Hiking Help

5 Hikes That Don't Require Four-Wheel Drive or Chains

Don't get stuck. Hike safely by heading to an island, the Olympic Peninsula, or the Columbia River.

By Jack Russillo January 6, 2017

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In winter, the views from the top of Little Si are going to be a little snowier than this.

Image: Flickr

Washington's snow-covered winter wonderlands are great, but only if you can get there and back in one piece—and this year's heavy snows have meant lots of stuck cars on mountain roads. Here are five hikes whose trailheads are accessible without chains, big tires, or those tank-like snowmobile wheels. (And remember that winter road conditions like ice can turn up anywhere, so drive slow!)

Whidbey Island

Since they are at lower elevations and closer to salt water, island hikes are usually accessible year-round. Goose Rock is accessed through Deception Pass State Park on the north end of Whidbey Island, with a trailhead near the west end of Cranberry Lake. The tame hike follows the Perimeter Trail under a bridge more than 80 years old, above the shores of Cornet Bay, and to the island’s tallest point (484 feet). The lookout has views of the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges as well as the San Juan Islands. The trail winds through through grassy fields and along beaches, as well as past picnic tables for lunch. 4.3 miles round trip, Discover Pass required

North Cascades

The turnoff from State Route 20—otherwise known as the North Cascades Highway—to the Thunder Creek trailhead, is easy to miss; the turn is at Colonial Creek Campground just past milepost 130. Snowier conditions and seasonal closures usually begin just past this point on the highway. From the Thunder Creek trailhead, the trail passes Thunder Creek, which is tinted green by the glacial sediment in the water. As the trail ascends, the noise from the water decreases until the trail is at the same elevation as the creek a few miles later. The route goes six miles to McAllister Camp but, this time of year, many hikers stop for lunch and turn around before then—there are multiple clear sites for breaks and views along the way. 12 miles round trip, no parking pass required

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Tskawahyah Island blocks the sun as it sets at Cape Alava.

Olympic Peninsula

Washington’s coastlines are also great places for midwinter trips. The classic Cape Alava Loop is west of Port Angeles along Highway 101, then north along route 113 and 112 to Clallam Bay. Lake Ozette Road heads south to Ozette, the largest unaltered natural lake in the state. The trail passes cedar groves, licorice ferns, and other local flora before giving way to the ocean shore after about three miles. Once at Cape Alava, most hikers head south to see the ancient carvings of rock and bone from the Makah tribe before returning in a loop (or a triangle) via the Sand Point trail. Camping is allowed along the trail but requires a permit obtained at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles. 9.4 miles roundtrip, national park admission required

Columbia River Gorge

Cape Horn Falls has views of waterfalls and vistas of Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge, plus it pairs well with a trip to Portland. From Vancouver, WA, the trailhead is located east on Highway 14 past Camas and Washougal, on the left side of the road near milepost 26. The trail ascends via multiple switchbacks, offering views of Hamilton Mountain and the Gorge, then reaches an overlook platform that's above the Cape Horn Falls. From there, the trail loops back down toward the Columbia River and a flat stretch of Cape Horn Road that leads back to the parking area. Near the end of the month, peregrine falcon nesting season begins—but that's why the final portion of the trail closes February 1 until July 15—and will shut down the closest access to the falls. 7.7 miles round trip, no parking pass required

North Bend

Even if they haven’t hiked it, many Seattleites have at least heard of Mount Si—it's on the opening credits of Twin Peaks, after all. Its smaller sister peak, Little Si, is less famous but remains much less snowy in the winter. The parking area is in North Bend, off exit 32 on I-90 on Southeast Mount Si Road. There area a number of parking lots on the road (and even more people trying to park), but the first two are closest to the Little Si trail. The route starts with a steep incline, but it levels off after the first quarter-mile. There are a number of junctions including a gentle circle through Boulder Garden Loop; the Little Si trail is always to the left. After dense groves of evergreen trees, a second steep section of trail twists and brings hikers up to the craggy summit, where the peak of Big Si can be seen in all its glory a half-mile above. Though the roads are usually easily passable, the trail itself can be covered and snow and require traction devices. 4.7 miles round trip, Discover Pass required

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