10 Must Do Hikes In Washington

Best Hikes In Washington.png

Washington is a stunningly beautiful state blessed with 3 national parks, 5 major volcanoes, hundreds of gem colored alpine lakes, and mountain ranges grand enough to rival anything in the lower 48. Needless to say, trying to pick the best hikes is no easy task! In reality, a more fitting title for this post might have been “My Favorite Hikes in Washington.” Regardless, the following trails are some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of trekking - ANYWHERE. That being said, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list- only a good place to start! 

Before you head out on any trail in Washington State, I always recommend checking the Washington Trails Association website for trail reports. The trail reports often include recent photos and will include current trail and road conditions. It’s also a great place to get driving directions, find out whether your pupper can join you, and if you need a National Park or Northwest Forest Pass. 

Photo by: Kyle Kotajarvi

Photo by: Kyle Kotajarvi

To help you gear up for your next hike I've partnered with Backcountry.com to give you 15% off your entire first purchase! Use code JESS15 at checkout. (Some exclusions apply). Need Some inspiration? Check out my Hiking & Backpacking Gear Guide.

Leave It Better Than You Found It 

No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced. - David Attenborough

It is my deepest hope that by sharing these beautiful places, I can help engender a type of ownership and concern for our wild places. I believe that we all have the capacity to act as stewards for the environment now, and well into the future. Part of our responsibility as stewards is to always practice “Leave No Trace” principles while enjoying the outdoors. For more information please visit The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

Wearing: Keen  Hiking Boots , Beyond Yoga  Leggings , Patagonia  Day Pack , and drinking out of my  Nalgene . View from Pinnacle Ridge at Mount Rainier.

Wearing: Keen Hiking Boots, Beyond Yoga Leggings, Patagonia Day Pack, and drinking out of my Nalgene. View from Pinnacle Ridge at Mount Rainier.

The Best Hikes In Washington!

1. Maple Pass Loop

Maple Pass Loop North Cascades

Maple Pass Loop is probably the only hike on this list that I do every single year. Sometimes more than once. The first half of October is arguably the best time to go, because the Larches are likely to be at their golden peak.

You can hike the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. I’ve done both, and I’m really not sure which way is better. Going clockwise, you get the steep part of the trail over with early in the day and you and your knees can enjoy a more gradual descent at the end of the day. A counter-clockwise hike offers arguably more dramatic views of Black Peak and the North Cascades National Park as you climb to the pass. You can’t really go wrong though! 

Pro Tip: Located in the heart of the North Cascades Highway, just getting to Maple Pass is a bit of an adventure, but the drive is beautiful, and it’s a great excuse to stop and take in the famous North Cascade views at the Diablo Lake Overlook. 

Distance: 7.5 miles 

Elevation Gain: 2000

Difficulty: Moderately Difficult 

2. Thornton Lakes & Trappers Peak

Thornton Lakes & Trappers Peak North Cascades
Wearing: Keen  Hiking Boots , Patagonia  Nano-Air Jacket , Patagonia  leggings , and Osprey Exos  Backpack .

Wearing: Keen Hiking Boots, Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket, Patagonia leggings, and Osprey Exos Backpack.

Rugged and remote, Trappers Peak embodies the best of what the North Cascades have to offer without requiring an overnight trip. While the trail will make you work, the views at the end are well worth the effort. When you reach the lowest of the Thornton Lakes, you’ll be faced with a decision: head left and relax near the alpine waters, or continue straight and scramble up the rocky ridge that leads to Trappers Peak. Either way, you can’t go wrong! 

If you decide to head up to the peak (which I would highly recommend), you are committing to 1,000 more feet in less than a mile. But the views of the Picket Range at the top will make you forget any second thoughts you had on the way up! 

Pro Tip: If you want to overnight at Trappers Peak or Thornton Lakes, you'll need a backcountry permit from the ranger station in Marblemount. 

Distance: 10.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 2900 ft

Difficulty: Difficult

3. Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm

Sahale Glacier & Cascade Pass

The Cascade Pass Trail is a great day hike with spectacular views of peaks and glaciers. The trail climbs steadily to the pass for 3.7 miles including a section of fairly relentless switchbacks. Once you reach the pass, enjoy views of some of the North Cascade’s most famous peaks such as Eldorado, Johannesburg, Magic, Mixup and McGregor. This trail provides the shortest and easiest access in the park to the alpine environment. As a result, Cascade Pass is the most popular day hike in the national park and can be quite busy on summer weekends.

For an extended day hike (or overnight trip), head left on to the Sahale Arm Trail. This trail ascends steeply through subalpine meadows and talus fields to the base of the Sahale Glacier. Expansive views as far as the eye can see will greet you at the top! 

Pro Tip: Camping in the Sahale Glacier Camp requires a backcountry permit, available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the ranger station in Marblemount. Some of the campsites sit on the very edge of the terminal moraine of the glacier - the views will knock your socks off. 

Distance: 12 miles

Elevation Gain: 4000 ft

Difficulty: Difficult 

4. Hidden Lake Lookout

Hidden Lake Lookout
Hidden Lake Lookout

Hidden Lake Lookout was the first lookout hike I did in Washington, and what an introduction it was! Perched precariously on a mound of rocks at 6,850 feet, Hidden Lake Lookout offers expansive views of southern North Cascades National Park and the Glacier Peak Wilderness. 

The hike begins in cool forests but quickly opens up into vast, open meadows filled with wildflowers, then rocky slopes and heather before ending at a steep rocky pinnacle. The lookout is at the top of the rock pinnacle, DO NOT head down to the lake. The lake is a lot further away than it looks and not a fun backtrack. Route finding can be a little difficult at this point, but there is a trail most of the way up to the lookout.  

Pro Tip: The lookout is open to the public on a first-come-first-serve basis for overnight use. There’s no easily accessible water source at the lookout, so if you’re planning on spending the night, bring more than you think you’ll need! 

Distance: 8 miles 

Elevation Gain: 3300 ft 

Difficulty: Moderately Difficult 

5. Park Butte

Wearing Smartwool  Top .

Wearing Smartwool Top.

Washington State is full of old fire lookouts. Most of them are inactive at this point but a few like Park Butte have been restored, and are maintained by local hiking clubs for the public. I’ve done quite a few lookout hikes now, and Park Butte is definitely top 3 for me. The trail is beautiful, the lookout is in great shape, and Mt. Baker is so close you feel as if you could easily reach out and touch it! 

Pro Tip: Like many of the other lookouts in the area, first come, first-served camping is available at Park Butte. Unfortunately, that seems to mean different things to different people. I’ve shown up to a lookout to find one other person already there and been turned away. I’ve also been the first person to a lookout, and then had 12 people and 2 dogs decide to camp next to, on top of, and around me. And pretty much everything in between. So when it comes to fire lookouts, my suggestion, as with most outdoor adventures, is to hope for the best, but plan for the worst!

Distance: 7.5 miles 

Elevation Gain: 2,200 ft. 

Difficulty: Moderate

6. Colchuck Lake

Wearing: Rab  Down Jacket , Keen  Hiking Boots .

Wearing: Rab Down Jacket, Keen Hiking Boots.

Wearing: Prana  Pillar Legging , Rab  Down Jacket , Keen  Hiking Boots .

Wearing: Prana Pillar Legging, Rab Down Jacket, Keen Hiking Boots.

Colchuck Lake is the fist stop for many people through hiking the core Enchantments, but it makes a wonderful final destination as well. The Enchantment Lakes are legendary hiking ground in Washington for a reason. The peaks and many of the lakes have names based in mythology and magic, and it’s not hard to understand why once you’re there. Colchuck Lake is the most accessible of these jewel colored lakes, and I would argue that in many ways it’s also the most picturesque. The hike wanders its way through beautiful forest, across a river, through a bolder field, and then back up through some more trees before finally opening up to Colchuck Lake.

Pro Tip: If you have the time, and you’re up for the challenge, the views looking down on Colchuck Lake from Aasgard Pass are worth the effort. That being said, don’t underestimate the amount of time this undertaking will likely require. Hiking 2000 feet in just three-quarters of a mile is no joke! If you think you’d like to spend more time exploring Colchuck Lake and its enchanting siblings you can apply for backcountry permits on the recreation.gov website. 

Distance: 8 miles

Elevation Gain: 2300 ft

Difficulty: Moderately Difficult 

7. Blanca Lake

Lake Blanca Washington Hike

A few years ago, the last two miles of road to Blanca Lake washed out, and all of a sudden an already tedious hike, jam packed with switchbacks through monotonous forest, became 4 miles longer. BUT there’s a silver lining to this story! First, while those extra miles consist of boring road hiking, they are also relatively flat and tend to fly by. Second, and more importantly, those extra 4 miles seem to deter a lot of people from doing this once extremely popular hike. I’m not saying you’ll have Blanca Lake all to yourself, but I’ve noticed a pretty significant decrease in the number of people on the trail since the road closure. 

What makes Blanca Lake unique is its color. Unlike the crystal clear alpine lakes you find throughout most of Washington, Blanca Lake features eye catching milky blue water. The water’s milky appearance is caused by glacial erosion. 

Pro Tip: Get to the trailhead early, then spend the warmest part of the day swimming and soaking in the sun on the rocks around the lake. 

Distance: 8 miles

Elevation Gain: 2300 feet 

Difficulty: Difficult

8. Skyline Trail

Wearing: Beyond Yoga  Leggings . View from Pinnacle Ridge looking toward Mount Rainier and the Skyline Trail.

Wearing: Beyond Yoga Leggings. View from Pinnacle Ridge looking toward Mount Rainier and the Skyline Trail.

The Skyline Trail forms a loop above Paradise on Mount Rainier’s south side. The trail starts on the north side of the upper parking lot, next to the visitor center. In peak season (July and August) your hike will be filled with views of cascading waterfalls, huge glaciers, and subalpine meadows brimming with colorful wildflowers. 

The system of trails heading out of Paradise is intricate, so make sure to stop by the visitor center to pick up a free map of the area. The Skyline Trail can be completed in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. In the past I have done the trail counterclockwise, which gives the option of cutting a mile and a half off the total length by cutting up through the valley on the Golden Gate Trail. A great option if you are short on time!  

Pro Tip: The Skyline Trail is extremely popular, and it is not a great choice if you are looking for solitude on your outdoor adventure. However, getting an early start is a great way to avoid the crowds during peak season. 

Distance: 5.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1450 ft

Difficulty: Moderate

9. Summit Lake

Wearing: Keen  Hiking Boots , Osprey  Sirrus 36 Backpack , and  Hydroflask .

Wearing: Keen Hiking Boots, Osprey Sirrus 36 Backpack, and Hydroflask.

Shown in photo:  NEMO Equipment Tent , Marmot 15 Degree  Sleeping Bag .

Shown in photo: NEMO Equipment Tent, Marmot 15 Degree Sleeping Bag.

One of my favorite hiking trails to do when I’m at home is the Summit Lake Trail just outside the Mount Rainier National Park. Summit Lake is located relatively close to Seattle, and makes for a great half-day hike, or overnight backpacking trip. From the top of the ridge above the lake, there are stunning views of Mount Rainier and the Carbon River Valley 3,000 feet below. 

Because Summit Lake is technically located outside the National Park, it’s a great place to enjoy Mount Rainier without having to deal with the fees, reservations, or permits required for many of the hikes and camping facilities at the park. 

Summit Lake is a moderate hike, that requires no previous hiking experience. It can easily be completed in a few hours. But you’ll want to schedule plenty of time to enjoy the views at the top! 

Pro Tip: Make sure to follow the side trail up the ridge past Summit Lake for stunning 360 degree views of Mount Rainier and a sea of other mountain tops too numerous to name. 

Distance: 6.5 miles 

Elevation Gain: 1,300 ft. 

Difficulty: Moderate 

10. Mount Storm King

Mount Storm King

One of my favorite places to head in the spring to get my hiking legs back into shape is Mount Storm King on the Olympic Peninsula! Storm King is a classic Washington State hike that never ceases to amaze. The hike is a relatively short 4ish miles round trip, but with over 2000 feet in elevation gain and a few scrambles toward the top, it’s no walk in the park. The physical challenge is a great way to sweat out any pent up energy from the long dark winter months. But more importantly, the view from the top is sure to get you excited for the hiking season to come!

Pro Tip: The last section of this hike involves a steep scramble and ropes. If you are not good with heights and/or exposure, this might not be the hike for you. Also, as with all ropes that you don’t set up yourself, and that live outside year round, don’t put all your weight on them! Always make sure that you are only using them for additional support. 

Distance: 4 miles 

Elevation Gain: 2065 ft.

Difficulty: Moderately Difficult 

I hope this list will help you get outside and enjoy some of the best scenery that Washington has to offer! If you have a hike that you’d like to add, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Just like you, I’m always looking for new inspiration. Happy trails!

This blog post was written in partnership with Backcountry.com. Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission on any purchase made - at no additional cost to you. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. I appreciate your support!   -  XO Jess 


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