5 Great Winter Hikes in Seattle

Mt. Baker as a beautiful backdrop.
Mt. Baker as a beautiful backdrop. Jeff Krampert
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In Washington, the highest of the high country can be snowed in deep from October to June. And that’s true even in a warm winter like this one. But no matter where the mercury falls, there’s a place to lace up your boots—whether you’re craving a quadburner or a riverside ramble, a quick morning jaunt or an all-day, road-tripping adventure.

Here, our suggestions for five great winter hikes in Seattle.

1. Baker Lake Trail

Mount Baker, Baker Lake —the views of one from the other are spectacular, and with a low trailhead elevation of around 1,000 feet, the route stays snow-free almost all year round. This hike is a Northwest grab bag: old-growth Douglas fir draped with lichen, cedar snags charred by an 1843 forest fire, shoreline campsites, old wooden bridges, and the dramatic backdrop of a glacier-clad volcano. (Bonus: in winter, with leaves on the ground, Mount Baker is all the more visible.)

With a shuttle, you can go 14.5 miles one way; with gumption, you can finish the whole thing.

2. Hoh River

In the Hoh Rainforest, it's easy being green.
In the Hoh Rainforest, it's easy being green. Scott Costello

During the summer, the Hoh Rainforest is one of the busiest places in Olympic National Park, with some of the largest trees on earth, big herds of Roosevelt elk, and mosses that drip off every conceivable branch in a spectrum of greens, from lime to emerald. Come winter, the rain can be incessant but crowds are gone—and the beauty doesn’t change. The trail is mellow and well-trodden, following the Hoh River upstream for pretty much as far as you want to go, or until you hit snow (it’s how mountaineers access 7,979-foot Mount Olympus). Five Mile Island, a lush landmark in the middle of the river, is a perfect turnaround, and the total elevation gain is under 1,000 feet.

3. Middle Fork Snoqualmie River

The way across the Middle Fork.
The way across the Middle Fork. laffertyryan

If you can spare a couple hours, the Middle Fork —30 miles from downtown—is the Seattle outdoor version of instant outdoors gratification. Just after crossing a beautiful wooden bridge, this trail goes both downstream and up—and we say up’s the way to go. The woods are silent, the river is loud, and the mileage clocks in at six. Along the way, you’ll see the humpbacked ridgeline of Stegosaurus Butte, where you might see climbers on its slabby walls. Some of the creek crossings can be tricky this time of year, so pack a trekking pole or two.

4. East Peak Rattlesnake Trail, from Rattlesnake Lake

Looking down on Rattlesnake Lake from Rattlesnake Ledge.
Looking down on Rattlesnake Lake from Rattlesnake Ledge. Layne Shepherd

Most people who come to Rattlesnake , a steady switchbacking climb, end up at the precipitous cliffs of the lowest ledge to have a snack and then descend again. Those two miles, with 1,100-odd feet of elevation gain, are great for a quickie (for you and, on nice weekends, what seems like half of Seattle). Granted, with the whole Cedar River watershed and Mount Si in front of you, it’s worth a pause. But those in the know continue on another 2.4 miles past a few more ledges along a ridge to East Peak, more than doubling the climb. If the weather’s clear, you can peek through the trees to see Mount Rainier.

5. Ozette Triangle

Just one highlight of the Ozette: the seastacks off Cape Alava.
Just one highlight of the Ozette: the seastacks off Cape Alava.

Scoring a summertime permit to camp in this part of Olympic National Park isn’t easy, but hiking the loop in a single day is not just doable—it should be on every Northwesterner’s bucket list. In just 9.4 miles, you can meander paths lined with huge ferns, cross boardwalks over seas of skunk cabbage, check out an old homestead, find Makah petroglyphs, and traverse a wild coastline dotted with tidepools and lorded over by bald eagles.

The best part? No matter how much snow remains in the alpine, it doesn’t matter to you. You’re headed to the beach.


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