Filled with lush forests, including one of the few temperate rain forests in the U.S., crystal clear alpine lakes, rushing alpine rivers and waterfalls, glaciers, active volcanoes, and a dramatic coastline, Washington is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.
Miles upon miles of hikes criss-cross the state’s gorgeous scenery, including two of the national scenic trails. Both the 2,650-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail, which travels along the Pacific from Mexico to Canada, and the 1,200-mile-long Pacific Northwest Trail, which traverses the continent from Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean, cross the state, adding to its diverse trail system.
But you don’t need to commit to long backpacking trails to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and amazing ecosystems of the state. You’ll find plenty of short and accessible trails, too. I’ve been hiking in Washington state almost every summer; my favorite trails are on the easier side, so I tried to highlight those, adding a few moderate ones. In this state, you don’t need a very long and strenuous hike to enjoy your surroundings.
1. Skyline Trail To Myrtle Falls, Mount Rainier National Park
An active volcano standing 14,410 feet above sea level, and home to the most glaciers in the U.S., Mount Rainier is the most recognizable feature of the Washington landscape. Its southwestern slope, Paradise, is its most spectacular and most visited area, home to Paradise Lodge and Mount Rainier National Park’s main visitor center.
One of the best trails to experience this area is the Skyline Trail. At 5.9 miles long, it can be difficult to climb, especially when parts of it at higher elevation are still under snow, though it’s great if you are looking for a bit of a challenge. Or, you can take it to Myrtle Falls, my favorite part, about 1.5-miles from the trailhead. Here, you can enjoy the scenery while walking on a wide and relatively level trail. Watch your step around the waterfall, where it gets slippery. It helps to wear comfortable hiking shoes with a good grip (like my Keen II Terradora Boots). Visit in August for the best showcase of wildflowers in the subalpine meadows. The trail starts behind the visitor center at Paradise.
Pro Tip: The weather is unpredictable here in every season. You could start out in the sunshine, and a mile later may get soaked with rain on the same trail, so it helps if you carry a light rain jacket and dress in layers.
2. Hoh Rain Forest Loop, Olympic National Park
One of the few remaining temperate rain forests in the U.S., the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula is a place everyone who visits Washington State should experience. The easiest way to enjoy it is to hike the 1.4-mile Hoh Rain Forest Loop Trail in Olympic National Park. The loop combines a few interpretive trails near the visitor center for a brief tour of the rainforest. Start with the Mini Trail at the north end of the parking lot, which is flat, paved, and accessible. Continue to the Spruce Nature Trail, a loop, not accessible, but still easy to walk. The wide path takes you through a gorgeous lush green canopy filled with ancient trees, mosses, and ferns. For part of the loop, the trail follows the Hoh River before returning to the Mini Trail. Being one of the most accessible and easiest trails in the park, it does get crowded, especially on weekends. Try to go off-season, or get there early on a weekday to beat the crowds.
3. Trail Of The Cedars Nature Walk, North Cascades National Park
Home to some of the wildest areas of the U.S., with rugged peaks, over 300 glaciers, old-growth forests, and gorgeous alpine lakes, North Cascades National Park preserves a landscape where wilderness thrives with little interference from human progress.
Trail of the Cedars is one of the shortest and easiest trails in the park, offering a good introduction to the area. The trailhead is in Newhalem, and the walk starts with crossing the Skagit River on a suspension bridge. The loop starts past the bridge, and you can take it either direction. The wide and well-maintained trail meanders through the forest, highlighting giant cedars and featuring informational posts. At less than half a mile long, the trail offers an easy stroll in the shade of the large cedars.
4. Horseshoe Bend Trail, Mount Baker National Forest
This is my pick for the best hike in Washington. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. Hugging the banks of the north fork of the Nooksack River, Horseshoe Bend Trail is a 2.8-mile hike in a gorgeous old-growth forest. Flat and wide, the first part of the trail is a simple walk along the river, followed by some challenging parts as the trail narrows and passes through a few overgrown areas. For about the last half-mile, it gets steep as it climbs higher and leaves the riverbank, going deeper into the forest. You can go as far as you feel comfortable -- the vistas even at the start of the trail are worth it. Since the trailhead is right on the Mount Baker Highway, I expected it to get busy during high season, and I heard from people that it might. However, I found it quiet and less traveled, giving me an opportunity for solitude in nature without going out of my way or backpacking for days. For little effort, this trail rewards you with gorgeous vistas.
5. Heather Meadows Loop Trail, Mount Baker Wilderness
One of my favorite trails in the area, the Heather Meadows Loop trail offers gorgeous vistas of the snow-filled tops of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan beside high alpine meadows. It is an area where you might walk through snow, even in July, but by early August it’s filled with delicate heathers, and you can walk the whole trail in shorts. Flat and easy to walk around the lake, the trail gets rocky and steep when it descends to the river. Good, waterproof hiking shoes with a good gripping sole and ankle support should make it more comfortable, especially when you might need to cross snow-covered areas. The trail starts on the Mount Baker Highway, leads up to the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, and loops back to the parking lot in just over a mile. From the visitor center, another trail continues up to Artist Point, but it is under snow almost year-round.
6. Wallace Falls Trail, Wallace Falls State Park
One of the most popular trails in the state, the 5.9-mile round trip Wallace Falls Trail in Wallace Falls State Park features incredible scenery on every stretch. Along the way, you’ll pass a set of nine waterfalls comprising Wallace Falls. Though it is a steady climb all the way, the trail is on a moderate-grade slope and has plenty of beaches along the way for rest and photo opportunities. Even if you don’t want to hike the whole length, if you make it to the lower and middle portion of the falls, you’ll have enough gorgeous views to make the trip worth it.
Pro Tip: Only an hour from Seattle, the park and the trail get crowded over the weekends, but if you go mid-week, you can beat the local crowds. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission notes that people should not park along the rural county road, even if the parking lot is full. The good news: You can check a webcam (accessible here) aimed at the parking lot before you go to get a sense of whether spots are available.
7. Deception Pass Bridge And Beach Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Puget Sound, Anacortes
You won’t find many places where you can walk on the beach, through an old-growth forest, and across a historic bridge all in about one mile, but at Deception Pass, you can do just that. Accessible year-round and popular with locals and visitors alike, the trail is in Deception Pass State Park, comprising two islands in Puget Sound, Fidalgo and Whidbey, connected by the Deception Pass Bridge.
The trail starts at the Little North Beach or Deception Pass Beach with a wooded path from the parking lot. Enjoy walking among tall redwood and cedar trees. On the rocky beach filled with giant driftwood pieces, enjoy the gorgeous views of the pass and the bridge. Walk up and across the bridge and stop at the Bridgehead Monument. Return on the other side to enjoy the views of the islands and the open ocean beyond.
8. Ross Dam Trail, Ross Lake National Recreation Area
Starting at the Ross Dam parking area just past the Diablo Lake overlook, this trail is short but steep as it descends toward Ross Lake. Walking through the woods, at about 0.2 miles down, you’ll cross a small wooden bridge over the fast-flowing Happy Creek. I like to stop here and enjoy the creek and its surroundings. Shortly after passing the creek, the trail gets wider and offers glimpses of both Diablo Lake and Ross Lake below. Close to the bottom, the trail joins a gravel road. Turning left, you can get up onto the dam for a superb view of the lake and Jack Mountain. Following the gravel road to the right takes you to the ferry to Ross Lake Resort.
9. Shadow Of The Sentinels Trail, Mount Baker National Forest
Showcasing towering, ancient trees, Shadow of the Sentinels is a half-mile-long interpretive trail. The loop trail is barrier-free and accessible, a combination of pavement, boardwalk, and gravel. Massive trunks of old-growth Douglas fir and red cedars line the boardwalk, some of them over 600 years old. The interpretive signs help you understand the purpose of these forests, their history, and the importance of preserving them.
The trailhead, on the right side of Baker Lake Road, is marked by a large wooden sign and is easy to spot. It’s a great stop for all visitors to the area as an introduction to its old-growth forests.
Things To Know Before You Go
The trails in Washington State are some of the most diverse and beautiful in the entire country, highlighting a diverse environment. Weather in the state is unpredictable, so it is worth carrying a rain jacket, especially if you hike in the North Cascades or around Mount Rainier. Learn about the trails and make sure you know when you need a pass, which is usually required if the trail is in a national or state park.
This article is presented by KEEN Footwear. I wore KEEN’s Terradora II Waterproof Boots on my hikes, a great choice for hiking in the summer in Washington State and the Pacific Northwest. Lightweight, comfortable, and waterproof, they kept my feet dry even during unexpected showers, a common occurrence on some of the trails in the area. They offered substantial ankle support that helped on uneven and rocky trails. Their sole has the perfect grip, handy when hiking by rivers and waterfalls. Shop KEEN’s Terradoras and other hiking shoes here.