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Hiking 101: Planning Your Hike

If you're new to hiking, start small.

Hiking is a wonderful way to get outside, move your body and connect with the natural world. Whether you want a quick stroll in your local greenspace or a longer trek in the woods, we have some tips for getting started and researching the right trail for your needs.

Sawtooth Wilderness by Raechel Youngberg.jpg
A fall hike in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Photo by Raechel Youngberg.

Find a beginner friendly trail

You don’t need to be an expert hiker to experience beautiful trails in Washington. City, county and state parks are filled short, well-maintained, trails that are perfect for a first time outing. One you gain a bit more confidence on trail, considering adding in more mileage or elevation and seeking farther out hikes in a nearby national forest or park.

Our online Hiking Guide can help you find the perfect hike to get started on. We can’t tell you what your perfect hike will be, but we can help you narrow down over 3,900 options based on what you’re looking for. Search the Hiking Guide using filters and you will only see results that are relevant to you.

Hiking Guide Filters Menu

    • Region: Search for something close-to-home by selecting a region from the drop-down menu. You can even include a sub-region to narrow your search down further.
    • Features: If you want a specific type of landscape or nature experience, select from this list to find hikes that include those elements you want to see.
    • Pass Type: Different land managers require different parking passes, so this is a great way to find places where you can use the pass you already have, or find trailheads that don’t require any pass at all. City and county parks generally don't require passes.
    • Mileage/Elevation: For a first hike, you'll likely want to choose a trail with minimal mileage and elevation gain. Consider you fitness level and use the sliders to set an upper and lower limit. It's always best to start slow and consider talking to your doctor if you have any special concerns. You can also filter by the maximum high point, which is helpful during the winter to find lowland, snow-free hikes.
    • Keyword: This is an open-ended filter where you can search the hike description for any word or phrase. If that word or phrase appears in the hike description it will turn up. This is a great option if you’re looking for something specific (hemlocks, rhododendrons, bridge etc…).

Check conditions

Once you have a hike in mind, you'll want to check upcoming weather forecasts and make sure the trail is in good shape before you head out.

Each Hiking Guide entry is packed with useful planning information like stats, hike descriptions, maps, driving directions, land manager information and even links to the upcoming weather forecast for the trailhead. To find the forecast, scroll below the trailhead map and click into "See trailhead forecast."

You should also read a few recent trip reports to get a feel for the trail. Trip reports are user-written reports of a hiker's experience on that trail on a certain date. Trip reports can be found at the bottom of every Hiking Guide entry, and are sorted by the most recently hiked. You can also search for trip reports by trail and date range at wta.org/tripreports.

Find someone to hike with

Hiking with company can make starting out both safer and more enjoyable. Recruiting friends and family works well, but you can also meet other beginning hikers through social groups, The Mountaineers, or in classes at REI.

Before you try more difficult hikes (intermediate and up) on your own, go out with experienced hikers, either on an organized hike or with an informal meet-up.