My 6 Favorite Washington Hikes

This blog post is one that I have been wanting to write for a while, especially for all my out-of-state friends and acquaintances who want to get into hiking (because #PNWonderland) but don't know the area. There is no shortage of beautiful trails to explore, and whether you want a waterfall, a lake, or a bird's eye view, there is a destination for everyone.

It was so hard to narrow this post down to only five or (ultimately) six hikes. When I began drafting this post and adding in photos, I realized that the length and scale of this post was just too much. I could easily write several posts about hikes, which is probably what I will end up doing. For now, the following 6 hikes are the ones I have chosen to share.

6 of the best hikes in Washington State


 I do feel like I have to begin this post by making a few brief disclaimers.

First: There are SO many amazing Washington hikes that I have not done, among them Lake 22, Snow Lake, Mailbox, and Fremont Lookout. I have no doubt that I would actually really love these hikes–and some of them would no doubt make this list–however, these hikes are also so massively popular that the thought of dealing with crowds kind of dampens my enthusiasm. I'll make my way around to these hikes one day, so don't fret over the fact that none of these hikes are on this list! I only wanted to include hikes that I personally have done and can speak to.

Second: For anyone new to the outdoors, or even as a reminder to those of you who have a few hikes under your belts, it is incredibly important to respect the outdoors and conduct yourself in a responsible manner while enjoying it. The amount of trash that has been left behind on local trails in the past 6 months and the amount of forest damage that has occurred has been incredibly disheartening and infuriating to see. You should always take your trash–including toilet paper and food scraps–with you. You should also enter outdoors spaces with the mindset that you will leave little to no trace that you were ever there, a set of principles called Leave No Trace. You can review these principles below and also refer to the LNT website for further information.

Leave No Trace

Leave no trace principles are vital to the preservation and integrity of our natural outdoor spaces. In order to create a healthy and sustainable future for wildlife and nature, it is important to practice minimizing your impact when recreating outdoors. 

Before you embark on your next hiking adventure, keep the following Leave No Trace principles in mind:

  1. Plan ahead & prepare. Hiking with a pet? Don't forget a leash and doggie bags.
  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Try to stay on marked trails and campsites.
  3. Dispose of waste properly. Pack out everything you pack in. Orange peels do not degrade as quickly as you think they do.
  4. Leave what you find. Additionally, do not alter trails and campsites and quit carving your initials into trees. There are less harmful ways to recognize your relationships.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts. Use fire rings, know whether or not burn bans are in effect, and do not use a live tree for firewood.
  6. Respect wildlife. Don't feed the animals, folks.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Please don't blast music from a portable speaker and be sure to yield to uphill traffic.

Basically, clean up after yourself, be nice to others, and don't destroy the forest. That way, we can all continue to enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest for generations to come! Woo! 

Now that we've covered that, it's time to find out what some of my favorite hikes are. Enjoy, and feel free to let me know in the comments what your personal favorite Washington hikes are.

My 6 Favorite Washington Hikes

1. Colchuck Lake 

Length: 8 miles round-trip

Elevation gain: 2,280 feet 

Location: Leavenworth area

Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

Dogs allowed?: No 


I don't particularly like assigning difficulty levels to hikes because I think it's all relative to what your fitness level is and how much hiking experience you have. But if I had to, I would say that Colchuck Lake is fairly strenuous for the average person (aside from the natural beauty of the lake and surrounding region, one of the things I remember most was that this hike kicked my butt).

Don't worry, though. Your efforts will be greatly rewarded.

Colchuck Lake lies about 30 minutes past the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth. (Side Note: Leavenworth has canceled all of their holiday events for 2020, including their winter festival. While this is a huge bummer, I still highly recommend you file this location away if you've never been and visit as soon as it is safe to do so! It's an incredibly easy day trip from Seattle.) This area is seriously chock-full of amazing outdoor activities including hiking, horse riding, rock climbing, snowshoeing, and more. 

Colchuck and nearby Stuart and Snow Lakes are perhaps the closest most people will get to experiencing the beauty and majesty of the famed Enchantments without scoring one of the coveted overnight permits (which can be secured only by entering into an annual lottery). With names like "Dragontail Peak" and "Aasgard Pass" denoting the features around the lake, you can definitely get a sense for the type of otherworldly experience you are in for. Going beyond Colchuck Lake and backpacking through The Enchantments is definitely one of my bucket list experiences. 

If you manage to land a camping permit, you can also camp along the shores of the lake. Keep in mind that this area is patrolled and maintained strictly, so do not enter any areas or engage in any activities that you do not have a permit for. 

*Forgive the circa-2016 cell phone pictures, they're all I have!


Me hiking to Colchuck Lake

 
 
Ryan at Colchuck Lake

2. Skookum Flats

Length: 7.8 miles round-trip (or 4.2 miles)

Elevation gain: 300 feet (or 100 feet)

Location: Chinook Pass

Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

Dogs Allowed?: Yes


This hike is a bit of a "choose your own adventure" style hike. You have two options for starting points depending on if you want a longer or shorter hike. You can begin at the trailhead from FR 73 for a shorter and less steep hike of just over 4mi. Or, you can begin from the trailhead at FR 7160 for a longer and slightly steeper path (although at 300 feet of elevation gain, its still not that bad as far as PNW hikes go. Just take a look at the elevation gain on the next hike in this list!). 

Note that if you take the longer route, finding the trailhead can be a little confusing. There is a sign that says "Trailhead" in the parking lot but this sign is misleading. There is not actually a trailhead there (and they really should just take the sign down). Instead, you are going to leave the parking lot, cross the road you came in on, and continue walking up the road (north) a little ways until you find the actual trailhead.

Either way, you will arrive at the base of a really pretty waterfall. Like, right under it. Waterfall flow is always strongest in the spring and early summer so this time will be your best bet for a lot of the waterfall hikes in the region. Just be careful for slippery rocks (Ryan was ready with his camera expecting me to slip).

In addition to visiting the falls, you can also wander out along the gravel banks of the White River. You will also get lots of sneak peaks of the river and creek throughout your hike. All in all it's incredibly scenic no matter which path you take. 

The falls on the Skookum Flats hike

Bring a reweard beverage when hiking

Best Washington hikes: Skookum Flats

Hiking with dog at Skookum Flats

House Wine at Skookum Falls

 

3. Melakwa Lake

Length: 8.5 miles round-trip

Elevation gain: 2,700 feet

Location: Snoqualmie Pass

Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

Dogs Allowed?: Yes


Melakwa Lake is one of my personal favorite hikes. It can be a difficult one if you try to power through it and if you're not in the best of shape. It's saving grace, however, is that the trail is incredibly interesting with lots of opportunities to stop. 

The first time I did this hike my party made frequent stops which made the hike seem much less difficult. The second time when I tried to power through with minimal stops its was significantly harder.

First there's a fun creek crossing going over Denny Creek. The water level and speed vary depending on the time of year, so try at look at trip reports on the WTA to gauge whether or not the crossing is safe before you head out. Many of the families with smaller children that started out from the parking lot with you will stop at this point and picnic/hang out for the day. Some may even wander up to the next scenic point a quarter of a mile past the creek–Keekwulee Falls. You can only see the falls through the trees and from a distance, but they are nonetheless pretty (and a great spot to stop for water or a snack). 

The trail becomes much quieter beyond this point, and more strenuous. Depending on the time of year, some of the upper portions of this trail may still have snow. At the end, you will be rewarded with a beautiful emerald lake where you can stop for lunch or even camping. 

Be sure to pack bug spray. "Melakwa" is Chinook for "mosquito" if that tells you anything. 

*Sadly, I don't really have any good photos from Melakwa.


4. Sheep Lake

Length: 3.6 miles round-trip 

Elevation gain: 400 feet

Location: Chinook Pass

Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

Dogs allowed?: Yes


If it's possible to have a "comfort hike," then this would be it. You know, that hike that you keep doing over and over again just because. It's not too hard, not too long. It's the perfect hike. Ryan and I have impromptu popped up here for an evening hike and a picnic-style dinner, which works out perfectly because the crowded parking lot usually begins clearing out, with all the families packing their kids up and heading home, by about 5pm.

The drive over Chinook Pass to the trailhead is perhaps one of the most scenic drives I have ever taken. There are some jaw-dropping views of Mt. Rainier along the way, with space to pull over and snap some photos along the way. The last couple miles to the trailhead are even more beautiful, albeit much more hair raising (heights-fearing people, beware). You will make your way up a narrow and winding mountain road with immense drop offs just a few arm lengths away. At its highest point, Chinook Pass is 5,430 feet tall. Drive slowly and carefully. 

One big reason I love this hike is because you are close enough to Mt. Rainier to feel like you're right there at the park. The trailhead itself, however, lies in national forest land just outside the boundaries of the national park proper. This means that you do not have to pay the $30 national park fee ($55 annual) and instead pay only for the Northwest Forest Pass (only $5 for a day pass or $30 annual, a pass that is well worth it as you can use it in so many other places). 

Dogs are also allowed on national forest land, while hike in the national park are sans doggo. Ryan and I always get a kick out of taking the sheep dog to Sheep Lake. I know, our humor sucks.

In the summer, this trail is blanketed with wildflowers. At the lake, there's plenty of room along the shore to sit down, spread out, and hang out with camping spots available as well. This is a hike that Ryan and I do all the time, and there's also close access to a few other great hikes in the immediate area. Just be prepared to do battle for a parking spot if you plan on hiking during a peak time (basically 9am-4pm).

Sheep Lake is a beautiful lake

Sheep dog at sheep lake!

Views along the Sheep Lake trail

Hiking at Sheep Lake


5. Cherry Creek Falls

Length: 5.0 miles round-trip

Elevation gain: 450 feet

Location: Stevens Pass

Pass: None

Dogs allowed?: Yes


The early bird gets the worm on this hike as there is no parking lot and legal parking space for only about 5-10 cars. The trailhead lies just beyond a private road, and all the neighbors have "No Parking" signs in front of your homes. Do not park along the road anyway–the land owners will have you ticketed or towed. Plus, if too many people fail to follow the rules, the possibility exists that the trail could be closed to the public for good.

The first time Ryan and I tried to go on this hike, we arrived by about 8am on a Saturday morning only to find that all the existing parking space was filled. We ended up having to leave and find someplace else to go. The following weekend, we came even earlier (about 6:30am) and were able to get a spot. 

The lack of parking means that the trail is actually very quiet and peaceful. Or at least, that's what it used to mean. When Ryan and I did this hike about 2-3 years ago (I can't remember exactly when it was), we didn't run into a single group on our way to the falls, had the falls all to ourselves, and ran into only a handful of groups on the way back out. It was heaven.

Looking at recent trip reports, however, this appears to have changed. People are illegally lining a private road for a mile and showing up in droves. This is unacceptable, people! If there is no legal parking available, I'm sorry, but you have to move along. Try again next time.

Anyway, if you do manage to do this hike one day, perhaps on a weekday or during the off season, you won't be disappointed. There's a bright yellow wrecked car in the forest that you can take pictures of, and the hike itself isn't too strenuous. The falls are small but incredibly pretty and picturesque. 

I hope to do this hike again one day! 

Cherry Creek Falls

Me and Sam hiking

Dog at Cherry Creek Falls

Sneaking food to the dog
Sneaking food to the dog
Caught feeding the dog
Caught!

Abandoned car at Cherry Creek

Sam sitting in front of a tree


6. Dirty Harry's Balcony 

Length: 4.4 miles round-trip

Elevation gain: 1,300 feet

Location: Snoqualmie Pass

Pass: Discover Pass

Dogs allowed?: Yes

 

Dirty Harry's Balcony is a great hike for anyone who wants an overhead view of the forest. There are two rock large rock ledges, and upper and a lower one, and both provide really excellent views. There are also a variety of nice little overlooks throughout. Ryan and I thought we had made it when we arrived at the first balcony overlooking I-90 but soon found out from talking with other hikers that Dirty Harry's balcony was still a way up the trail still.

Be prepared for the rock ledges to be incredibly windy! They are high up in the air and very exposed to the elements. While Dirty Harry's Balcony has a higher a cooler view, the rock ledge lower down along the trail is much larger. In hindsight, it would have been nice to stop here and eat rather than crowding into the much smaller main balcony with everyone else.

Ryan and I did this hike last year as part of a training regimen to get in shape for a week of hiking through Utah. It was March and much of the trail was covered in snow still, requiring the use of Yaktrax on our shoes. Hiking poles would have also been helpful. 

After spending time at the balcony, we attempted to move further along the trail in an attempt to wander up to Dirty Harry's Peak to find what has been dubbed Dirty Harry's Museum. Basically, it is an abandoned logging truck that lies off any official trail and serves as a remnant of the logging operation once run by Harry Gault. The snow, however, was much deeper and softer through this section. I kept falling through the snow up to my thigh, and the effort began taking a lot of energy out of us. After trudging along for a little while (I'm not actually sure how far we made it), we decided to turn back and try again when the snow melted. 

To this day, we still haven't gone back to try and find the truck. It is a task that still lies on my to-do list.

Stepping up to an overlook

In the snow at Dirty Harry's Balcony

The view from Dirty Harry's Balcony

Me hiking in the snow
 

Conclusion

Well there you have it, guys. It was really hard to pick only six hikes I could call my "favorites" as there are so many other wonderful hikes that I've done (and would love to share with you guys). Such a post, however, would just be way too long. 

I'm already dreaming up and follow-up post talking about more cool hikes I've been on, including Otter Falls, Oyster Dome, Rachel Lake, Talapus & Olallie Lakes, and more!

Would you guys be interested in more hiking posts? Let me know in the comments! 
 
P.S. Thank you to my boyfriend Ryan for pretty much all of these photos :) 

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4 comments

  1. I am always looking for new and interesting places to inspire travel and spend time outdoors in. Your pup is so sweet, what a great hiking companion.

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    1. Thank you, Sam definitely likes being able to get out hiking with us. Fortunately there are lots of dog-friendly options out there!

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  2. Skookum Flats is amazing in the winter as well! It is doable with just microspikes and you can see elk tracks in the snow. Sheep Lake is now on my list!

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    1. That sounds amazing! I've never tried going out there in the winter but this year I think I might. And Sheep Lake is definitely worth a go, the hike is so pretty.

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