I-90 | 13.8 miles*
Skip next-door Mount Si in favor of a gentle ascent up an old logging road near North Bend. It gets steeper in spots—it climbs 650 feet higher than Si—but the long distance through second-growth forest keeps it manageable. Plus bonus waterfall, the surprisingly delicate Kamikaze Falls.
I-90 | 3.8 miles
Everyone flocks to Mailbox Peak to test their thighs and punish their glutes, but the even more cruel Snoqualmie Pass trail gets straight to the point: a steep incline that earns more than 3,000 feet in less than two miles. The rugged summit feels vastly distant from where you started in the Alpental Ski Area parking lot.
I-90 | 6 miles
Why share the crowded Ancient Lakes in the basalt canyon next door? Travel an additional mile of dramatic trail to reach this lonely sage steppe and lake. Welcome to the wild eastern scablands, all in a convenient package just minutes from the freeway.
Hwy 2 | 13 miles
Naming this wildflower mecca near Lake Wenatchee after spiders is like calling a big dude Tiny. The arachnids aren’t notable but the miles of midsummer green sure are, dotted with yellow, pink, and purple. The long but flat hike to the basin and its spectacular meadow crosses a ton of creeks, but it’s otherwise an easy cruise to flower town.
Mountain Loop Hwy | 9.2 miles
The mining equipment scattered along this trail’s first few miles can attest to its workaday history, but up top it’s a touch of mythical Middle Earth. The hearty climb past waterfalls delivers a basin of steep rock faces that surround mini lakes sprinkled with mist until midmorning.
Naches Peak Loop
Mount Rainier | 3.2 miles
It’s a little in Mount Rainier National Park and a little out. A little less crowded than trails at central visitor base -Paradise, a little more postcard--ready than hikes farther away from the mountain. The other good little: just a tiny bit of elevation gain through its vast green meadows.
Heather/Maple Pass Loop
North Cascades | 7.2 miles
Though it’s hard to call the North Cascades’ most spectacular day hike underrated—you’ll rarely get this high-alpine trail to yourself—it’s almost impossible to overpraise it. The tour of dramatic ridges, past wildflowers and craggy peaks, is lengthy enough to justify the long drive to Highway 20.
Hole in the Wall
Olympic Coast | 4.0 miles
When you want to cram the entire experience of the wild Olympic coast into a single afternoon, this shoreline tramp north from Rialto Beach hits the highlights: Hop tide pools, wade a creek, scramble over driftwood, then pass through the titular hole and scurry up the headland for an even better view.
Olympics | 11.5 miles
A river walk that eventually opens up to high alpine meadows and rocky, treeless expanses: If you do just one Olympic Mountains hike, make it this one. Because it’s just outside the national park, dogs get in on the game. To make it an overnight, hang a hammock by the burbling Upper Big Quilcene River.
Mount St. Helens | 2.8 miles
Where else in the world can you day hike through a lava tube, basically spelunking that requires zero experience? (Okay, Oregon. But that’s about it.) The skinny underground channel features a few fun obstacles—check “climb a lava fall” off your to-do list—and the chance to turn off the light and experience true, bone-deep darkness.
*All hike distances are round trip.
Oldies but Goodies
Hike these standbys at 6am on a weekday to avoid crowds.
The granddaddy of Seattle-adjacent trails off I-90.
Short, close, and with a great view. So crowded it’s dangerous.
If the slate of I-90 hikes are Disneyland, Mailbox is its lines-for-miles Splash Mountain.
Join the conga line to a mountain lake just off Snoqualmie Pass.
The well-trod Highway 2 trail often tempts hikers to venture too close to the roaring falls.
Whidbey Island’s beachfront ramble is ideal even in iffy weather, and everyone knows it.
Mount Rainier National Park’s signature route—fantastic if you can score a Paradise parking spot.
The easiest ascent to a classic peak-heavy North Cascade vista is hopping on weekends.
Shi Shi Beach
When Seattle swelters, there’s little empty sand on the crescent-shaped stretch of Olympic National Park.
Hordes of day hikers are willing to make the grueling ascent to stunning alpine lakes.
Are We There Yet?
Perfect hikes at any age from Wendy Gorton, author of the new guidebook 50 Hikes with Kids: Oregon and Washington.
Age 3: Bagley Lakes
by Mount Baker | 2 miles
“Fun boardwalks and dam crossing to a small beach. Great for a first introduction to a ‘real’ hike for littles, and easy to turn around if meltdowns ensue.”
Age 5 Rosario Head
near Whidbey Island | 1.5 mile
“You can see tide pools and a Samish statue—anytime there’s a beach, it’s a win for the little guys.”
Age 7: Franklin Falls
at Snoqualmie Pass | 2.3 miles
“It’s a loop so it’s not too monotonous, and there’s the added historical element of it being an old wagon trail with the remnants of an old wheel.”
Age 9: Feature Show Falls
near Darrington | 2.4 miles
“There’s a nice big reward at the end: two pretty, big waterfalls. It’s still a good spot in the wintertime, plus there’s a good burger and shake place in Darrington.”
Age 13: Heybrook Lookout
on Highway 2 | 1.9 miles
“At just under two miles, it’s a good challenge—just enough for even a 13-year-old who can’t handle being offline for that long. And you can think about booking it overnight.” (See here.)
Tell Me More
Guidebooks used to rule, but in 1996 we gained a unique, free hiking resource when nonprofit Washington Trails Association launched its encyclopedic website. Now it catalogs 3,501 hikes with driving directions, detailed descriptions, and trip reports. Not every state is this lucky. wta.org