Hiking in the Pacific Northwest is a staple in the summer, but what trails get you some good mileage? Well I have some butt kickers for you with amazing views that seem like they are too good to be true. Summer might be over, but add some of these to your next year’s list or try these out in the fall and winter. Just be careful of road conditions. Either way these are worth the drive and worth the effort to get to the final destination!
Hike #10: Summit Lake
This is a beautiful summer hike near Mt Rainier National Park. You take Hwy 410 towards Carbon River Road. The road is a little tough–filled with potholes so make sure you drive a 4WD car or something with higher clearance. We drove behind someone who definitely didn’t know how to navigate the potholes, but there isn’t much room to go around people so have a little patience. The trail is in great shape as this is a pretty popular trail for camping. You make the trek through the numerous switchbacks, following the ridgeline and then you come out to a little meadow and then ascend down to the lake below. You can follow the loop around the lake, hike up to the peak, or take a seat and eat lunch! There’s numerous camping sites around for an overnight stay too! A great trail for dogs, campers, and hikers alike, but remember the bug spray and your Northwest Forest Pass! Hike #10–7 miles
Hike #11: Bearhead Mountain
This is the same trailhead used for Summit Lake so you need a Northwest Forest Pass. Start from the trailhead and continue until you reach Twin Lake and instead of heading left to Summit Lake head right toward Bearhead Mountain. This is clearly marked on the trail with signs so you shouldn’t get lost! The trail to Bearhead is a lot less traveled than the one to Summit Lake so there is more vegetation and less boot prints. There’s lots of variety on the trail between meadows and wildflowers to forest and many switchbacks. Heads up the switchbacks are all last—it’s about a mile of them and they are what is standing between you and the final peak and where you finally get to have lunch. The view at the top of Bearhead Mountain is beautiful—on a clear day you can see Rainier, Baker, and the Olympics! Tip: This is a good trail to try out your hiking poles at 1800 feet of elevation. Hike #11–8 miles
Hike #12: Ancient Lakes
Went over to the Gorge Amphitheater for the first time and discovered this beautiful hiking trail. Although I would consider this more of a safari hike, but it was absolutely breathtaking how far you could walk, see waterfalls, canyons and lakes! This trailhead starts about 10 minutes away from the Gorge–just follow the Google Map direction. It takes you to a parking lot and the trail is clearly marked on the old metal sign. The trail starts pretty flat, gaining a bit of elevation up a cliff side and then winding around to an old mine. After the mine the trail dips and you can see Judith Pool. Continue down the gravel rocks towards the waterfall. Keep continuing down to the lake and then around to the other side of the basin. We went all the way around the basin and up the other side and then there’s millions of trails to choose from. This is where the safari hike comes into play. Tip: Make sure to listen for rattlesnakes…they are sometimes common around these areas. Retrace your steps and make a loop, take photos of the canyon on the way back, and see the lake from the other side. Lots of people fish and camp out there, but remember you have to scramble back up the side of the canyon to get back to the car! Hike #12—10 miles
This was our longest hike yet! We were supposed to just go to Rachel Lake, but we got adventurous and went a little further! Off I-90 near Lake Kachess, follow the road until you get to a big parking lot; this is a pretty busy trail so you might have to park on the street–you’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass. Start out on the trail to Rachel Lake, about 3.5 miles until you hit the lake. Unfortunately the last half of the way to the lake is pretty steep. There are a couple of waterfalls to look at but it’s through stream beds and lots of rocks so watch your ankles and where you step. Once you arrive at the lake you can enjoy lunch, a nice swim, or continue on the trail–beware there are lots of bugs around so bring bug spray! The trail winds back and forth with lots of switchbacks, but along the way up you get sweeping views above Rachel Lake. Finally on top of the ridge you get to another sign—to the left Rampart Ridge and to the right Lila Lake. We went left first to Rampart Ridge–just lots of mini lakes nothing too crazy.
Then we went towards Lila Lake, but instead of heading to the lake we headed up to Alta Mountain. Go up the steep pathway up to the top of the mountain–lots of rocks, right on the edge, and a killer on the calves Pro tip: Bring hiking poles. These help put less pressure on your calves. The views are gorgeous and have 360 degree views! We went back down for a nice swim at Rachel Lake then back to the car! Overall an 8 hour hike and 18 miles—make sure to leave yourself enough time/daylight. Hike #13–18 miles
Hike #14: Crystal Lakes
Stumbled upon this cool hike after wanting to go to Sunrise, an area inside Mt Rainier National Park, but never go to Sunrise on a weekend in the summer thinking you’re going to get a parking spot; either leave on Friday and camp or come on a weekday. Go towards Enumclaw or Crystal Mountain–you’ll pass the Mt Rainier National Park Sign and then in another 4-5 miles you’ll see cars/parking lot on side of road. There’s a small sign across the parking lot that says Crystal Lakes. Start the hike by crossing Crystal Creek and ascend up the switchbacks through the shady forest. About a half mile up you can peak out and get an incredible view of Mt Rainier (see photo to the right). Snap a photo and continue up until you reach an intersection—head up to Crystal Peak or straight to the lake. The peak is another steep 2.5 mile hike upward but worth the views! Continuing to the lake you pass the first intersection and go another mile until you hit another fork to go to upper or lower Crystal Lakes. Upper Crystal Lakes is bigger and more hidden while Lower Crystal Lake is calm with lots of frogs and some garter snakes. Hike #14–8 miles
Hike #15: Denny Creek to Melakwa Lake
This hike is only an hour from Seattle right off the Denny Creek trail. You actually park in the Denny Creek parking lot and follow the Denny Creek trail. The parking lot can be pretty full but make sure you have your Northwest Forest Pass as this is a very popular trail for beginner hikers and families too. After about a mile come across the Denny Creek waterslide/rock slide. This is the final destination for most families, but to continue on the trail just go right past the rock formation to the main trail. Continue up the trail through switchbacks, boulder fields, lush vegetation and some open views! Then finally stumble across Melakwa Lake, a stunning alpine lake with the bluest of blue waters. There’s an upper and lower lake—the upper is smaller and way more secluded, but the lower is larger with more people. The lower lake is where most of the hikers take a little dip, eat lunch, or sunbathe on some of the rocks. You can go all the way around the lake, but most of it is not on the beaten trail. We were so hot from the weather that a dip in the lake sounded amazing. We went to the opposite side and found this tall rock where we could jump off from. The water was so refreshing and it made for a great way to cool down before hiking back. Hike #15–11 miles
Another set of hikes done and 5 more to go! I’m 75% done with my hiking goal with 3 full months to go. I think it’ll be close, but I’m going to get 20 in!
This is part of a series on hikes in the Pacific Northwest. Read the entire series here.