Just below Canada and to Idaho’s west, Washington is home to islands, fjords, temperate rainforests, dramatic mountain ranges, and glacier-carved bays reminiscent of scenes one might see in Scandinavia.
I’d been seeing moody and awe-inspiring photos of the ‘PNW’ for years and had been dreaming of my own Washington adventure. Finally this summer, I got a gorgeous week of weather and numerous hikes of varying degrees of difficulty and variety under my belt.
It’s a big state with probably thousands of trails to choose from, but if you’re attempting to narrow it down, allow me to share my hours of research and firsthand testing with you. These are 6 of the best trails in Washington:
Skyline Trail – 6 Mi, 1794 Ft Elevation Gain
Unless you have total cloud cover, Mount Rainier is hard to miss on the skyline when exploring the Seattle and Tacoma areas. It’s a behemoth of a volcano at over 14,400 feet above sea level. I lack the mountaineering experience to climb it all the way to the top, but I sure did want to get as close as possible!
The Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park is perfect for this, providing not only gorgeous views of Rainier as you go, but also waterfalls, plenty of marmots and billy goats, and sweeping views of the mountain ranges all around.
This is a very popular trail and trailhead in Mount Rainier National Park, departing from the Paradise lot. I headed there for a sunset hike, which meant that there was space in the parking lot by then and far fewer people. If you’d like to do the same, I have some tips here on how to hike back down in the dark.
Pinnacle Peak Saddle – 2.4 Mi, 1056 Ft Elevation Gain
For a less popular option with equally amazing views, hit the trail opposite Picture Lake labeled Pinnacle Peak. It’s only about 1.3 miles to the view pictured above, and also offers incredible mountain range views from the other side of the saddle.
The maintained trail does end before you see the view above, and if you’re afraid of heights, could be a bit narrow, but even the view from the saddle is incredible enough.
These are two of many amazing trails in Mount Rainier National Park. For more options check out my post on the best trails in the national park.
Rialto Beach to Hole-In-The-Wall – 3 Mi, No Elevation Gain
Our next hike takes us to Olympic National Park and the rocky coastline. While there are many amazing beaches in this area, from Ruby to Second Beach, Rialto is famous for Hole-In-The-Wall that you can actually walk through at low tide!
However, I didn’t catch it at low tide, which meant climbing through the downed trees on the beach to get to the end. It was the best timing ever, because I had so much fun climbing and jungle-gyming all along the way to the end of the beach.
Hiking boots or Keens that cover your toes are best for this one, as it’s a rocky beach and there’s lots of climbing involved at high tide. Or, time your visit with the low tide (calendar here) and just easily walk along the shore.
If you look at the waves long enough, especially in the evening, you just might see seals playing in the water!
Sunrise Viewpoint + Hurricane Ridge – 4 Mi, 800 Ft Elevation Gain
Alright, I’m cheating a bit here to combine these two, but since both hikes are short and sweet, I recommend heading to the Sunrise View Point in Olympic National Park for sunrise then hitting the Hurricane Ridge Trail right after. The latter is the most popular trail, and one of the most accessible in the park, therefore heading there early ensures not having to share it with as many people.
Maple Pass – 7.1 Mi, 2188 Ft Elevation Gain
The Maple Pass Trail in North Cascades National Park is one of the longer ones on this list, but it’s worth it. The trail features views of two lakes as you go, along with sweeping views of glacier-topped mountains in the distance. I thought that Maple Pass at golden hour was particularly impressive, with the mountains turning gold from the sun all around me.
In terms of difficulty, this trail is fairly gradual and if you’re experienced with hiking, it’s unlikely to feel particularly difficult. It begins through a shaded, wooded area with an offshoot to Lake Ann, which most hikers do, before gradually climbing to the Heather and then Maple Pass for the incredible views pictured above.
This is quite a popular trail with a parking lot that can fill up quickly. I like to aim for later afternoon hours and get my hike in during the end of the day for this reason. Though not a well-known option, one can also hike a quarter of a mile on the Heather Pass offshoot for camping spots. Do note that they are restoring the area’s plants, so please only camp in the areas that are clearly meant for tents and don’t cross into the roped-off areas. There are only a couple of campsites, but not many hikers had this idea, so we had no problem snagging one. As always, Leave No Trace!
This is one of many impressive trails in North Cascades National Park. Cascade Pass is another fan favorite, along with the Sahale Arm, Diablo Lake Trail, and so many more. Given the combo of lakes and mountain views, I chose this one, but you can’t go wrong in the area!
Lake Ingalls – 8.8 Mi, 2893 Ft Elevation Gain
Lake Ingalls is one of many gorgeous lakes in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. This is the most challenging hike on the list, but even at that, it was mostly a gradual ascent with a bit more steepness and hand-and-foot scrambling at the end to get to the lake.
To access the trail, drive down a dirt road (don’t worry, unless it’s wet and muddy, a sedan can make it just fine) for about 20 minutes to a parking lot that tends to fill up quite early. Per usual, I got there later in the day and was able to get a spot easily since most of the AM hikers had left at that point.
This is a hike where camping is permitted in the alpine wilderness just before the lake scramble. There were plenty of billy goats coming by and munching on the greenery around our camp, and a gorgeous sunset through the gorge as well.
In hindsight I do wish I’d seen this lake midday, and on one with a lot less wind. The water appears as a deep, crystal clear blue, much like my beloved Lake Aloha, and it would have been great to see it that way!
Still, it was an awesome way to finish out my hikes in Washington, and if you find yourself exploring the state, I hope this post helps you to pick out some hikes to try.
Again, there are thousands to choose from and this is just the tip of the iceberg, but if you’re just visiting for a short time and want to see the highlights, this list will give you variety and differing views and experiences all along the way. Happy trails!
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