Eleven Winter Hikes for Beach Views, Desert Birds, Waterfalls and More
With the high country socked in with snow for the next several months, many Washington hikers find themselves with an unmistakable case of the winter blahs. Get out your hiking boots (and an extra warm pair of wool socks) and get ready to chase them away with one of these great winter hikes. Clear alpine lakes and panoramic views might still be months away, but you can keep on hiking right through the winter on these eleven trails.
Location: North Cascades National Park
Distance: up to 10 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 2600 feet
Even after snows close the North Cascade Highway, Thunder Creek's trailhead at the Colonial Creek Campground remains open. Hike as far as you like on this flat, quiet trail, which guides you along lakes and creeks while offering glimpses of the surrounding mountains through gaps in the forest's thick canopy.
Location: Near Burlington
Distance: 4.8 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 30 feet
Birds of many different feathers flock to this food-rich bay where the Skagit River and Puget Sound have created immense mud flats. As part of our National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Washington's only such site, Padilla Bay acts as a living classroom and laboratory for citizens and scientists studying the importance of estuarine habitat. Find out about local programs and have your Padilla Bay questions answered at the Breazeale Interpretive Center.
Boulder River Trail
Location: Near Darrington
Distance: up to 9 miles round trip
Elevation: Gain of 600 feet to 1600 feet
Towering old-growth trees in an unspoiled river valley with exquisite waterfalls — this is the subtle beauty of Boulder River. It's truly one of the best winter hikes if you're looking for an easy but rewarding day. Just a bit over a mile up the trail are two glorious waterfalls. This is where most people stop, but the path continues another four miles before disappearing at a ford of the Boulder River, where you'll turn around and go back.
>> Read more about Boulder River in WTA's Hiking Guide and in recent Trip Reports
Middle Fork Snoqualmie River
Location: Near North Bend
Distance: Up to 6 miles round trip
Elevation gain: Gain of 200 feet to 1100 feet
If you can tolerate the pot-holed drive to this lovely hike, you will be well-rewarded. An easy ramble upstream gives hikers plenty to like -- a fast-moving river, tall trees, and views of peaks like Granite Mountain and Stegasaurus Butte - all within a short drive from Seattle.
Millersylvania State Park
Location: South of Olympia
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Dosewallips State Park Steam Donkey Trail
Location: Olympic Peninsula - East
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
Cape Alava - Sand Point Loop
Location: Olympic Coast
Distance: 9.3 miles round trip
Elevation: No elevation gain (sea level)
Winter is a great time to hit the beach, especially a trail this popular, where you'll have some seasonal solitude. It's also a superb hike for exploring petroglyphs and artifacts. Two trails, one leading to Cape Alava and another leading to Sand Point, begin at the Ozette Loop trailhead. The loop makes an excellent day trip and an even better overnight at one of the many campsites at Cape Alava, Sand Point, or farther north along the beach at the mouth of the Ozette River.
Beacon Rock Trail
Location: Columbia River Gorge
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Elevation: 600 feet
Located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Beacon Rock is an enormous basalt monolith that is actually the core of an ancient volcano. Named by the Lewis and Clark expedition, the mile-long trail to its summit provides outstanding panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge. The trail begins with an easy climb through mixed forest, then ascends paths that were blasted out through solid rock and along wooden catwalks. Handrails line the route for the safety and comfort of hikers. The trail gradually climbs its way up a onto the sheer basalt cliffs of the rock itself, where the views are sensational. Avoid when icy!
Cape Horn Trail
Location: Columbia Gorge area
Distance: 7.0 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 500 feet to 1300 feet
The full 7-mile loop provides fantastic views of the Columbia River Gorge, an intimate look at the Cape Horn Falls and a challenging workout as it climbs and descends the rocky slopes of Cape Horn. Most of the trail is volunteer-built. Check out the map in our hiking guide before you go.
Wenatchee Confluence State Park
Distance: 2.5 miles roundtrip
Birds, birds, birds! The park is just a few minutes from the heart of Wenatchee, but you can hardly tell you're near a bustling urban area - not with all of the birds calling. Theis the prize for hikers here. Easy walking takes you along and over the Wenatchee River, traversing wetlands and fields and offering broad vistas. It's worth a visit in any season, but is especially teeming with birds in spring.
Slavin Pond Loop
Location: Spokane area
Distance: 3.3 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 246 feet to 2341 feet
With more than 600 acres of rolling fields, pine-forested buttes and wetlands, the Slavin Conservation Area provides plenty of room to stretch the legs in winter. Bring binoculars and a field guide to spot geese, owls, ducks and more within this migratory flyway. This is just one of many fine properties that Spokane County is developing for recreation through its Conservation Futures program.