Itching to do some serious hiking packed with breathtaking views? Don’t let the snowpack put a damper on your hiking. There’s no need to wait until summer when the Cascades, Olympics and Selkirk Mountains shed their snowy shrouds. Nope – thanks to a temperate climate in much of western Washington, micro-climates throughout the state, and some sun-kissed slopes in eastern Washington; there are plenty of spectacularly scenic places you can go hiking right now! Here are ten of my favorite spring hikes in Washington.
- Oyster Dome – Blanchard State Forest Roundtrip: 5.4 miles – Elevation Gain: 1900 feet
The pearl of the Chuckanut Mountains: Oyster Dome is a glacier-polished and fractured exposed hunk of sheer cliff on Blanchard Mountain. From this prominent landmark hovering 2,000 feet over the Salish Sea, savor jaw-dropping views of the San Juan Islands, snowcapped Olympic Mountains, Samish Bay, and the Skagit River Flats. The hike is short, but steep and guaranteed to get your heart racing. From the west follow the Pacific Northwest Trail to the Samish Bay Trail to the Dome. A longer but easier route and one far less crowded can be made from Blanchard Mountain to the east.
- Turtle Head (Turtleback Mountain) – Orcas Island Roundtrip: 5.7 miles – Elevation Gain: 1300 feet
Stand atop Orcas Island’s Turtleback Mountain’s head for one shell of a view. From this prominent landmark also known as Orcas Knob, stare out at a flotilla of islands extending to British Columbia’s Vancouver and Gulf Islands. First follow an old road – then bona fide trail – in this 1600-plus acre preserve that almost became a subdivision (Thank you San Juan Preservation Trust and San Juan County Land Bank!). En route stop at the Waldron Overlook for an impressive look at that reclusive island’s impressive Point Disney cliffs and BC’s golden faced Saturna Island behind it. In spring, brilliant wildflowers make this peak a painted turtle.
- Mount Muller – Olympic National Forest Roundtrip loop: 12.7 miles – Elevation Gain 3350 feet
It’s a tough climb with lots of ups and downs – but the Mount Muller Loop is to one of the best ridge hikes in the Olympics. Along the ridge leading to 3,748-foot Mount Muller, traverse slopes carpeted in brilliant wildflowers. And take in magnificent views of glistening white Mount Olympus and sparkling deep-blue Lake Crescent. And there are lots of surprises along the way, too, on this splendid loop – including Fouts Rock House, a cave-like rock formation composed of two giant boulders. If you’re feeling adventurous, follow the ridge for another 3.5 miles west to an old lookout site – and a view to the ocean when cloud free.
- Ozette Triangle- Olympic National Park Roundtrip loop: 9.4 miles – Elevation gain: 400 feet
Sea stacks, sea otters, sea lions, and ocean scenery delight the senses on a spring afternoon. This loop (named for its shape) with its miles of boardwalks through maritime forest and more than three miles of beach walking is one of the finest hikes on the Olympic coast. Watch for wildlife – whales, otters, eagles, harlequin ducks and oystercatchers. And look for ancient Native-American petroglyphs at the Wedding Rocks and old homestead relics at Ahlstrom’s Prairie.
- Ebey’s Landing – Whidbey Island Roundtrip: 5.2 miles – Elevation Gain: 300 feet
From the Prairie overlook, make a lollipop loop. Stroll across emerald fields, climb coastal bluffs towering above crashing surf, and wander along a beautiful beach gazing across busy coastal waters to a backdrop of snowcapped Olympic Mountains. And there’s more in this national historical reserve! Bald eagles, shorebirds, and historic relics including old blockhouses and homesteads. Prairie flowers and prickly pear cactus grow on the golden bluffs, among the highest in Puget Sound. One of the Northwest’s finest coastal hikes, Ebey’s Landing is also one of Washington’s most naturally diverse and historically significant places.
- Mount Si – Mount Si NRCA Roundtrip loop: 8.0 miles – Elevation Gain: 3300 feet
More than 100,000 hikers a year take to this prominent peak 30 miles east of Seattle. That’s a lot of hikers and a lot of reasons to shun this overly popular mountain. But it’s one of the few 4000-foot plus summits within the Cascades that’s usually snow-free come spring, making it an excellent choice for an early season killer workout. And aside from the challenge, the views are pretty good from Si’s rocky summit, ranging from Mount Rainier to the Seattle skyline against a backdrop of craggy Olympic peaks.
- Coldwater Lake – Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument Roundtrip: 9.0 miles – Elevation Gain: 550 feet
Formed when debris and earth from Mount St. Helens’ cataclysmic 1980 eruption dammed Coldwater Creek; Coldwater Lake is now over four miles long and 200 feet deep. The new lake – second largest within the monument – sits at an elevation of 2500 feet where spring comes earlier than at the nearby Mount Margaret backcountry. On a rolling shoreline route, wander through newly emerging forest glades and wild gardens of dazzling flowers. The resiliency of nature is on full display here from flowered slopes to shady emerald groves of alders, willows, and cottonwoods. Wildlife is prolific, views are nonstop, and breezes often funnel across the lake’s surface, rippling mountain reflections.
- Dog Mountain – Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Roundtrip: 7.3 miles – Elevation gain: 2900 feet
The most spectacular hike on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, Dog Mountain is also one of the finest wildflower hikes in the state. Located on the eastern edge of the gorge, this peak’s open southern slopes often melt out by February – and begin flowering shortly afterward. But with 2900 feet of elevation gain in just over 3 miles, Dog is a bear of a hike. But with dogged determination you’ll be rewarded with spellbinding views straight down to the river and over the cone of Wind Mountain. And you’ll find the most stunning floral show within the Gorge sprawled across this riverside peak’s sun-kissed meadows. Return via the Augsperger Mountain Trail for a slightly longer but much gentler descent.
- Gibraltar Mountain – Colville National Forest Roundtrip: 3.2 miles – Elevation Gain: 550 feet
Locally known as Old Gib, 3,782-foot Gibraltar Mountain rises 1,200 feet above the historic mining town of Republic. Long admired from the valley, now thanks to an emerging network of trails being constructed by a diverse group of trail lovers, you can admire Old Gib and Republic from above. Amble along a rolling ridge bursting with wildflowers to a 4,200-foot knoll on a long ridge extending to Gibraltar Mountain. Then embrace sweeping views from Republic, nestled among golden hills in the west, to the lofty Kettle River Range rising to greet the sky in the east.
- Badger Mountain – Tri-Cities Roundtrip: 5.8 miles – Elevation Gain: 650 feet
Rising above the sprawling Tri-cities, 1579-foot Badger Mountain provides some of the best hiking in Southeast Washington. Five trails traverse this protected landmark above the Columbia River. For a good workout, combine the Skyline and Langdon Trails for a satisfying loop that includes a stunning ridgeline traverse. From the open mountain, marvel at horizon-spanning views of the sun-baked Hanford Reach and a trio of snowy Cascadian volcanoes. In spring, stand mesmerized at the windswept wildflower-carpeted slopes painting the mountain in dazzling colors. Nesting shrub-steppe birds add soothing background melodies to your hike.
Craig Romano has written and co-written 14 books, mostly on hiking. He has hiked more than 18,000 miles in Washington. His 100 Classic Hikes Washington (available June 1, 2016) spotlights the very best trails the state has to offer. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in Skagit County. Visit him at CraigRomano.com.