Top Ten Day Hikes in the Pacific Northwest

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Mount Baker at dawn, North Cascade, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Mount Baker at dawn, North Cascade, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest  (Paul Edmondson/Photographers Choice/Getty)
In the Know
Many of the hikes within national forests require a park pass. Pick one up at a ranger station or one of the many outdoor shops.

10. Big Quilcene Trail to Marmot Pass
10.6-mile round-trip in Buckhorn Wilderness, Olympic Peninsula, WA
In case you haven't heard, the Olympic Peninsula isn't exactly dry. Yet not all rainfall falls equally, and the 10.6-mile round-trip hike along Big Quilcene Trail cuts through what could be the driest portions of the Buckhorn Wilderness, a spectacular 44,258-acre expanse of steep ravines and tumbling creeks. Set in the shadow of the 7,000-foot-high peaks and ridges of the Olympic Range, which wrings 12 feet of rain from Pacific storms each year, the trail is often at least somewhat sunny. Climb steadily for 3,500 vertical feet through mossy red cedars and Douglas firs to reach some of the best views on the entire peninsula atop 6,000-foot Marmot Pass. For a great rest point, hike up another 300 vertical feet from the pass to the south and refuel in front of 7,639-foot Mount Mystery, Puget Sound, and the Cascades. On the way back down, be sure to glance around your feet to savor the subtle beauty of a rainforest: pasque flowers, Sitka valerians, columbines, and mountain daisies, among scores of other blooming wildflowers, especially in late July.
Check out our profile of Big Quilcene Trail—and add to it—in our Trail Finder Wiki.

9. Grasshopper Pass
11-mile round-trip in Okanogan National Forest, WA
The Upper Methow Valley, near North Cascades National Park, rests in the palm of a remote and rugged land. Craggy peaks wheel over a glacial valley bristling with evergreens along trout-fishing streams. Make a full day of it and head two hours west of Seattle for an 11-mile round-trip hike. Your goal: 7,125-foot Grasshopper Pass, deep in the heart of Okanogan National Forest. Don't let the distance scare you. The trail runs above tree line almost the whole way on a relatively flat path with nonstop views of the half-million-plus-acre Pasayten Wilderness, home to the largest population of lynx in the Lower 48. The trail's part of the famed Pacific Crest Trail and gains 1,000 feet along a rolling ridgeline north of the glacial South Fork Trout Creek Valley. Save some energy for a short detour and climb the 400 feet to 7,386-foot Tatie Peak, with views of 9,066-foot Jack Mountain and 8,400-foot Azurite Peak. From the top of the pass, 8,320-foot Mount Ballard looms straight ahead, with the verdant Ninetynine Basin just below. A great time to head out is in the fall, when the larch forest foliage starts to shift.
Check out our profile of Grasshopper Pass—and add to it—in our Trail Finder Wiki.

8. Heliotrope Ridge
5.5-mile circuit in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, WA
Hiking to a fantastic view is a great reward, but head to Mount Baker and you'll be part of the view. North of Mount Rainier and the second of the Seattle area's signature monoliths, the 10,778-foot volcano is cracked with massive glaciers, hardened lava, and crumbly moraines—and this hike takes you right up the side. Follow Heliotrope Ridge Trail for 1,800 vertical feet up Coleman Glacier, Baker's largest. The path winds out and back for 5.5 miles up a scoured ridge, first through hemlocks and along cool streams, then into a world of teetering ice and rock. There's a good resting spot at about 5,500 feet. Coming later in the season is best; in spring, the streams can be dangerously swollen, making the crossings tricky. Wait till mid-summer and the wildflowers will be out, but so will the crowds. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is one of the most visited in the country—for good reason.
Check out our profile of Heliotrope Ridge—and add to it—in our Trail Finder Wiki.

7. Little Belknap Crater
5.2-mile circuit in Willamette National Forest, OR
About 1,500 years ago, the lava burbling out of craters in the Central Oregon Cascades oozed across this portion of the Pacific Ring of Fire, searing the landscape east of Eugene into an otherworldly universe. Today, hikers can set out across black pools of cooled lava that seem to flow around trees perched in clusters like green islands (called "kipuka") to reach a highpoint, Little Belknap Crater, a 1,100-vertical-foot climb. From there, at about 6,000 feet, you can see the fiery history of the area in full display: the highest concentrations of snowcapped volcanoes in the Lower 48, the glacier-whittled remains of Mount Washington, a volcanic plug, and miles and miles of ancient lava fields. The 5.2-mile out-and-back hike begins on McKenzie Pass, 15 miles west of Sisters at the Dee Wright Observatory (a black-rock shelter that looks more like an orc fort than an information center). The trail is easy to follow, but expect to give in to the urge to do some easy scrambling across very sharp rock. Or be mellow and explore the lava tubes along the way. Summer can get blazing hot, so bring plenty of water, while deep snow can keep the pass closed to cars until June.

6. Neahkahnie Mountain
7-mile circuit in Oswald West State Park, OR
The Pacific Northwest isn't all just fire and ice, and hikes along the gnarled coastline are aplenty in Oregon. The seven-mile round-trip hike up Neahkahnie Mountain in Oswald West State Park, about two hours west of Portland, stands out for its views of the storm-pummeled coast and spooky dark forests encountered along the way. The Oregon Coast Trail runs up 1,600-foot-high Neahkahnie. To reach it, park along Highway 101 near the Oswald West walk-in campground and hike about a half-mile through tall stands of mossy cedars to reach Short Sands Beach. Just before the beach—a favorite among surfers—cross a bridge over a small creek to join up with the Oregon Coast Trail. Cross the highway and begin a steep climb to the summit, which offers great open views of the coast—Neahkahnie Beach, the quaint town of Manzanita, and miles of sand stretching south to the Nehalem River. Either hike back out the way you came and wander up to Cape Falcon, north of Short Sands Beach, or continue south and drop down the other side of the peak to reach Highway 101. From there, it's a mile-long hike back along the road, making for a somewhat shorter trip.

Published: 3 Mar 2011 | Last Updated: 10 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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