The Best Hikes In Washington For Mountain Views, Beaches & Waterfalls
Want to know a secret that blew my mind? When Washingtonians aren’t sipping coffee in one of the billions of cozy coffee shops around the area, their favorite hobby is actually getting outside the city to the great outdoors! That’s right, being “one with nature” and doing things like hiking the best Washington trails are super popular here. Maybe your jaw just dropped hearing that, like mine originally had. But it’s true that I’ve been on more hikes here and in more mountains than I ever dreamt of doing in my lifetime. (I should mention that this is mostly due to my boyfriend’s avid love of being outdoors and me wanting to spend quality time with him…silly me.) Let’s just say when we first started hiking together, there may have been several instances where I was rightfully compared to Meredith Blake — the evil future stepmom in the movie Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan during the hiking scene…
My pilates instructor says I’m in such good shape…[gasping for air whilst hiking] I am so going to kill him.Meredith Blake, Parent trap (1998)
One of the features I love about hiking in the State of Washington — particularly on the west side of the state — is that a lot of hikes tend to lead to a beach or some kind of gorgeous body of water! ALSO, while I’ve been told to be on the lookout for bears and cougars, it’s safe to say that in two years of exploring the area’s deepest forests, I have been fortunate enough not to experience a sighting like this… If that disappoints you to hear, I’m totally not your girl and I highly suggest finding some other blog on exploring the wilderness in ways that increase your chance of sighting wild animals that can kill you. But if any of this gets you excited, read on to explore some of the best hikes in Washington that I’ve come to love. And for my girly girls out there, be sure to read my blog on “6 Tips to Make Your Hiking Outfit a Fashion Statement” before you hit the road!
Important Note: Many if not all of these trails and parks I mention require a Washington State Discover Pass so be sure to order one ASAP before heading out to one of these places.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Places to Hike that I’ve Learned to Love
Places I will never hike ever again
|Miles From Seattle
|Poo Poo Point Trail in Issaquah, WA
Places to hike that I’ve learned to love
Mount Rainier National Park
One of the best places to hike in Washington — and one that attracts the most attention to Washington State — is Mount Rainer National Park! Mount Rainier is just under 100 miles from the heart of Seattle. The drive is just over 2 hours with traffic. (In the Greater Seattle Area, you must always account for the traffic…but that’s for another blog rant.) While this national park is actually the only one I’ve ever been to, it is one of the most beautiful and most breathtaking places I’ve seen.
We went towards the end of spring in April in 2020, a perfect time to go because it’s not overly crowded. This timeframe is still a bit early though to catch the wildflowers in Mount Rainier’s Paradise. They tend to be deeply covered in snow until the summer in case that helps you plan. We had a blast snow-shoeing our way across the powdery ravine, but didn’t explore too much in this area since there are several drop-offs that aren’t easy to navigate in the snow. The great thing about this time of year is that, despite the snow, the weather is very comfortable. We got pretty warm while hiking through the snow that we ended up stripping down to shorts and a t-shirt!
When you go to Mount Rainier, you’ll find trails and views for both beginner hikers as well as advanced. One of the best trails to hike was Snow Lake, a windy trail that is only steep in some places. It eventually leads to a meadow of snow and then opens up into a lake with beautiful snow-capped mountains in the background. We also hiked the Packwood Lake Trail, which has a gorgeous view looking down on the lake from the top of the trail.
Mount Rainier has no shortage of breathtaking waterfalls and lakes too. Most of them are on the drive up the mountain, so be prepared for frequent stops. Narada Falls was one of the waterfalls on the way up the mountain with a fairly big parking lot. It attracts a lot of tourists and is just off to the right of the road. The short trail is pretty steep, but leads to an amazing view at the bottom where you usually will find a rainbow! While we didn’t partake in any skiing or camping here, there is an area to ski and snowboard in the winter and lots of areas to camp.
Fun Facts about Mount Rainier!
Views from Just About Anywhere
Mount Rainier can be seen from almost anywhere in the Greater Seattle Area. This is a picture of my boyfriend Aidan outside of Top Gun Bar & Grill, 50 miles away from the mountain in the summer! Driving south from Downtown Seattle on I-5, there is an incredible view of the mountain that is almost 90 miles away. If we had a nickel every time we spotted and took a picture of Mount Rainier, we’d seriously be SO rich.
Low Elevation Angles Result in Wicked Cool Views
The views of Mount Rainier are not only incredible but vary dramatically depending on where you are. This picture was also taken 50 miles away from the mountain at High Cedars Golf Course in Puyallup, and because of how low the elevation is at this course, the mountain looks much closer and larger.
The Olympic Peninsula
The second best area to hike in Washington – and another popular tourist destination – is the Olympic Peninsula! It’s a bit of a drive if you’re coming from the city (just under 200 miles), but is definitely worth the road trip. We stayed in a beautiful historic building called Lake Quinault Lodge when visiting for the weekend. Our stay wasn’t entirely ideal though due to traveling in the middle of the pandemic around September 2020… The lodge had restrictions at the time such as limiting the bar area and limitations on close-by restaurants. It was a cozy little spot though right in the middle of various outdoors activities. Nowadays, I’m sure the lodge and its surrounding businesses are hoppin’ again.
Besides the lake itself at this location — which was too cold to enjoy in the fall — there were several easy hiking trails. Many of them came with some cool spots along the trail through the woods. Another beautiful spot right down the road from Lake Quinault Lodge is Ruby Beach. I feel compelled to mention that yes, this is a beach in the town of Forks, a place made famous by the Twilight movies and book series. However, the movies and books referred to La Push Beach, which is a 40-mile drive north. We didn’t end up making it this far north or into Forks itself, but we had a blast exploring just south and east of these places. While our time at Ruby Beach initially started off rainy and cold, the clouds quickly moved away and left us with a bright shining sky over the water. Again, the temperatures were a bit too cold to actually get into the water, but we did enjoy walking in the sand for miles and exploring a couple shallow caves in the rocky hillside.
Right down the road from Ruby Beach is the beautiful, very green and lush Hoh Rain Forest. Hands down, probably the third best hike in Washington and the entire PNW. This was one of the most beautiful forests we explored, and it has quite the majestic feel when it’s rainy. (To be honest, it’s just about always rainy here!) While we were warned to look out for elk and what to do if we see one, we never came across any wild animals here. This forest is a huge tourist attraction though — which probably explains the lack of animal sightings — but it’s big enough that you’re not walking side by side large groups of strangers. There are plenty of trails that allow you to find some solitude and quietness with nature. But there’s never the complete fear of being totally alone, which was a very important factor for me as a new hiker.
Tiger Mountain State Forest
If you’re wanting the same kind of lush green hiking experience without the long drive out to The Olympics, the place you want to be is Tiger Mountain State Forest in Issaquah. Tiger Mountain is just over 30 miles outside of Seattle. It boasts several windy, yet totally doable trails leading up the mountain, making it easily one of the best hikes in Washington. This forest is typically popular for mountain biking, so you do have to look out for any rogue, extreme cyclists that could be flying at you from behind! But honestly, with how many trails there are, we hardly saw very many people out there. FULL DISCLOSURE: This factor wasn’t my favorite as this is the type of forest that has had sightings of cougars, bobcats, black bears and elk. So not seeing other hikers out there was a bit unsettling for me and constantly had me on edge.
Getting past the somewhat creepy state of solitude, the forest and mountain itself are gorgeous, green, and incredibly tranquil. To my delight, there were never any steep drop-offs or cliffs along the trail, which made me a lot more comfortable hiking so high. (I do not do well with cliffs, which you’ll come to realize more towards the end of this blog post.) The trails are super windy though so it seems like they just keep going up and up with absolutely no end in sight after an hour or two. I’m not sure there’s much of a view if you do make it all the way to the top, but it’s definitely worth hiking for a few hours before turning around.
Kopachuck State Park
On our first visit, we didn’t spend too much time in Kopachuck State Park, and I’m not really sure how we even came to explore this place outside of simply typing in “cool state parks near us” into Google. But the second visit was on an extremely sunny, warm day that made this park just breathtaking.
This is another hidden gem almost 50 miles outside of Seattle on the west side of Gig Harbor — a place we typically visit for its adorable downtown and harbor area on the east side, which I will be sure to gush about in great detail in a separate future blog post. When visiting this state park, we spent less time hiking the 2-mile trail in the forest and more time exploring its beach on Horsehead Bay and Henderson Bay. The trails are on a fairly steep descent that lead quickly down to the shore.
The beach itself isn’t your typically sandy beach and is more covered in rocks, sand dollars, and kelp. We even found a few starfish, lots of mini crabs, and a pretty cool sighting of Cutts Island State Park, an island just northwest of the park. While I’m guessing Cutts Island would make a darn cute and romantic place to have a day-time picnic on the beach, you’ll definitely need a boat or a friend with a boat to get you out there.
Wander down the beach a bit further south and you’ll find yourself more isolated from fellow beachgoers, which is especially important on a sunny day. If you travel about the entire 2 miles down Horsehead Bay, you’ll start to approach a dock and some houses (I don’t recommend going this far — while there aren’t any signs that tell you it’s private property, it will start to feel very much like you’re trespassing in someone’s backyard!) Overall, Kopachuck State Park is one of the best hikes in Washington because of its beach access and gorgeous views.
Another hidden gem is Sequalitchew Creek in Dupont, which is just under 50 miles south of Seattle. The trail itself is about 1.5 miles downhill through a heavily wooded, breathtaking, green forest with a pretty wide trail. Any Dupont local will claim that this is one of the best little-known hikes in Washington. This is a fairly popular trail for locals and is typically packed with families and kids headed down to the beach. There aren’t too many views or places to stop along the way, but the large trees are quite stunning and make the walk well worth it. Because you’re going downhill the entire way to the beach, that means you’ll be going uphill for 1.5 miles back to the top. This isn’t an incredibly steep trail though, with elevation only being 226 feet. Just be mentally prepared for this factor if you’re not used to hiking this long with elevation.
The end of the trail cuts through a tunnel and past some old train tracks before opening up to a beautiful rocky beach. The beach itself isn’t too long, but if you wish to travel further south and get away from the crowds of people, you’ll have to climb over some pretty large rocks and boulders. This is something I haven’t done personally, but my boyfriend has with his friends and recounted finding a cool abandoned boat further down the shore. He even happened across a baby seal down this way next to the boat!
Green River Gorge
Another little known hiking trail and hangout spot is the Green River Gorge in Enumclaw, just under 40 miles outside of Seattle. While there is an area that most people typically explore if you GPS Green River Gorge State Park, my boyfriend found a more obscure area of the gorge only known to locals. Unfortunately, this was so long ago and we got word-of-mouth directions from one of his local friends so we don’t quite remember the exact pin address for the spot we found. I can tell you though that wherever we were, there was a nearby salmon hatchery in the middle of the woods at the bottom of the trail right before the cutoff. That’s where we saw a couple locals carrying float tubes to the river. But never fear — this gorge is quite lengthy and there are lots of different popular trails out there. Taking a different one from ours will more than likely allow you to find some incredible river spots as well.
The “beach” area we found was pretty small and not very ideal for large groups. But it was intimate enough to accommodate two or three people, and perfect for a couple. The path along the river was quite narrow as well so rather than walking very much further, we chilled out on the side and my boyfriend enjoyed some time in the water.
As expected, the river water is extremely cold even in mid July. While Aidan did end up jumping in once, it was absolutely terrifying to watch because the water temperature made it almost unbearable for him to swim back up to the surface. We spotted a few salmon nearby in the water, but otherwise, there’s not much wildlife out in this area. If you’re able to adjust to the cold water, shallow parts along the beach area are nice enough to hang out in and cool off after being in the sun too long. While the hike itself was fairly blah, I’d say any hike that leads to a place as serene as this one definitely makes the “best hikes in Washington” list.
Priest Point Park
One of the first beaches we explored during our first summer in Washington was Priest Point Park in Olympia, the capitol of Washington State! This park and its beach is 60 miles south of Seattle and the body of water it looks out on is called the Budd Inlet. While this was a pretty cool beach, it’s quite muddy and not your traditional sandy beach (so if you’re worried about getting dirty, maybe don’t check this one out). The hike to the beach is fairly short, although I believe there are quite a few trails you can explore if you wish to spend more time in the woods. The trail we took had a pretty cool bridge though and built in steps on the path leading down to the beach, which made it easy to navigate.
The cool thing about being at the beach here is that on a clear day you can sight the Olympic mountains in the background. Another great factor about this location as well is that it’s right outside the capitol, which means your choice of seafood restaurants are just a few miles down the road for a nice lunch or dinner after.
Long Beach, Cape Disappointment & Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
If you’re willing to go the distance even further outside the City of Seattle all the way to the Oregon border, you’ll find the beautiful city of Long Beach! This city is just under 200 miles from Seattle and is roughly a three and a half hour drive. Although Long Beach boasts to be the “World’s Longest Beach” in the sign below, that’s not actually true. In reality, it’s the 8th longest beach in the world at 28 miles long, the 3rd longest beach in the United States, and ranked #1 for World’s Longest Drivable beach. Even so, it’s a pretty damn Long Beach, making it easily one of the best hikes in Washington if you’re up for it. The images below are along the road on our way down to Long Beach. We couldn’t quite remember what area this was in, but it was definitely a cool sight during the road trip.
We’ve been to Long Beach twice so far — once in the winter and once in late spring when it was starting to warm up a bit. Winter on the beach should not be underestimated as it is extremely cold by the water. Since this visit was still during the pandemic, we didn’t have many places to go inside and enjoy indoor dining, so we actually spent a lot of time in our room because of how cold it was. The spring was absolutely great though and the beach definitely fills up with locals and tourists. There’s a pretty nice spot that you can kind of see below in the pictures where you can drive around some of the big rocks to a somewhat obscure area where people like to park their cars and barbecue with a little privacy. Once the beach gets filled up and people start to notice cars around the corner, they tend to flock over and crowd the area though. When the tide comes in, everyone has to drive back around to the main part of the beach or you could possibly get stuck back there depending how high the water rises!
Technically, you’re not supposed to camp on this beach, but I’ll let you in on a little secret of ours. During our springtime trip, we ended up finding a trail hidden behind the beach that our truck could fit into and ended up barbecuing and camping out in the truck tent back there. It was incredible. We did end up trying to sleep through a very terrifying thunderstorm overnight though. BUT definitely worth breaking the rules when you get to be one of the first people on the beach the next morning!
The city of Long Beach itself is adorable and filled with little shops and yummy restaurants with the freshest seafood. Two of our favorite restaurants are The Lost Roo — which has the best Jumbo Gumbo — and Drop Anchor Seafood, which has an amazing variety of delicious and fresh seafood including calamari, oysters, crab cakes, and clam strips! There’s even a fun place in the town to race go-karts and play mini golf called the Fun Beach Fun Center. Something we wish we had done but didn’t have time for was renting bikes to take along the beach trails, but I highly recommend doing so if you get the chance.
Cape Disappointment State Park is just a 4-mile drive down the coast from Long Beach in Seaview, WA and is the furthest south you can go on the Washington State border (there’s nothing south of here except the Pacific Ocean). Don’t be fooled by the name as this place is anything but disappointing… This state park is absolutely breathtaking with gorgeous views of the ocean beyond its infamous lighthouse and rocky cliffs. The hike — hands down in the top 5 of best hikes in Washington — to this viewing area is through a quiet forest with gigantic trees and lush greenery. It’s also easy terrain to walk and relatively flat. The path is quite low in places where the forest around you is almost elevated. This did kind of freak me out since I was anticipating some kind of animal catching me off guard by pouncing on top of me — or worse, attacking my boyfriend and leaving me utterly alone out there! Thank goodness this did not happen and I realize how dramatic I might sound, but it could totally happen to anyone… But anyway, definitely worth the short hike to a freaking incredible view.
Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is quite the hidden treasure as it is on the way to Long Beach if you’re driving from up north. To be exact, it’s roughly 12 miles from the beach and just over 150 miles from Seattle. We actually ended up checking out this place on the way home from the beach after seeing a couple signs for it along the mostly barren road. From the parking lot, it doesn’t appear to be anything extraordinary at all. And in my own warped perspective, it definitely looked more like the exact abandoned location where the main characters of a horror movie are slaughtered by a mountain man living inside a shack in the woods. (Can you tell by now how unaccustomed I am to being out in nature?!) Nevertheless, for some reason it beckoned to Aidan as a place that just needed to be explored. So on we went across the murky pond marking the entrance to the woods and over the creaky wooden bridge that looked like it should have been in a Jurassic Park movie.
I was pleasantly surprised by how serene the woods were (and extremely grateful to not have been eaten by a cougar or some other large stealthy cat). There are several trails you can take that are outlined on the above website, and I’m pretty sure we were on what is called the Willapa Art Trail for some part of our time out there. There were a few signs and art installments that detailed and showed different forms of wildlife out in this area.
Places I will never hike ever again
Poo Poo Point Trail
I have to credit much of my bad experience with this one to my lack of preparation. Also this was one of the first hikes we did in the Greater Seattle Area while I was very new at this whole “hiking” thing… Poo Poo Point Trail is in Issaquah, roughly 18 miles outside of Seattle and very close to the gorgeous but quaint area called The Landing in Renton, the city I first lived in when I moved here. Many locals will argue that this trail is easily one of the best hikes in Washington particularly right outside of Seattle. But for me, it was not.
Because of its proximity to my very suburban condo, my boyfriend and I had wrongly assumed this would be a cute “walk in the park.” Without a simple Google search or deep look into the All Trails page — a hiking app we weren’t yet familiar with and would have in fact explicitly detailed that this is a super challenging, high elevation, 7-mile-long trek for advanced hikers — we put on our GPS and took off to Issaquah. We had nothing but a single half-empty water bottle and my “walking” sandals that are more for navigating slippery, rocky terrain rather than climbing a mountain.
When we showed up, the parking lot was quite busy and full, which pleased us as we were right to assume this was a popular place locals raved about. You could peer up to the sky from the parking lot and see people dangling peacefully from colorful parachutes until they gradually floated to the soft grass field. We knew paragliding was a popular tourist attraction for the mountain, but had no plan on being that high up to try it (at least I wasn’t). We saw the entrance to the trail, covered in trees but filled with people going in and coming out with smiles on their faces. My level of optimism was quite high because of this.
A Harsh Reality…
It didn’t take long for us to discover that the trail becomes very steep quite fast and the path narrows quickly, leaving a steep edge most of the way up that had me clinging to the inside boulders and holding my stomach to keep from going dizzy and puking. (I am literally terrified of cliffs and high-up plummeting edges with sharp objects below, and rightfully so!!!) I will shamefully admit that there were many instances where children and old people shoved me aside eagerly as they raced up the trail.
Aidan — who is an experienced hiker, loves just about anything that is thrilling, and stays in the gym for hours at a time each day — definitely found himself getting annoyed with me pretty quickly…(This was well before I ever started working out and maybe had been the third time I had hiked anything in my life.) He flew ahead of me on several occasions, only stopping to wait when he lost sight of me for minutes at a time and also to give me the rest of his water. I kept asking the same damn questions as one mile turned to two while the elevation became steeper and steeper…
Does it ever end? When is it going to end? [wheezes for air while hugging a nearby tree] This better be f****** worth it when we get to the top.Me every half mile
The only pleasant sight we had while climbing to the top was of the two adorable baby ferrets some lady had as pets and let us play with as we stopped to catch our breath. Cute…but still not worth it.
We did eventually reach the top after about three miles. We were at an elevation of 2,062 feet after about two miserable hours, and still…the view was so not worth it. I don’t care who wants to argue with me here. Sure, it may have been cool getting to see the paragliders jump off the edge of the mountain… (Had I known we’d be meeting them up at their jump spot, I so would have booked us a ride down after the grueling hike up! And also, I totally would’ve preferred to catch a ride up there in their van — who knew there was a back road for vehicles?!) But for how hard the hike was (even for Aidan, who later admitted it) and for the view we got, we were overall left disappointed, dehydrated, and absolutely famished.
A Light At The End of the Tunnel
The hike back down wasn’t much better. At least for me it wasn’t because, again, going down steep narrow paths with terrifying drop-offs is honestly blood curdling and makes me want to faint. Plus it was pretty hard on our knees. The only good thing about Poo Poo Point Trail is that once you’re at the bottom, you’re only a hop, skip, and a drive away from Downtown Renton, which has great food options. This is how we discovered one of our favorite restaurants here called Marianna Ristorante.
Because we had been hiking for the last four hours and hadn’t eaten a big breakfast in anticipation of the tough hike, we were starving and wanted something filling. Marianna is one of few Italian restaurants in this area and also was the only one during the middle of the pandemic that allowed indoor dining. Regardless of the circumstances for discovering this place, we’ve come back time and time again for the authentic pasta, pizza, caprese salad, wine, and Italian waiters. And now, whenever I start to think of how much I dislike and will never hike Poo Poo Point again, I have a happy memory of Marianna to put my mind at ease.
Hopefully now you find yourself prepared to go on some adventures around the west side of Washington State! Wherever you go, always be sure to check out reviews of the trail or park you plan to visit so you can prepare yourself accordingly.
Down to try some winter sports and explore Washington’s southern neighbor? Check out my blog on “Skiing in Oregon & The Magnificent Columbia River Gorge.”