Let’s be real – there are about a zillion great hikes near Seattle. The city is between two mountain ranges (the Olympics and Cascades), only two hours from the Pacific Northwest‘s highest peak (Mt. Rainier), and three hours from the famous Mt. St. Helens. That’s not to mention city parks, state parks, nationals forests, national parks, and foothills of the above-mentioned mountains. Here are some top places for hikers to get started.
Just 45 minutes east of Seattle, this lookout offers stunning views of Cedar River Watershed, Mt. Si, Mt. Washington, Rattlesnake Lake, and Chester Morse Lake. Part of the Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area, the trail is a four-mile (6.44-kilometer) roundtrip with a 1,160-foot (353.57-meter) elevation gain. The downside of this hike is, with its proximity to the city and doability, it’s very popular – as in crowded. To find more alone time with the surrounding nature, try hitting the trail before 10 a.m., avoid the weekends, consider hiking it during colder months, or go the extra mile to the higher Middle and Upper ledges.
Next door to Rattlesnake Mountain, Mount Si offers equally gorgeous views, but for twice, maybe thrice, as much work. As a starting ground for hikers training to climb Mt. Rainier, Mt. Si’s eight-mile (12.88-kilometer) roundtrip trail gains 3,150-feet (960.12-meters) in elevation. If that’s more than you bargained for or you want to work your way up to it, check out Little Si. Her 4.7 miles (7.56 kilometers) roundtrip have only a 1,300-foot (396.24-meter) elevation gain, but still offer the rewarding views at the top.
As the namesake for the surrounding State Park, Mt. Pilchuck is also a popular summer hike despite its two-hour distance from Seattle. Climb to Mt. Pilchuck Lookout with a 2,300-foot (701.04-meter) elevation gain for astounding 360 degree views of Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountain Range. The roundtrip trail is 5.4 miles (8.60 kilometers) long and hikers have been known to get lost, so be sure to take the appropriate precautions.
Up in Snoqualmie Pass about an hour from Seattle, the Kendall Katwalk is for experienced hikers. The 12-mile (19.31-kilometer) roundtrip includes an elevation gain of 2,600 feet (792.48 meters) and is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Including stunning views of Red Mountain and Mt. Rainier, the trail starts with dense forest and goes on to cross an avalanche swath as well as venture through the Kendall Gardens. From there, catwalk across a four-foot (1.22-meter) wide path blasted into the side of the mountain by dynamite. If you can stomach the path’s 900-foot (274.32-meter) drop with no guardrail, you’ll be heading into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
An easier hike suitable for everyone including beginner and young hikers, Franklin Falls still offers a beautiful pay-off. Though only half the height of Snoqualmie Falls at 135 feet (41.15 meters), it’s almost the same height as Niagara Falls. The trail – only an hour from Seattle – is well-maintained, fairly flat with only a 400-foot (121.92-meter) gain in elevation, and relatively short at two miles (322 kilometers) roundtrip. Following a creek with a few opportunities to splash among smaller falls on the way, visitors have the option to wade into the base of Franklin Falls and relax before heading out.
Located in the Mt. Rainier National Park, the Crystal Lakes are a little further at approximately two hours from the city. The views are dazzling the entire way, from Mt. Rainier (it looks bigger up close!), to wildflower-filled meadows, to elk and mountain goats among other wildlife, and, of course, the lower and upper Crystal Lakes. The catch, unfortunately, is a six-mile (9.66-kilometer) roundtrip trail with a 2,600-foot (792.48-meter) elevation gain. If you’re willing to put in the effort though, the reward will be breathtakingly unforgettable.
Though the name may make the kiddoes giggle, they may not make it to the top of this one. Located on Tiger Mountain, there are two trail options to reach the summit at Poo-Poo Point: the 7.4-mile (11.91-kilometer) roundtrip Poo-Poo Point Trail and the approximately four-mile (6.44-kilometer) roundtrip Chirico Trail – both with an elevation gain of nearly 2,000 feet (609.6 meters). The summit comprises a flat, open space that makes it a popular jumping-off point for paragliders, who can be fascinating to watch in the foreground of the Issaquah Valley, Lake Sammamish, and the Cascade Mountains.
A volcano that killed 57 people almost 40 years ago has once again become a playmate for Washingtonians. At four some hours from Seattle, hiking Mt. St. Helens would take a whole day, but it is absolutely worth it. With a dozen trails from 1.3 miles (2.09 kilometers) to 28 miles (45.06 kilometers) in roundtrip length and an elevation gain from 100 feet to 6,000 feet, there are options for everyone. Wildflowers, lakes, ash, and the state’s newest glacier all offer unique sights. Check out the Coldwater Science and Learning Center to discover the powerful impact of the volcano’s 1980 eruption.
Within the Wallace Falls State Park, hikers will find the 265-foot Wallace Falls, eight other waterfalls, the Wallace river, and old-growth forests. Trails to the Lower, Middle, and Upper Falls offer options for a variety of hiking levels along the total of 5.6 roundtrip miles (9.01 kilometers) with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet (396.24 meters). As it is popular, hikers might consider hitting this trail earlier in the morning and on weekdays to avoid the crowds. Company also tends to thin the higher you hike.
For those seeking stunning 360 degree views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Rattlesnake Lake, and the Olympics, this is the place to go. Thanks to the new trail constructed by volunteers, a series of switchbacks provides a 4,000-foot ascension over a 9.4-mile (15.13-kilometer) roundtrip – yes, that’s an improved route. Once you reach the top, you have the opportunity to sign your name on the trail registry kept in the mailbox at the summit (hence the name).
The farthest hiking area from Seattle on this list, Hoh Rainforest is a whopping five hours from the city – one way. Why is it on this list? Washington State is one of a handful of the nation’s states to host a rainforest and the Hoh Rainforest is part of one of only seven temperate rainforest ecosystems in the world. With that scarcity at play, five hours from Seattle seems a lot more worthwhile. Explore the fern and moss canopy of the humid, old-growth forest via the Hall of Moss Trail or the Spruce Nature Trail, both of which are approximately a mile (1.61 kilometers) long. For a longer excursion, hike the 17.3 miles (27.84 kilometers) of the Hoh River Trail.