. This hike features great views, and is a great experience for any hiker. However, it is one that should not be underestimated, as it involves a great deal of elevation gain and loss (4,680 feet one way) over its 9 mile roundtrip distance.
Having said that, this hike is accessible to all, as hikers can complete as much or as little of the snowfield as they wish before electing to turn around.
Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park features some of the most diverse terrain in the state, from beautiful coastal beaches, to the Hoh Rain Forest, along with mountain peaks, and subalpine lakes. It also features a number of waterfalls, including the amazing – and easily accessible – Sol Duc Falls.
This waterfall is located in the northwestern portion of the park in the Sol Duc Valley. From the parking area, it is a short .8 mile hike (1.6 miles roundtrip) through the old growth forest in the area to the falls.
The Sol Duc Falls themselves are outstanding, and are a popular stopping place for beginner hikers. More experienced hikers can continue on to Mink Lake for a longer hike or can also complete the Lover’s Lane loop.
Mailbox Peak, King County
No list of trails in Washington would be complete without the infamous Mailbox Peak. Although there are much more scenic hikes in the state, there are none, outside of Mount Rainier that are more iconic and loved for their shear difficulty.
The original (old) Mailbox Peak trail was a shear ascent up the summit of the mountain (and its mailbox) at 4,822 feet over the course of 2.6 miles (5.2 miles roundtrip). This leg burning ascent featured almost no switchbacks, and was used for training by all sorts of people for a number of challenges. Because of the old hike’s legendary difficulty and popularity, a new trail was opened to the summit in 2014. While the new trail still ascends the same elevation, it now does so over the course of 4.7 miles one way (9.4 miles roundtrip).
Hikers have now been left with a tough decision in attempting the mountain: more elevation gain over shorter distance, or more distance with a shorter elevation gain. Either way, Mailbox Peak will remain a must-do hike in Washington.
Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm, North Cascades National Park
Out of all of America’s fifty-nine National Parks, North Cascades National Park might be the most unknown. But, out of all those National Parks, North Cascades might be the most beautiful, with glacier carved peaks, alpine meadows and waterfalls.
Although North Cascades National Park is not open year-round, the signature hike in the park is Cascade Pass to the Sahale arm. Over the course of 6 miles one way (12 miles roundtrip), this trail ascends through meadows that during the summer months are packed with wildflowers.
Along the trail, hikers will also be treated to views of a number of lakes in the area, as well as stunning views from Cascade Pass itself of the surrounding peaks. While this hike is located in a remote area of the state, it features scenery that should not be missed.
Cape Alava-Sand Point Loop (Ozette Triangle), Olympic National Park
Even though Washington is not known for its beaches, its coastline is quietly spectacular. The best way to experience the coastline is along the Olympic Peninsula.
This hike starts at Lake Ozette, before heading across the forested peninsula over the course of 3.3 miles to reach the Pacific Ocean. Once along the coast, hikers will be treated to views of small offshore islands, along with shorebirds and other maritime animals.
If amazing beach views weren’t enough, this hike also features some semi-hidden petroglyphs at several points along the beach. While this loop is 9.4 miles in total length, it is a moderate hike, but one which requires hikers to monitor the tides in order to time their departure properly.
Lake of the Angels, Olympic National Park
The Last Adventurer
This lake is located high up on Mount Skokomish in Olympic National Park, and is considered one of the prettiest lakes in the entire State of Washington and the Pacific Northwest. Although the views at the lake are heavenly (as befits a body of water located in the Valley of Heaven), the hike itself is difficult.
Over the course of 4 miles one way (8 miles roundtrip), the trail ascends over 3,400 feet of elevation. If the elevation gain on paper doesn’t appear difficult, it will in person, as the trail ascends over a series of ledges just before the lake, which requires a hiker to scramble and make use of handholds.
The end views, however, are worth any difficulty, as the lake is surrounded by high mountains, snowfields and—during the summer—alpine flowers.