April is Native Plant Appreciation Month in Washington! It's a wonderful time of year to get outside and admire the wonders of Washington's diverse plant life — trees are leafing out, early flowers are blooming and the days are growing long.
Washington is home to thousands of native plant species spanning from the sandy Pacific shorelines in the west to the rolling Palouse hills in the east. No matter where you hike this month, you'll have ample opportunities to stop and admire the flora that call Washington home. To get you started on some native plant walks, we've rounded up ten native species and ten hikes where you can spot them
Tips for your hike
- Clean your shoes! Non-native seeds can spread by clinging to your hiking shoes. Give your shoes, clothes and gear a quick clean after completing your hike to ensure nothing is brought along to your next location.
- Stay on trail. Make sure you give plants the space they need to thrive by keeping to the established trail.
- Pack along a guide. To help you ID native plants while you're out, consider checking out a book on local plant identification. We love Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast for western Washington and Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia and the Inland Northwest for the central and eastern portions of the state. Or if you're into apps, we love the free, WTA-volunteer-built Trees PNW app for easy on-trail tree identification!
Ocean City State PArk
Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Pacific Coast
Length: 1.0 miles of trail
Elevation Gain: 10 feet
American dunegrass is a native beach grass to Washington and an iconic view along our Pacific coastline. Ocean City State Park provides easy access to nearly 3,000 feet of shoreline and wide open views of the dunes from the large, established campground. The park can be accessed year round, but spring is a great time to visit and enjoy the longer days and vibrant sunsets.
Gingko Petrified Forest State Park Backcountry
Location: Central Washington -- Yakima
Length: 5.0 miles of trail
Elevation Gain: 550 feet
Washington's shrubsteppe is one of our most biodiverse ecosystems and an absolute joy to wander through on trail. Big sagebrush is one of many iconic native plants that be found throughout the steppe. Sagebrush can be found on any number of trails across central Washington, but we love the Gingko for its stunning backdrop of the Columbia River.
Location: South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens
Length: 2.4 miles of trail
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
Washington is home to over a dozen species of horsetail, most of which prefer moist, lowland habitats. The Hummocks Trail, in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, provides the ideal habitat. As you admire the lush green understory of horsetail and ferns, read up on the interpretive signs to learn more about the surrounding environment and keep an eye out for local wildlife.
Oregon White Oak
Weldon Wagon Road
Location: Southwest Washington -- Columbia River Gorge
Length: 5.4 miles of trail
Elevation Gain: 1290 feet
The Oregon White Oak is Washington's only native oak tree, and for most part it can be found just east of the Cascade crest on trails in the Columbia River Gorge. The spring is one of our favorite times to visit the Gorge — alongside the oak groves you'll find fields of early season wildflowers and sunshine-filled views of the sparkling Columbia River (just be sure to watch for ticks!)
Maury Island Marine Park
Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- Vashon
Length: 3.0 miles of trail
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
The stunning madrone tree is a favorite amongst Puget Sound residents and can be found lining many of our salty shorelines. Thanks to Maury Island Marine Park's long, undeveloped stretch of shoreline, the park is a fantastic spot for admiring the colorful peeling bark and unique canopies of the madrone. Plus, you might spot a few other local wonders during your visit, like a salt marsh, eelgrass beds, blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, chinook salmon, orca, or bull trout.
> Plan your trip to Maury Island Marine Park using WTA's Hiking Guide
Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Hood Canal
Length: 4.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1300 feet
As our state flower, the rhododendron is no rarity. It can be seen throughout neighborhood yards and arboretums all across western Washington. Despite its abundance, there's still something magical about bumping into a bright, blooming rhodie in the middle of a dense, foggy forest. And, there is perhaps no better place to find such a view than Mount Zion at the northeastern flank of Olympic National Forest.
Whistler Canyon Trail
Location: Eastern Washington -- Okanogan Highlands/Kettle River Range
Length: up to 24.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: up to 3000 feet
Ponderosa pines dominate forests east of the Cascade crest and into the Okanogan Highlands. The long Whistler Canyon trail sets off not too far from the town of Oroville, and climbs high into the hills. Ponderosa dot the surrounding landscape — spaced just densely enough to admire and find shade when needed, but not too dense as to block the wide open valley views.
Margaret's Way and Debbie's View
Location: Issaquah Alps -- Squak Mountain
Length: 6.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
The bright bark of an alder tree provides a refreshing bit of contrast in our often dark western forests. The Issaquah Alps are a great place to find a few groves of alder, and Margaret's Way in particular sports this lovely patch pictured above. Enjoy the handiwork of WTA volunteers as you meander the trail through the cool forest and along deep ravines.
Liberty Lake Loop Trail
Location: Eastern Washington -- Spokane Area/Coeur d'Alene
Length: 8.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
Despite the name, skunk cabbage really is a lovely flower, and it's often one of the earlier spring blooms. Keep an eye out for its bright yellow flowers (and of course, its signature scent) along lowland wetlands and marshes. Our state's wet western flanks may come to mind when choosing a skunk cabbage hike, but it can also be found in many trails surrounding the Spokane Valley.
Lower Mad River Valley
Location: Central Cascades -- Entiat Valley/Lake Chelan
Length: 14.9 miles, one-way
Elevation Gain: 2500 feet
Tweedy's Lewisia is a staff favorite here at WTA, so it only seemed fitting to round out our list with this lovely little flower! Tweedy's is an early spring bloomer that is often spotted on the eastern slopes of the Cascade crest in April and May. The lower portions of the Mad River Valley melt out early in the year, making this a great spot for Tweedy's Lewisia sightings. Head in a few miles for a short day trip, or stay out longer and make an early season backpacking trip out of it!