Best Hikes Around Seattle

I often get asked for hike recommendations by people who’ve either recently moved to Seattle or visiting for a short time. So I’ve compiled a list of varying difficulty and scenery as a starting point for anyone to use and get more into the great Washington outdoors. I’ve found many sites to have an overwhelming number of trails or ones that recommend the same top 5 trails. So instead of just referring you to the same frustrating place, here are some of my favorite hikes, from popular to the less-traveled, ranging from short to long hikes, summit views to lake swims.

For the full list of trails including trail stats, drive time and tips, go here. And if you’re looking to explore more trails on your own or want to find out how to pick the perfect trail for yourself, I’ve created another guide for where to start your own adventures. Happy trails!

table of contents

 

short hikes

These are some of the least intense hikes that offer something interesting other than forests along the way or at the destination

  • Sauk Mountain: This is a very nice hike for wildflowers in the North Cascades. The bathroom is also a cute A-frame!
  • Skyline Lake: A short hike to the lake – good for when Steven’s Pass isn’t in season 
  • Pinnacle Pass: Beautiful views of Mount Rainier from the south side
  • Mt McCausland: Relatively short hike for beautiful views, a bit further east from Steven’s Pass, for an easier hike head down to Lake Valhalla, head up the steep trail to McCausland for better views.
  • Mt Catherine: Short Snoqualmie hike with views from Rainier and more! May need to park low clearance car a mile before trailhead due to rocky road.
Lupine at Sauk Mountain

 

Lake Hikes

  • Snow and Gem Lakes: Two amazingly azure lakes by Snoqualmie Pass. Hike is steep along the ridge to get to the lake. Great place to go for a dip in the water!
  • Rachel Lake: A little less crowded and further drive into Snoqualmie. Hike is a gentle grade along a stream until the final climb to the lake where most of the elevation gain is made.
  • Serene Lake: A longer lake hike with a side trip to a big waterfall. One of many beautiful alpine lakes in the Mountain Loop Highway area, so parking can be difficult despite the large lot.
  • Lake Ann: Beautiful lake in the subalpine region by Mt. Baker. Hike can be hard since you must first go downhill to the basin and back uphill before getting to the lake. Good camping spot too!
  • Colchuck Lake: The Enchantments have grown in popularity due to social media, but Colchuck Lake with Dragontail Peak in the background is still seriously some of the best views there without the strenuous work of climbing Aasgard Pass.
Aqua Clear Water at Snow Lake

 

Peaks

These are hikes with awesome views at the top that are worth the longer hike.

  • Hidden Lake Lookout: The road to the trailhead is severely pot-holed. Around July, the flowers are in full bloom, so after the forest section, you hike through beautiful meadows with glimpses of Mt. Baker. It opens to subalpine region and then a short scramble to the lookout with views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
  • Mt Pilchuck: One of the best hikes with a summit view. It is relatively short and close to the city. But the pot-holed road is quite bad, starting before Rachel Lake and continuing  until the last mile of paved road. Views of all 5 volcanoes possible.
  • Mt Dickerman: Large trailhead to accommodate many hikers, but still go early. The switchbacks are frequent at first, then you pass a waterfall before heading up the subalpine meadows to the peak. Views of Glacier Peak, potentially Baker, and surrounding mountains too.
  • Easy Pass: Okay not technically peak, but this is a great way to get a good glimpse into the deep North Cascades, beautiful wildflowers and streams everywhere! It’s an access point for many scrambles, or one segment of a backpacking loop you can connect to Thunder Creek.
Alpine hike with Hidden Lake

 

technical hikes

I recommend this for those looking for a bit more challenge in scrambling/route finding. So these are not truly “technical” but require a bit more thought. Typical hiking gear is enough, unless you stumble on snow, which I would probably recommend ice axe and crampons. Some of these trails use steeper climber’s trail, but the rewards are great! If this might be a big jump for you, check out this hike-to-scramble progression guide I put together to get you up to speed.

  • Vesper Peak: Very long forest hike into boulder-hopping. The whole time you can’t see the peak until you finish the steep climb to the Headlee Pass. Then take a break for a flat hike traversing to Vesper Lake before a final scramble to the peak. Sometimes you may spot climbers on the north wall of the peak.
  • Mount Baring: Steep climber’s trail gaining about 2000 ft in 1 mile. Then turns into an undulating trail on the ridge and a steady climb up the gully between the twin peaks. Take the trail to the north/left, where obvious to the true peak. Starts behind the pit toilet on an unmarked trail different from the one that leads to Barclay Lake, route finding necessary.
  • Gothic Peak: The trail starts out as a leisurely hike along the Monte Cristo trail, but then starts to climb as you traverse the side of the mountain and then steeply towards Gothic Basin and the lake. Gothic Peak, and Del Campo, are a good side scramble from the lake. Accessible in the winter as well with appropriate gear.
  • Camp Muir: Gets you to 10000 ft, but be sure to have good shoes to go on snow or you’ll be slipping and coming down with wet feet. Straightforward hike from Skyline trail out of Paradise at Rainier NP on a clear day. Views of St Helens and Adams to the south. You can watch people go up and down from the summit climb. Route finding necessary when weather conditions are poor.
  • Mount Saint Helens: When else can you say you’ve walked to the top of a volcano? Depending on the season, the hike is simply a walk up a gravel hillside. In summer months, a permit is required (even if snow exists), and in the off season, the route starts at a lower trailhead.
Easterly views from Gothic Peak

 

Classics

These are hikes that I consider to be classics – the most recommended hikes for hikers new to the Cascades. They’re solid hikes, but often very popular on weekends, so be sure to get there extra early. A good rule of thumb is to be at the trailhead before 8am.

  • Mt Si: Long switch backs through the forest until the last 1/4 mile that start to open up to views. Optional scramble on the haystack. Discover Pass required.
  • Mailbox Peak: New trail seems like it’s never ending and then there’s still the final climb through boulders to the top, would recommend taking the old trail up and the new trail down to save your knees. Wildflowers about near the summit. Discover Pass required.
  • Bandera Mountain (and Mason Lake or Mt Defiance): Definitely need to get to trailhead early since parking is more limited here. Mason Lake is more popular and people enjoy camping near the lake. Bandera is another 1000 ft elevation gain from the Mason Lake trail through steep and sometimes slippery soil/rocks. But awesome views at the top. Mt Defiance is lesser known and a farther hike, so choose this one if you want a bit more solitude and wilderness. Northwest Forest Pass required.
  • Mt Pilchuck: Drive up is horrendous for the potholes, some of which are unavoidable, even before getting to Heather Lake. Fairly large parking lot, but can start filling up later in the day. Most people opt for Heather Lake. Hike is through various terrain, from forest to boulders, and a short scramble to the lookout. Northwest Forest Pass required.
  • Heather Lake: Pass through a few potholes. Parking lot seems big, but is still very limited – remember to make room for cars passing by if parking along the road. There’s a boardwalk around the lake if you wish to take that. Northwest Forest Pass required.
  • Lake 22: Extremely popular lake, and parking lot is tiny. Cars end up parking along the highway, be careful not to park where noted. Also a path around the lake. Northwest Forest Pass required.
  • Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls: More strenuous lake hike, especially if taking the side trail to the falls, which can add about an hour to the hike. Beautiful in winter or summer. If the parking lot fills up (or your car can’t make it up an icy road), you can park in the space next to the bridge off the highway. Northwest Forest Pass required.
  • Rattlesnake Ledge: One of the most well-visited hikes due to its proximity to the city. It’s a short hike with nice views on the ledge – be care how far you walk out. This is also a good sunrise hike. No park fees.
Pilchuck Lookout

 

short walks

These are more of a lazy stroll. I find them to be good if you’re passing nearby and want a quick hike or more nature to fill the day.

  • Franklin Falls: A very short, flat hike to the falls.
  • Heybrook Lookout: Short hike to a lookout in the middle of Hwy 2, views of mountains like Baring, Gunn, Index. People often hammock at the top.
  • Snoqualmie Falls: Just for pictures or visiting the town/Salish Lodge.
  • Big Four Ice Caves: Short walk to caves – remember to be cautious about the caves. They can collapse!
Mt Baring from Heybrook Lookout

 

winter hikes

Contrary to belief, you can still hike in the winter, it’s a year-round activity! However, make sure to always check the weather before you go and tell people about your plan. Generally, these are hikes that are well travelled in the winter, so snowshoes aren’t necessary. See the gear page for more info. The trail will be obvious, though there may be patches of ice, in which micro spikes would be a good investment. Typically, it is slower to move on snow/ice-covered trails, so keep that in mind when estimating trip times. And if you’re unsure if a hike is safe, check previous trip reports and err on the side of caution – many summit hikes are dangerous in the winter due to avalanche conditions. Check out my guide on winter hikes too if you’re new to winter conditions hiking. But I hope you enjoy these winter ones!

  • Lake Serene: You can get a decent work out with this one and even take a short visit to Bridal Veil Falls, which may be frozen over. You might even see people ice climbing the falls in colder temperatures!
  • Heather Lake: The road to the trailhead may be difficult to drive, but parking a few hundred feet away is better than getting stuck. The hike is shorter than other lakes, but can still get your heart rate up.
  • Skyline Lake: It can get busy and crowded especially with skiers, but the views of Stevens Pass and the lake can still be rewarding for a relatively short but steeper hike! Snowshoes are good for this one.
  • Heybrook Lookout: I’ve done this one quite a few times in the winter. It’s short and sweet with the most gorgeous view of Mt. Baring in the winter, as well as the other neighboring peaks in the Wild Sky Wilderness.
  • Franklin Falls: This is a very short hike to the falls where the I-90 highway splits around the trail. It is especially beautiful in the snow and when the waterfall freezes over. In some years, it’s cold enough that you might spot some ice climbers!
  • Mt Si: For those still looking for a workout, Mt Si is always in good shape for a winter hike. Plus, you can’t beat that short drive from the city!
  • Artist Point: This is a wonderful snowshoe hike, and make sure to double check the road conditions before heading up! But if you do take the long drive from Seattle, it is well worth the beautiful views of Shuksan and Baker. Find the snowshoe trail and follow that up – it’s the wider and deeper one! The skinny tracks are for skis, so try not to step in those tracks.
Shuksan viewed from Artist Point

 

Hike Summary

For a detailed topographic map of the trails listed below and use my Caltopo map of trails for a more interactive view of the map.

ratings
  • Easy: Most people will be able to do these with no problem. Generally, only a couple hours long for a few miles and elevation gain of ~1000 ft or less.
  • Moderate: An average fit person can do this. You may need to catch a breath, and you might be sore the next day.
  • Hard: Geared towards more fit hikers, but you will probably still be sore the next day. Usually longer hikes (6 miles+) with more elevation gain (3000 ft+), with a continuous grade of about 1000 ft/mile, but the views are rewarding
  • Difficult: More technical and steep trails, but can range in length. Generally need more experience on hikes and understanding of terrain.
  • Note: remember to take your time as needed, it’s not a race to the top!
trailhead passes

Some trailheads allow you pay for parking at the trailhead with cash. Others, you may need to obtain at a ranger station or online. When buying online, there’s usually an online transaction fee, but you’ll save time at the trailhead. Here’s a little table that encapsulates the differences. Note that state parks and national land do not have interchangeable passes!

Pass TypeLocation UsedDay PassAnnual PassWhere to buyUser
Discover PassState Parks and recreational land$10$30Online or in local stores2 cars
Northwest Forest PassNational Forests (WA and OR)$5$30Online or some trailheads or local stores or ranger station2 cars
National Park PassAny national land, including National Forests(depends on park)$80Online or park entrancedriver + 1 car
Mt Rainier PassMount Rainier National Park$30 for 1 week ($15 for walk-in)$55Online or park entrancedriver + 1 car
Olympic National Park PassOlympic National Park$30 for 1 week ($15 for walk-in)$55Online or park entrancedriver + 1 car
list of trails
HikeLocationTrailheadDrive Time from Seattle (hrs)Length of Hike (mi)Elevation Gain (ft)End Elevation (ft)Time (hrs)DifficultyTerrainTips/Notes
Alta MountainSnoqualmie Pass, OWNFEnd of NF-4930/Kachess Lake Road1:3010.5377062406HardModerate grade, scrambleFollow the ridge at the top
Annette LakeSnoqualmie Pass, MBSNFAnnette Lake Trailhead0:456.5200036603ModerateModerate gradeGood snow hike
Artist Point (winter)Hwy 542, MBSNF (no fees)Bagley Lakes Loop2:405.0100054503ModerateModerate gradeSnowshoe hike, views of Shuksan
Bandera MountainSnoqualmie Pass, MBSNFIra Spring Trailhead0:556.5340051404HardModerate gradeGravel road, steep grade at top
Baring MountainStevens Pass, MBSNFBarclay Lake Trailhead1:304.5400058306DifficultSteep grade and scrambleGravel drive, trail is right of bathroom
Blanca LakeIndex, MBSNFBlanca Lake Trailhead2:007340046705HardSteep gradeBeautiful lake
Camp MuirParadise, Mt Rainier NPParadise2:208.54650100807DifficultModerate grade, snow past Skyline TrailWear good shoes for snow, poles/ice axe for balance
Colchuck LakeLeavenworth, OWNFStuart And Colchuck Lake Trailheads3:008.0250056504ModerateModerate gradeBest views at the end
Easy PassWinthrop, OWNFEasy Pass2:507.0290065005ModerateModerate gradeGreat views of mountains and valley
Franklin FallsSnoqualmie Pass, MBSNFFranklin Falls Trailhead0:504.040025901.5EasyFlat gradeVery popular, even in winter
Granite Mountain LookoutI-90, MBSNFGranite Mountain Trailhead0:508.6376056005HardModerate gradeWildflower fields in summer
Gothic PeakMountain Loop Hwy, MBSNFGothic Basin Trailhead1:409.2445061807DifficultModerate grade, steep scrambleSummit scramble, good in snow
Heather LakeMountain Loop Hwy, MBSNFHeather Lake Trail, Granite Falls1:103.5110024502EasyGentle gradeWalk around lake
Heybrook LookoutStevens Pass, MBSNFHeybrook Lookout Trailhead1:002.5100017001.5EasyModerate gradeParking north side of Hwy 2
Hidden Lake LookoutHwy 20, North Cascades NP (no fee)Hidden Lake Lookout Trailhead2:207.5350068005HardModerate grade, some steep bouldersTerrible potholes on road, wildflower fields
High Divide LoopSol Duc, Olympic NPSol Duc Trailhead3:3017.55300548010HardModerate gradeViews of Olympus on ridge
Humpback MountainSnoqualmie Pass, MBSNFHumpback Mountain Trailhead1:004.0270051703ModerateModerate grade, mild boulders at topPark after first sharp left turn, watch for trail up the ridge
Index Town WallIndex, MBSNFIndex Town Walls Parking Area1:102.0128017801DifficultSteep gradeShort and steep, views of Hwy 2
Ira Spring LoopSnoqualmie Pass, MBSNFIra Spring Trailhead0:559.5541055156DifficultModerate grade and steep scrambleLink Petrid Pete's, Defiance, Bandera
Lake 22Mountain Loop Hwy, MBSNFLake Twenty-Two Trailhead1:105.0170024503EasyGentle gradeWalk around lake
Lake AnnMt Baker NFLake Ann Trailhead2:508.5260048804ModerateModerate gradeStarts downhill
Lake Serene & Bridal Veil FallsIndex, MBSNFLake Serene Trailhead1:008.0300026504ModerateModerate gradeDetour to falls
Mailbox PeakNorth Bend, MBSNFMailbox Peak Parking Lot, Washington 980450:459.4440048455HardModerate grade, boulder hoppingWildflowers near peak in summer
Mt CatherineSnoqualmie Pass, OWNFMount Catherine Trailhead1:103.0150050503EasyModerate gradeMini scramble at end, worth the views
Mt DickermanMountain Loop Hwy, MBSNFMt. Dickerman Trailhead and Parking1:308.0420057605HardModerate gradeMountain views
Mt McCauslandStevens Pass, MBSNFSmithbrook Trailhead 1:406.5190057504EasyGentle grade, steep to peakCheck out Lake Valhalla too!
Mt PilchuckMountain Loop Hwy, MBSNFMount Pilchuck Trailhead1:305.4230053253.5ModerateModerate gradeTerrible potholes
Mt SiNorth Bend (Discover Pass)Mt. Si Trailhead0:408.0362541505HardModerate gradeOverflow parking west of main lot, opt: class 3 scramble
Mt St Helens (Wormflows, winter)Mt St Helens NM (+ sno-park pass)Sno-Park: Marble Mountain3:1011.5572083548HardModerate gradeNeed snow gear, or summer permit
Pinnacle PassParadise, MBSNFPinnacle Peak Trail1:102.5110059402EasyModerate gradeViews of Rainier and the valley
Rachel LakeSnoqualmie Pass, OWNFEnd of NF-4930/Kachess Lake Road1:307.0216046804ModerateModerate gradeGentle hike along river until the steep climb to the lake
Rattlesnake LedgeNorth Bend (no fee)Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area0:454.5130020702.5EasyGentle gradeCan continue to ridge
Sauk MountainHwy 20, MBSNFSauk Mountain Trailhead2:103.2137055102EasyGentle gradeWildflower fields in summer
Skyline LakeStevens Pass, MBSNFStevens Pass Lot C1:302.0101051001.5EasyModerate gradeShort and sweet hike, good in snow
Snow and Gem LakesSnoqualmie Pass, MBSNFSnow Lake Trailhead1:0010.0280049005ModerateModerate gradeSteep near ridge, beautiful lakes
Talapus and Olallie LakesSnoqualmie Pass, MBSNFTalapus Lake Trailhead1:006.2140038704ModerateModerate gradeRemote-feeling lakes
Vesper PeakMountain Loop Hwy, MBSNFSunrise Mine Trailhead1:406.5423062158DifficultModerate grade, scrambleSteep section before Headlee Pass
Yellow Aster ButteHwy 542, MBSNFTomyhoi/Yellow Aster Butte Trailhead2:408.5290062304ModerateModerate grade, scramble to true summmitFalse summit is .7 mi from true summit, but beautiful