Washington

9 Best Hikes in Washington State for Epic Outdoor Adventures

by Jacklyn Grambush
Updated June 04, 2022

Photo: Roman Khomlyak, Shutterstock

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how impossible it is to pare down the list of best hikes in the Evergreen State.

This is the Pacific Northwest. Washington alone has rainforest, ocean, desert, and mountains — including one of the ten tallest volcanoes in North America. It’s not hurting for natural beauty and we’ve got the hikes to back that up.

The bottom line when hiking in the Northwest corner of the U.S.? You really can’t go wrong with any hike. As long as you do your research, know your limits, and come prepared — every hike is a varying degree of awesome.

The exceptional nature (pun intended) of our wild spaces is a point of pride — as is maintaining them. Please be respectful by leaving no trace, staying on paths, and abiding by signage or instructions wherever you go.

Now go enjoy the immense wonder that is nature with this list as a starting place to inspire your adventures. Here’s a look at 12 of the best hikes in Washington.

1. Rattlesnake Ledge

Rattlesnake Ledge hike washington
Photo: Roman Khomlyak, Shutterstock

Why you should go: Only 35 minutes from Seattle.

  • Nearest town: North Bend
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1160 feet
  • Pass Required: None

Half an hour away from Seattle, Rattlesnake Ledge is actually only one example of a myriad of true hikes that require less than half a day of travel for city-dwellers. As a great option for those with limited time, it is also one of the more popular hikes in the area. Fewer crowds can be found during the winter, weekdays, or earlier in the morning.

As you switch back and forth along the trail, get excited for views of Mount Si, Mount Washington, Rattlesnake Lake, and Chester Morse Lake once you reach the ledge at the top. Kids and leashed pups are welcome, though make sure to keep them away from the exposed edge of the cliffs.

If you reach Rattlesnake Ledge and you’re not quite ready to descend, check out the Middle Ledge and Upper Ledge a bit farther up.

2. Ape Caves

Ape Caves hike washington
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: The third longest lava tube in North America.

  • Nearest town: Cougar
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

Formed almost 2,000 years ago by lava from nearby Mount St. Helens, the ecosystem at Ape Caves is fragile. Strict regulations are in place to protect it, so make sure to educate yourself before you make your required reservation for this hike. The 42 degrees Fahrenheit inside this cave make it ideal for a hot summer day, though reservations can be made anytime between May and October.

Though the mileage and elevation gain categorize this hike as “easy,” it’s worth noting that the terrain is rather rugged and wet, including points of climbing over rock piles and avoiding hitting your head on the cave ceiling above.

Once you reach the ladder out at the end of the cave, you’ll enjoy the outdoor trail back to the beginning. This trip can also be extended by another mile and a half by exploring the Lower Cave.

Don’t forget your headlamp and extra batteries!

Related read: 11 Epic Glamping Spots in Washington State

3. Harry’s Ridge

Harry’s Ridge hike washington
Photo: Roman Khomlyak, Shutterstock

Why you should go: Explore Mt. St. Helens four-plus decades after its infamous 1980 eruption.

  • Nearest town: Toutle
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 8.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 970 feet
  • Pass Required: National Monument entrance fee

Though Mount St. Helens isn’t the tallest volcano in the state (we’ll get to that one next), it is the most active volcano in the contiguous U.S. Infamous for its 1980 eruption, it’s amazing to witness firsthand the rebirth that has blossomed in areas not long ago destroyed by lava and ash. It’s also a National Volcanic Monument, so no doggos allowed on the trail.

Most of the Harry’s Ridge hike allows a view of Mount St. Helens, so you can always turn around early if the 8.2 miles starts to feel a little long. What you’ll miss if you don’t make it all the way are views of Spirit Lake and Mount Adams in frame with the nearby volcano — whose dome is still smoking on and off to this day.

4. Skyline Trail Loop

Skyline Trail washington hike
Photo: Stephen Moehle, Shutterstock

Why you should go: For dazzling views of the Cascade Range’s crowning jewel: Mt. Rainier.

  • Nearest town: Paradise Inn
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
  • Pass Required: National Park entrance fee

Inside one of three of Washington state’s National Parks (sorry, no pups here), Skyline Trail Loop offers a ton of bang for your buck — which is awesome since National Park Passes are not cheap.

With waterfalls, a bridge, wildlife, and views of at least two mountains in the distance (Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams), nothing will compare to getting up close and personal to the breath-taking Mount Rainier. How close do you get? Well, one path to summit the highest peak in the Cascade Range diverges off from this trail.

This is the number one recommended trail at Mount Rainier National Park — and with good reason — so expect it to be busy. Bonus: you can also snowshoe this trail during the winter.

Related read: 10 Scenic Drives in Washington State That’ll Blow Your Mind

5. The Enchantments

The Enchantments hike washington
Photo: Marina Poushkina, Shutterstock

Why you should go: An alpine wilderness that feels like it’s straight out of a fairytale.

  • Nearest town: Leavenworth
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance: 36 miles (out-and-back), 18 miles (shuttle)
  • Elevation gain: 4,500 ft.
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

The Enchantments brings to mind the adage “nothing worth having comes easy.” Camping is by permit only from May 15th through Halloween, and permits are obtained through a lottery. Those who do not win the lottery can attempt a day hike by hiking part of the trail, attempting the roundtrip 36 miles in one day, or hiking 18 miles point-to-point with two cars, one at each end.

What barriers must you overcome to experience this paradise? An ascent of about 2,000 feet over the course of one mile, scrambling over boulders and scree, and at times difficult-to-follow trails, to name a few.

What rewards will you reap? The Upper, Middle, and Lower Enchantments will mesmerize you with clear, turquoise lakes aptly named things like Inspiration Lake and Perfection Lake. Wild goats wander through centuries-old trees set before stunning peaks.

In truth, no words will do it justice, but each hiker finds the foot-numbing journey well worth the challenge.

Pro tip: the nearby town of Leavenworth is a fun, Bavarian-themed spot to visit and relax after this physical feat.

6. Wallace Falls

Wallace Falls washington
Photo: Cascade Creatives, Shutterstock

Why you should go: To chase epic waterfalls.

  • Nearest town: Gold Bar
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 5.6 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
  • Pass Required: Discover Pass

Get the whole family together, including your furry favorites, to experience these nine fabulous waterfalls. Well-maintained, this trail is popular for a reason, so get started early or be prepared for lots of company.

The hike includes picture-worthy bridges, covered picnic tables a little less than half way up, and gorgeous lush greenery every step of the way.

Of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Falls, the Middle Falls are known for having the best view, so those who don’t want to make the most difficult part of the trek to the Upper Falls can take comfort knowing they’ve already seen the best the adventure has to offer.

Related read: The Ultimate Portland to Seattle Road Trip Itinerary

7. Steamboat Rock

Steamboat Rock eastern washington
Photo: Roman Khomlyak, Shutterstock

Why you should go: For 360-degree panoramas of Eastern Washington’s desert.

  • Nearest town: Electric City
  • Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 ft.
  • Pass Required: Discover Pass

This 600-acre butte extending into Banks Lake and reaching 800 feet above the water’s surface offers dazzling views in almost every direction. These views include the Colville National Forest and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, not to mention the surrounding canyons carved out by the Great Missoula Floods during the ice age. Depending on the season, the dappling of wildflowers along the trail will add to the wonder.

The initial ascent requires caution as you make your way up the scree, but the rest of the trail is mostly flat. Though the entire path is a six mile loop around the top of the butte, there is also a trail through the center of the plateau, allowing the option of cutting the hike in half.

Pro tip: those intrigued by engineering marvels will want to visit the nearby Grand Coulee Dam, which at more than four times the length of the Hoover Dam is one of the largest concrete structures in the world.

8. Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall

Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall
Photo: Evan Sloyka, Shutterstock

Why you should go: Gorgeous photo op and beach walk along the Pacific Ocean.

  • Nearest town: Forks
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: none
  • Pass Required: National Park entrance fee

Though perfect for kids, this beach hike inside Olympic National Park will require you to leave your four-legged friends at home. Walking along the beach, keep an eye out both in the ocean for creatures like whales and otters as well as at your feet for tide pools! Halfway to Hole-in-the-Wall, cross Ellen Creek, either by walking through it or over a log crossing.

A low tide will allow exploration under the arch of the ever photo-ready Hole-in-the-Wall, though if the tide is high, views above the arch are also beautiful. You can look up tide tables ahead of time to plan accordingly.

Pro tip: road trip enthusiasts will enjoy the famously scenic Highway 101 that gets you here while vampire fans will be happy to visit the nearby town of Forks.

Related read: 9 Amazing Lake Camping Sites in Washington

9. Hoh River Trail

Hoh River Trail washington
Photo: Nancy Strohm, Shutterstock

Why you should go: Explore North America’s only temperate rainforest.

  • Nearest town: Forks
  • Difficulty: Easy – Challenging
  • Distance: 3 to 35 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 to 3,700 feet
  • Pass Required: National Park Pass

If you’re looking for magic, this trail is the place to find it. In the shadow of the Olympic Mountains, explore a million shades of green in one of Washington’s most unique ecosystems.

Like Rialto Beach, the Hoh River Trail is part of the Olympic National Park, so no pets are allowed. Though the best season for this hike is April through October, it’s also open and much less crowded during the winter.

The path technically extends 17.4 miles one-way, though there are many natural stopping points along the route, so it’s an easy hike to make as short or long as you’d like. The first 13 miles or so are mostly flat, too.

Where to Go Next in Washington

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