Washington Hike-To-Scramble Progressions

Many of my hiking guides start as a product of my friends asking me for hike recommendations. And why not share this with more people? So here’s another take as a further jumping board from my Best Hikes Around Seattle guide. As you start hiking more, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to do more and more interesting hikes, whether longer or harder. Maybe you’re intrigued by day hikes that take longer than a few hours and maybe ones that might involve scrambling. So I’ve compiled some lists for hikes regionally based around Seattle sorted by difficulty and skill level. I created my own rating system, somewhat that give a bit more distinction than the typical hike-scramble-climb ratings. However, rating systems are always subjective, though they can relatively provide a good estimate for difficulty. When you feel comfortable with one level, that may be time to try the next one up!

  1. Easy: Never hiked before you can do this! Roughly < 1000 ft gain and < 5 miles
  2. Beginner: You’re excited to just get out, and this can be a challenge if you haven’t really hiked before. Roughly < 2000 ft gain and < 6 miles
  3. Moderate: A little longer, a little farther or maybe a little steeper. Roughly < 3500 ft gain and < 10 miles (with an exception)
  4. Hard: Adding more miles and gain or a bit less maintained trail. Roughly > 3500 ft gain and any mileage is game
  5. Mildly Technical: You’re ready for a short scramble at the end of the hike or taking the shorter, steeper way up a mountain and can have intuition for where to go.
  6. Route Finding: There is a climber’s path but you’ll have to pay attention for where it goes, having good intuition and GPS goes a long ways here
  7. Technical Scramble: There’s substantial scrambling involved and at least some route finding through a climber’s trail, no more than class 3 (see below).
  8. Bonus Round: Some of my favorite long scrambles, where you should probably have at least some smaller scrambling experience before you commit to something so big.

As you can tell, there’s going to be a lot of gray area between ratings. Ratings 1-4 are hikes that are straight-forward and well-travelled and are simply going from easy to hard. Ratings 5-7 divide up the more technical hikes that flow into a category of scrambles (see below) and route finding. If you’re new to hiking, it would be wise to stick to ratings 1-4 until you have a better feel for trails and finding trails that may fade in and out. Alternatively, find a friend who is willing to show you a few techniques!

Below are charts and maps for hikes in Washington, most of which I’ve done and can compare to each other. Each region has a Caltopo map color coded and organized by the rating you can interactively use. I only included one chart for the I-90 corridor, probably the most accessible area from Seattle. It tabulates hikes by difficulty (flat hike vs scramble) and effort (short few hours or long day) that will help clear the gray areas of a singular rating. Harder hikes are bottom right and easier hikes are upper left. Steepness (more gain in fewer miles) is also a factor for difficulty in the chart.

What is a scramble?

If you’ve ever been to a rock wall at summer camp or indoor climbing gym, then that’s one end of the climbing spectrum (moving vertically). The other end is walking on flat ground (moving horizontally). And in between, you move both horizontally and vertically, aka some sort of hiking. But at some point, hiking trails may travel through a rock field. If the rocks are large and the size of at least a large dog, those are probably boulders that won’t move if you walk on them. If they’re small broken rock that move around when you walk on them, they’re known as scree or talus. Generally scree is smaller and gets in your shoes, but talus often refers to chunkier rocks you can pick up.

Now scrambling is usually on rocks that are even bigger, rocks that are still part of the mountain. There are many grades to scrambling depending on how steep the route is before it’s considered rock climbing where a rope is necessary to prevent a fall. The most widely used grades you might see on trail descriptions are based on the the Yosemite Decimal System, where standard rope climbing is class 5 and a normal hike is class 1. Scrambling is considered anything class 2-4. In scrambling, you’ll probably use your hands to help pull yourself up and over a rock, or make large stair steps to get somewhere. Class 2 may use the occasional use of hands. Class 3 is most definitely using hands and rope for novice scramblers. And class 4 would really benefit from the use of rope since it verges on easy class 5, roped climbing. Class 4 is extremely dangerous if you don’t have the knowledge and skill. However, the more you do, the more you’ll get comfortable with it. But like rock climbing, there are inherent risks with scrambling, so I would recommend going with a friend before trying it out on your own. A scramble called class 3 may only have a few class 3 moves and be predominantly class 2 – ratings are always based on the hardest maneuver no matter the duration. All my suggested hikes are no more than a class 3 scramble.

Ultimately, it takes a experience and practice to build intuition to know what is safe. Although you may be able to skip around the different levels, there’s no automatic door where if you’ve done all the hikes in a previous category, that you’re 100% ready for the next. These are more like a general guide for what will be the next challenge. Having rock climbing skills and good foot traction is useful in scrambling, but it’s also possible to gradually progress from a normal day hike to a hike with a scramble as I’ve outlined.

Tip: Always know and make sure that you can back down and turn around if anything feels unsafe. 

I-90 Progression

These are hikes closest to Seattle along the I-90 corridor ranging to slightly past Snoqualmie Pass, within a 1-hour drive. For an interactive map, see this Caltopo map I created. The chart below corresponds left to right, increasing difficulty as described in the system above. Top to bottom, the chart shows hikes that require more relative effort to each other.

1 Easy2 Beginner3 Moderate4 Hard5 Mildly Technical6 Route Finding7 Tech. Scramble
Franklin Falls (400 ft gain, 2 miles)
Rattlesnake Ledge (1100 ft gain, 4 miles)Mt Catherine (1500 ft gain, 3 miles)
Talapus and Ollalie Lakes (1400 ft gain, 6 miles)Little Si (1400 ft gain, 4 miles)
Teneriffe Falls (1800 ft gain, 6 miles)
Annette Lake (1800 ft gain, 7 miles)
Dirty Harry's Balcony (1700 ft gain, 4 miles)
Mt Margaret (2100 ft gain, 5 miles)Guye Peak (2000 ft gain, 2 miles)
Snow Lake (2100 ft gain, 6 miles)
Mason Lake (2800 ft gain, 7 miles)Humpback Mountain (2800 ft gain, 4 miles)Silver Peak (2500 ft gain, 6 miles)
Melakwa Lake (3000 ft gain, 9 miles)Kendall Peak (3200 ft gain, 9 miles)Putrid Pete's Peak (3100 ft gain, 4 miles)Red Mountain (3000 ft gain, 6 miles)
Gem Lake (3200 ft gain, 10 miles)Mt Si (3400 ft gain, 7 miles)Mt Si with haystack scramble (3500 ft gain, 8 miles)Snoqualmie Mountain (3100 ft gain, 3 miles)
Kendall Katwalk (3400 ft gain, 12 miles)Bandera Mountain (3400 ft gain, 6 miles)
Mt Washington (3600 ft gain, 8 miles)Granite Mountain (3700 ft gain, 8 miles)
Dirty Harry's Peak (3800 ft gain, 8 miles)McClellan Butte (3500 ft gain, 11 miles)
Mailbox Peak - New (4000 ft gain, 10 miles)Mailbox Peak - Old (4000 ft gain, 5 miles)
Mt Defiance (4300 ft gain, 10 miles)Mt Teneriffe - Old (4000 ft gain, 7 miles)
Mt Teneriffe (4400 ft gain, 13 miles)
Kaleetan Peak (5000 ft gain, 11 miles)

Hwy 2 Progression

These hikes are 1-2 hours from Seattle. The interactive Caltopo map is here.

Hwy 2 Hikes/Scrambles listed in order of length and technical difficulty:

  1. Easy
    • Barclay Lake: 4.5 miles, 500 ft gain
    • Heybrook Lookout: 2.5 miles, 850 ft gain
    • Skyline Lake: 2.5 miles, 1050 ft gain
    • Bridal Veil Falls: 4 miles, 1000 ft gain
  2. Beginner
    • Lake Valhalla: 7 miles, 1500 ft gain
    • Beckler Peak: 7.5 miles, 2200 ft gain
    • Lake Serene: 8 miles, 2000 ft gain
    • Surprise Lake: 7 miles, 2500 ft gain
  3. Moderate
    • Dorothy Lake: 12 miles, 1700 ft gain
    • Blanca Lake: 7.5 miles, 3300 ft gain
  4. Hard
    • Rock Mountain: 9 miles, 3600 ft gain
    • Dirtyface Lookout: 9 miles, 3950 ft gain
    • West Fork Foss Lakes: 14 miles, 3300 ft gain
    • Necklace Valley: 18 miles, 3400 ft gain
  5. Mildly Technical
    • Mount McCausland: 7 miles, 1800 ft gain (steep at end)
  6. Route Finding
    • Index Town Wall: 2 miles, 1270 ft gain (well marked but steep)
    • Labyrinth Mountain: 4.5 miles, 2700 ft gain (good trail to lake, scrambling after)
    • Surprise Mountain: 12 miles, 4000 ft gain (partly unmaintained trail)
  7. Technical Scramble
    • Mount Baring: 7 miles, 3500 ft gain (difficult to find the start, scramble is mostly class 2)

Mountain Loop Highway Progression

These are all at least a 1-1.5 hour drive away for some good wilderness. Interactive map here.

Mountain Loop Hikes/Scrambles listed in order of length and technical difficulty:

  1. Easy
    • Independence Lake: 1.5 miles, 800 ft gain
  2. Beginner
    • Goat Lake: 10.5 miles, 1400 ft gain (long but not too strenuous)
  3. Moderate
    • Mount Pilchuck: 5.5 miles, 2300 ft gain (small scramble at end)
    • Gothic Basin: 9 miles, 2800 ft gain
    • Green Mountain: 8.5 miles, 3300 ft gain
  4. Hard
    • Mount Dickerman: 8 miles, 3950 ft gain
    • Twin Lakes: 17 miles, 2940 ft gain (by Monte Cristo)
    • Round Lake: 11 miles, 4300 ft gain
  5. Mildly Technical
    • Mount Forgotten: 13 miles, 4300 ft gain
    • Huckleberry Mountain: 14 miles, 4900 ft gain
  6. Route Finding
    • Vesper Peak: 8 miles, 4000 ft gain (scrambling on big boulders at the top)
    • Mount Pugh: 11 miles, 5300 ft gain (mostly easy to follow the path except the start of the class 2 scramble)
  7. Technical Scramble
    • Del Campo Peak: 11 miles, 4200 ft gain (technical class 3 at top)

North Cascades (Hwy 20 and 542) Progression

At least 2 hour drive, generally 2.5-3 hours from Seattle. Interactive map is here.

North Cascades Hikes/Scrambles listed in order of length and technical difficulty:

  1. Easy
    • Sauk Mountain: 4 miles, 1200 ft gain
  2. Beginner
    • Chain Lakes: 6.5 miles, 1820 ft gain
    • Lake Ann: 8 miles, 1900 ft gain
    • Maple Pass: 7 miles, 2000 ft gain
    • Cutthroat Pass: 10 miles, 2000 ft gain
  3. Moderate
    • Yellow Aster Butte: 7.5 miles, 2550 ft gain (true summit has a short class 2 scramble)
    • Easy Pass: 7 miles, 2800 ft gain
  4. Hard
    • Goat Mountain: 8 miles, 3100 ft gain (to false summit; true summit is a scramble)
    • Hidden Lake Lookout: 8 miles, 3300 ft gain (class 1-2 scramble to the lookout)
    • Excelsior Pass: 8 miles, 3600 ft gain
    • Lookout Mountain: 9.5 miles, 4500 ft gain
    • Monogram Lake: 10 miles, 4670 ft gain (slight elevation loss to lake that must be regained on the way out)
    • Sourdough: 10.5 miles, 4870 ft gain
  5. Mildly Technical
    • Trappers Peak: 10 miles, 3000 ft gain (mostly class 2 with some class 3 moves and use of hands)
  6. Route Finding
    • Colonial Glacier: 16 miles, 6200 ft gain (watch for the path up to the boulder field, cross it to see the glacier and lake)
  7. Technical Scramble
    • Ruby Mountain: 16 miles, 6200 ft gain
    • Crater Mountain: 19 miles, 6560 ft gain (if you ford the river from Canyon Creek, cut off 6 miles round trip)

Bonus Round

Okay, I didn’t include these in the above lists because you should proceed with caution for these. I am not a professional guide, but enjoy routes like these and have enough confidence and experience leading up to long scrambles and difficult route finding routes. But, they are also pretty solid and fun if you get to the point where this becomes more comfortable

  • Black Peak, a really solid scramble for those looking for the next step up
  • North Twin Sister, a long, fun 2000-ft scramble with also a long approach
  • Gunn Peak, lots of route finding needed to get above the trees, then a straightforward corkscrew scramble to summit
  • Jolly-Skookum-Louvre, a traverse with moments of class 3 scrambling
  • Mesahchie, this one is a serious scramble, class 4 at times and depending on season, persistent steep snow