Why You Should Try A Spring Hike In Washington
Spring in Washington offers stunning displays of lowland wildflowers, raging waterfalls, and enough green to make anyone feel lucky. If those reasons alone don’t convince you to embrace spring hiking, keep in mind that summer hiking is just around the corner, and there’s no better way to prepare than to hit the trails now! Below you’ll find a list of six of the best Washington State trails to get you into hiking shape this spring. Of course, the scenery isn’t too bad either!
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
There is little question that social media plays a role in exposing various outdoor locations, and in some cases, this has led to significant resource and social impacts. That being said, I personally believe that without a connection to nature, people are much less likely to stand up for, and protect our world’s remaining natural spaces. For that reason, I have chosen to share some of my favorite spring hikes in Washington.
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. Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles that outline the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. These guidelines are not black or white, right or wrong. And I personally don’t believe they should be used to arbitrarily exclude certain individuals from our public lands. For more information please visit The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
Spring Hiking Gear Essentials
It’s always important to think in terms of layers when you head into the mountains, but this is particularly true during the spring when you never know what you’re going to get! And although it’s not uncommon for trails in Washington to still be covered in snow well into June, it’s important to check weather reports for the day of your hike, and recent trail conditions. My favorite way to do this is to look through the trail reports on the Washington Trails Association website. Regardless of the reports, it’s always prudent to be prepared for unexpected inclement conditions.
For more of my favorite outdoor gear and apparel check out my complete Hiking and Camping Gear Guide.
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9 Stunning Spring Hikes in Washington State
1. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – Dog Mountain
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the first areas that spring pops in Washington State. You can hike trails in The Gorge year-round, but unparalleled wildflowers and huge waterfalls make it particularly appealing in the spring. Dog Mountain is one of the more popular hikes in the Washington Gorge – and it’s easy to understand why! Between April and June, the bright yellow flowers along the ridge at the top of Dog Mountain are almost impossible to beat elsewhere in the state. Plus, you get to enjoy panoramic views of the Columbia River far down below. It’s not an easy hike. In fact, there is a fork in the trail about halfway up that offers two different options: “Difficult” and “More Difficult,” but I think any reasonably fit person could make it to the top!
For a mellow walk with a similarly impressive display of flowers try Memaloose Hills from the Memaloose Overlook on the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Distance: 6-7.5 miles (conflicting information at trail head and online)
Elevation Gain: 2800 ft.
FYI: Permits are required for use of the Dog Mountain trail system on Saturdays and Sundays between April 20 and June 16. Although given the popularity of this hike, if you can avoid doing it on a weekend I definitely would! I turned this hike into a loop hike by going up the Dog Mountain trail and then down the Augspurger Trail, so that’s a good option as well.
2. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – Coyote Wall
There are few things I love more than wildflowers. Unfortunately, in Washington, you often have to wait until well into July to get any flowers in the mountains. But don’t despair! There are some great low-lying trails like Coyote Wall where you can get your wildflower fix much earlier in the season. Coyote Wall is another beautiful hike on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. In late May through April there are stunning displays of wildflowers along large portions of the trail – Balsamroot and Lupin are particularly prevalent. It’s not all about the flowers though. There are also great views of Mount Hood peeking over the foothills in the distance.
It’s not always clear which trail is the official trail, but try your best to avoid any areas that have been blocked off for restoration. Also, it’s popular to do Coyote Wall as a loop hike (really more of a tiny lollypop). Because the area is so open, you always have a good feel for where you are. But there are a number of trail junctions, and even though they all seem to go more or less to the same place, I found myself checking my GPS map a number of times just for peace of mind. On that note, there was surprisingly good service the entire hike.
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,750
FYI: The wildflowers don’t start until you are about halfway up the trail. But boy do they ever start!
Also, make sure to bring plenty of water! Coyote Wall Trail is all uphill (until you turn around), and there’s no escaping the sun. This isn’t your typical Washington hike that winds its way up through miles of forest before finally breaking out to a viewpoint. You are out in the open and exposed to the elements the entire trail. But chin up! That also means you get to enjoy great views the entire time!
3. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – Falls Creek Falls
There’s no better time for a waterfall hike than spring when the water flow is generally at it’s peak! Although The Columbia River Gorge area is known for its abundance of awe inspiring waterfalls, very few of them actually live on the Washington side of the border. Falls Creek Falls is an exception, which is lucky because it just happens to be one of my favorite waterfall hikes in the gorge. Located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest the Falls Creek Falls trail leads you through beautiful old growth forests to a very picturesque 220-foot, multi-tiered waterfall.
The trail to Falls Creek Falls is well maintained with one somewhat confusing fork in the trail. At the fork continue straight on the relatively flat trail – ignore the sign for the “Falls Creek Trail” that appears to direct you up-hill to the left.
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 800 ft.
FYI: The road to the Falls Creek Falls trailhead is closed from Dec 1st – April 1st, so if you go during that time, add an extra 4 miles of road walking to your hike.
4. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – 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!
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2065 ft.
FYI: 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, always make sure that you are only using them for additional support, and not relying on them to hold you.
5. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – Lake 22
Due to its relatively low elevation, Lake 22, off the Mountain Loop Highway, is one of the first alpine lakes to melt out in the spring. And if you’re anything like me, that’s something you look forward to all winter! The hike to the lake combines the best of subalpine rainforests, old-growth, and mesmerizing mountain reflections, yet it is readily accessible. Its accessibility make this hike one of the more popular hikes in Washington, but you can avoid the bulk of crowds by visiting either on a weekday, or for sunrise or sunset. We did this hike for sunset, and there was no one else up at the lake.
Distance: 5.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2400 ft.
FYI: After you finish your hike stop in at Playa Bonita for a much deserved Mexican Feast. It might not be the best Mexican you’ve ever had, but it’s good, the atmosphere is fun, and the people are just about the nicest I’ve ever met. Plus, everything tastes better after a day in the mountains!
6. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – Mount Pilchuck
Some of my all time favorite hikes in Washington are to the historic fire lookouts. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t accessible until early summer when the higher elevation trails are finally free of snow. Mount Pilchuck however is an exception to the rule! Although snow sticks around on the upper reaches of Mount Pilchuck through the spring, people generally start forging a path up to the lookout as soon as the road is clear. Before heading out on a spring hike up to Mount Pilchuck, please check for trail reports on the Washington Trails Association website. If it looks like people are making it safely up to the lookout, pack extra layers, your micro-spikes, common sense, and follow in the path of those that came before you!
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft.
FYI: Camping at the lookout, like most fire lookouts in Washington is on a first come first serve basis. There is no bed or sleeping platform at the Mount Pilchuck lookout.
7. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – Pipestone Canyon & Ridge Trail Loop
When it’s raining on the western slope of Washington, I like to head to the Methow Valley. As fate would have it, on this particular day, there was no escaping the rain – east or west of the Cascades. But there’s something to be said for having views like this all to yourself. And on Memorial Day weekend no less! The views from Pipestone Canyon Ridge Trail are expansive and awe-inspiring, but if you happen to be here during April or the first half of May, it’s the wildflowers that steal the show. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of this trail before I started researching spring hikes in Washington for this blog post, and now I’ll make it an annual spring pilgrimage!
Follow the ridge trail for as far as you would like and turn around, or combine the ridge trail with the canyon trail for a beautifully diverse 9 mile loop. Excellent driving and hiking directions can be found on the Cascades Outdoor Store’s blog, so I won’t attempt to recreate them here. Enjoy!
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,850 ft.
FYI: Some years the Rim Trail is closed between April 1 and May 15 due to nesting Golden Eagles. You can check the status of the trail by calling the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. If the Rim Trail is closed, please respect the Golden Eagles and their ability to reproduce by using the lower Pipestone Canyon trail, Lester Road, or by staying at least 1/4 mile from the Pipestone Canyon Rim during the early spring.
8. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – Oyster Dome
Oyster Dome is located just south of Bellingham in the Chuckanut Mountains. The trail ascends steeply up a number of switchbacks to reach Oyster Dome, where you’ll enjoy expansive views of Samish Bay. In the distance, you can see Vancouver Island and the Olympic Mountains. With its western-facing view Oyster Dome is a beautiful spot to take in a sunset, just make sure to pack your headlamp for the way down!
In the mood for a longer hike? You can continue on to North Butte and/or loop back past Lily Lake and the Samish Overlook to extend your hike.
Distance: 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,900
FYI: I’ve always accessed Oyster Dome from Chuckanut Drive (Highway 11). This access point includes more switchbacks and elevation gain, but it has always seemed to be the most convenient. However, The Department of Natural Resources requests that visitors access Oyster Dome from the Samish Overlook parking area, not from the unofficial trail on Chuckanut Drive. I actually didn’t know about this parking area until I started doing some fact-checking for this post, and I will certainly give it a try next time.
9. Best Spring Hikes In Washington – Rattlesnake Ledge
Rattlesnake Ridge is accessible year round, but I like to do it in the spring after the hazard of ice on the trail has passed. The lake is located near Interstate 90, exit 32, about 3 miles southeast of North Bend and about 35 miles east of Seattle. Because of its relatively close proximity to Seattle I was actually able to fit this one in after work when I used to work downtown. There was no better way to shake the office off than a quick hike up to Rattlesnake Ridge for sunset.
This isn’t a hard hike, but the 2 miles of switchbacks to the top are all uphill – so don’t expect an easy hike either. You also shouldn’t expect to be alone. On nice weekends there’s no avoiding the crowds – even at sunrise expect to share the ledge with a lot of other people (and dogs). That being said, the views are really lovely at the top and there’s plenty of room to spread out.
Distance: 4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,200
FYI: The ledge at the top of Rattlesnake Ridge is a sheer drop off. Please be careful and mind where you are standing and who’s around you while you’re there.
For more of the best hiking trails in Washington State check out 10 Must Do Hikes in Washington!
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