Discover 10 of Washington’s Most Beautiful and Iconic Hiking Trails

Mount Rainier towers over the surrounding mountains sitting at an elevation of 14,411 ft. It is considered to be one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes.
picturin/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jennifer Hollohan

Published: November 26, 2023

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Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to hit some spectacular trails! Whether you only have time for a short day trip or seek a multi-day backpacking adventure, there is something for you in Washington. The state is well-known for its stunning wilderness areas and soaring peaks. So, where do you start? How about with 10 of Washington’s Most Beautiful and Iconic Hiking Trails? Read on to map out your next trip.

1. Bird Mountain Loop

Mount Adams Wilderness; Avalanche Valley is quite scenic, as well as lava desert, cross on the way there, near Devils Garden, You'll need a GPS with track, or good route finding skills the last

Bird Mountain Loop is in the South Cascades near Mount Adams.

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 10.25 miles (roundtrip)

Elevation Gain: 1,875 feet

Best Season: July – October

This iconic trail is in the South Cascades and is well worth the drive for those living in other parts of Washington. Bird Mountain Loop starts in the Cultus Lake Campground in the Mount Adams Area. It features five lakes and a reasonably challenging climb. Ambitious hikers can complete the trek in a day. But plenty of available campsites make this the ideal backpacking adventure.

2. Blanca Lake

Pond that leads to Blanca Lake, Washington

The hike to Blanca Lake offers stunning views, like this small pond.

Difficulty: Hard

Length: 7.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 3300 feet

Best Season: July – October

Blanca Lake Trailhead is in the Central Cascades, near Stevens Pass. While the journey to reach the stunning glacier-fed Lake is challenging, it doesn’t stop determined hikers. The small, 20-car lot fills up rapidly on the weekend. And it’s no wonder. The end of the trail brings a dual reward – a magnificent lake and twin waterfalls!

3. Blue Lake

Beautiful afternoon view of North Cascades National Park complex from Washington Pass, Highway 20, Washington USA

Blue Lake sits in the rugged landscape of the Northern Cascades.

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 4.4 miles (roundtrip)

Elevation Gain: 1,050 feet

Best Season: July – September

Another gem in the Northern Cascades is Blue Lake. But what sets this trail apart is that the reward comes quickly. A gorgeous and pristine lake, surrounded by granite peaks, lies only about two miles from the trailhead. Plus, the trail sits right off Highway 20, making it highly accessible. However, its proximity to a highway also means it is highly popular. Plan on encountering others out hiking or fishing. And while the best hiking season for this trail is summer through early Autumn, it is also a snowshoeing destination in the winter.

4. Cape Horn 

Autumn has arrived in the Columbia Gorge.  This was taken from the Cape Horn overlook near Washougal, Washington.

Cape Horn trail features unbeatable views like the Columbia River Gorge.

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 7.2 miles, roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet

Best Season: Year-round

Cape Horn is a hidden gem in Southwestern Washington. Park your car at the Skamania County Public Transit Park and Ride, and get ready for a treat! The full loop provides jaw-dropping views of the Columbia River Gorge. However, in the spring and early summer, part of the trail gets closed off for peregrine falcon nesting. Don’t worry. The shorter out-and-back trail is still spectacular. Just check for any notices before heading out so you know what to expect.

5. Carne Mountain 

Image lake and Glacier Peak in Washington,USA

Hiking Carne Mountain is not for everybody, but you can experience breathtaking views of Glacier Park from the top.

Difficulty: Hard

Length: 7.3 miles (roundtrip)

Elevation Gain: 3,600 feet

Best Season: Late summer – fall

Hiking Carne Mountain isn’t for the faint of heart. There are several campsites along the way and multiple trail offshoots. But the real treat lies at the top of a steep climb. Those who brave the full Carne Mountain experience get rewarded with breathtaking views of Glacier Peak from the top. There is a good chance you will take in that vista by yourself, or at least with a few other people nearby. The challenge of this hike is that the trail is less well-traveled than other, more popular, trails in Washington.

6. Heather-Maple Pass Loop

Maple Pass Loop looking down on Lake Ann in the North Cascades of Washington State

The views of Lake Ann are worth the lengthy climb.

Difficulty: Moderate/Hard

Length: 7.2 miles (roundtrip)

Elevation Gain: 2,020 ft.

Best Season: June – October

Pencil in plenty of time for this breathtaking loop in the Northern Cascades. You can hike it clockwise or counterclockwise, whichever strikes your fancy. Both directions offer unmatched views and a chance to spend time on the shore of Lake Ann. Along the way, hikers get rewarded with scenes of beautiful wildflowers, smaller lakes, dramatic ridgelines, and possibly some snow. But if you’re looking for a people-free, Instagram-worthy shot, you will want to hit the trail at an odd time. The Heather-Maple Pass Loop is extremely popular on the weekends and during the height of summer.

7. Lost Lake

Beautiful Packwood Lake Trail I hiked in October 2020

One of the possible routes for the Lost Lake trail is via the Packwood Lake trailhead, which offers its own stunning views.

Difficulty: Hard

Length: 16.2 miles (roundtrip)

Elevation Gain: 2,400 feet

Best Season: July – September

Head into the South Cascades for a long day trip or a breathtaking backpacking experience. Lost Lake trail brings you to a lovely mountain lake surrounded by trees. It’s not the easiest hike, so many opt to camp overnight before heading home. There are two separate approaches, each with their own challenges. You can access this trail via the Clear Fork trailhead or Packwood Lake trailhead.

8. Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall

Holding a starfish on Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park, WA

Enjoy plenty of leisurely time exploring the local oceanic wildlife during your walk on Rialto Beach.

Difficulty: Easy

Length: 3.3 miles, roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 286 feet

Best Season: Year-round

While many trails in Washington feature significant elevation gain, soaring peaks, and a day’s worth of effort, sometimes you just want to go on a lovely stroll. That is where Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall come in! Get ready for a leisurely walk with minimal elevation gain. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a slight workout. The trail follows Rialto Beach and starts from its parking area. Locals love scampering up to the arch and inspecting its tide pools when the tide is out. There is ample wildlife (of a different sort) to see along your entire journey.

9. Summit Lake

Mount Rainier Behind a Curious Goat

Summit Lake sits around 5,800 feet!

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6.1 miles (roundtrip)

Elevation Gain: 1,300 ft.

Best Season: May – October

The elevation gain of the Summit Lake trail rewards intrepid hikers with views of two lakes. You will encounter Twin Lake first (if you’re willing to venture slightly off the main trail). Despite its name, there is only one lake tucked into an unassuming section of forest. The true gem, though, comes at the end. Summit Lake sits around 5,800 feet, is surrounded by gorgeous meadows, and features unmatched views of Mount Rainier. It is one of the many trails in Washington that offer this amazing view.

10. Skyline Trail

Mountain Rainier from the Skyline Trail in Paradise Valley, Mt Rainier National Park, Washington

Head to Mount Rainier to experience the beauty of Skyline Trail.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 5.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1450 ft

Best Season: June – September

While Skyline Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Rainier area, the views are worth braving the crowds. Summer hikers get rewarded with spectacular Subalpine meadows, waterfalls, and glaciers. However, regardless of your preferred Hiking season, make sure to pick up a map. The trail system behind the Jackson Visitor Center can get a little confusing, especially for first-time visitors. This trail is a loop, so feel free to approach it from either direction! However, a word of caution before you go… It is one of the trails in Washington that does not allow dogs. So, your furry friend will have to stay at home.

Summary of 10 of Washington’s Most Beautiful and Iconic Hiking Trails

NumberTrailDistanceRegion
1Bird Mountain Loop10.25 MilesSouth Cascades
2Blanca Lake7.5 milesCentral Cascades
3Blue Lake4.4 milesNorthern Cascades
4Cape Horn7.2 milesSouthwestern Washinton
5Carne Mountain7.3 milesGlacier Peak
6Heather – Maple Pass Loop7.2 milesNorthern Cascades
7Lost Lake6.2 milesSouth Cascades
8Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall3.3 milesRialto Beach
9Skyline Trail6.1 milesMount Rainier
10Summit Lake5.5 milesMount Rainier


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About the Author

Jennifer Hollohan is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on gardening, mammals, and travel. Jennifer has over twenty years of writing experience. She holds a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which she earned in 2005, and is a Herbalist. Jennifer lives in Colorado with her family. She loves hiking, admiring wildflowers, gardening, and making herbal tea.

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